Tonight, I met a man who was not supposed to live: a young Hasidic Jew from Williamsburg, who just eleven months ago was on life support and was expected to survive only a few hours. I shook his hand and I celebrated with him the engagement of his daughter. I can now add this to the overflowing bucket list of miracles that I have seen firsthand during these most terrible times.
A few hours before the onset of the Seder last April, I received a frantic call from a woman in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was hard to make out what she was saying, alternating between Yiddish and broken English. Nonetheless, it was clear to me that she was in great distress.
It turned out that her husband had been admitted to Cornell Hospital two weeks prior with a severe case of COVID. She had not seen or heard from him, and was getting precious little information from the hospital. When she finally did reach an attending doctor, she was told that her husband was on life support and had very little chance of survival. She begged the doctor to allow her to visit, even if only to say goodbye. But as we know, the policy of New York hospitals during that time was such that no visitors were allowed - not even the closest of family.
How she found my number, I still am not certain. But she reached out to me in the hopes that my close proximity to the hospital might allow me to visit or to get someone to visit her husband. My task was to bid farewell to a man I had never met on behalf of his closest family relatives, and to be the conduit of their messages of love in what they imagined were going to be his last moments on earth.
By coincidence (something that I now know was G-d’s hand), I decided to reach out to Dr. Mark Shiffman, an attending at Cornell - and through his grace, love, and kindness, he agreed to visit with this man, who was not his patient, to assess the situation.
For the next five weeks, Dr. Shiffman visited the patient every single day during his time off. He would call the family daily, and put the children on FaceTime so they could see their dad, sing and talk to him, and pray for him. He connected them on Shabbat, on holidays, during evenings - whenever he could spare time, sometimes spending upwards of an hour with people who were not his patients and with whom he had no connection.
There are simply not enough words to describe the impact that this act of love and kindness had on this patient. Through the grace of G-d, this Hasidic Jew, all alone in the hospital, but with an angel by his side, was spared. He ended up going to rehab, spending many months getting back to himself. And thank G-d he survived.
I have always believed that there is no power greater than prayer and that we are on this earth to pay it forward - to do good for others whether we know them or not. I am humbled and awed to have been able to be a conduit to help in their moment of crisis. May Hashem send healing and comfort to all those in such desperate need of G-d’s healing and salvation.
PS - The icing on the cake is that many months later, I came to learn that this wonderful angel, Dr. Mark Shiffman, has created a lifeline for patients in the hospital called Voice Love, connecting patients with their family members who cannot visit and allowing them these meaningful precious moments that no money in the world can buy.