For exactly 100 days, our daughter, and by extension our entire family, was faced with an interesting challenge.  

Our daughter Dahlia began complaining about her knee on Purim day.  As I was busy with deliveries and preparing for a seuda, I gave her some pain relievers and tried to be sympathetic, but at the end of the night when I had a moment to take a closer look, it was clear that something was very wrong.  

After examining a swollen knee and sending us for x-rays, the doctor assured us that it was only growing pains.  Given her age, I accepted this diagnosis and went home with instructions for rest and pain relievers. But after a few days it was clear that there was something else going on.  Dahlia could not stand, or put any pressure on her leg. She was crying terribly and I knew something was not right. Sure enough, after further investigation from an orthopedist, it seemed that Dahila had split the growth plate in her knee.  We were informed that this was to be treated like a fracture or break, and if it would heal properly, there should not be any long term complications.

Dahlia was put in a full leg cast from the top of her leg down to her toes.  Now I know that all the mothers of rambunctious boys who are reading this are probably thinking “par for the course”, but for us, this was our first experience with a broken bone and I had no idea what we were in for.  Just getting Dahlia home from the hospital was such an ordeal. We got to our door with three steep steps and I could not figure out how I was going to get her into the house, much less to school the next day. It took two adults to lift her in the house and get her situated, and after the whole ordeal she was an emotional mess, crying and feeling sorry for herself.

After taking a breath, the first call I made was to Bikur Cholim.  Mrs. Chani Zimberg, who is always a pleasure to talk to, directed me immediately to Mrs. Esti Rokowsky who she said would help me with adaptive equipment for our home and with a wheel chair.  She made sure to add “please stay in touch and let us know what else we can do to help” before hanging up the phone.

Esti Rokowsky welcomed me to come by her gemach anytime, which we inevitably visited multiple times during our 3 month ordeal.  When I arrived at her garage I was shocked by what I saw. Wheelchairs lined up in all different sizes and with various adaptations to meet different needs.  Dozens of shower chairs, adaptive seats, cushions, crutches, bed lifts, ramps, and the list goes on and on. Everything was neatly organized and kept clean.  Esti listened to the details of our situation and sent me home with all the equipment we could possibly need including a portable ramp to attach to our door, and multiple shower chairs to see which one would best fit into our bathroom.  

For the next few weeks, our family had to adjust to whatever Dahlia needed.  Dahlia was at home for about a week until her pain subsided. Next came the challenge of getting her into school with a wheel chair.  With snow still on the ground, this proved to be a difficult challenge. The simple task of getting in and out of the car came with huge difficulty.  Her leg had to be held at a specific angle in order to make this possible, and it sometimes took two or three people to do this.

I would like to take a moment here to tell you that I have been in the special education field for close to 20 years.  In that time I have worked with individuals of all ability levels, many of whom have had physical limitations. In the two months that my daughter sat in a wheel chair, I learned more about accessibility and the world in which people with disabilities live, then I did in all of those 20 years.  With each road block (literally), I thought about people who live with these challenges daily. As much as I wanted to complain, I knew that with Hashem’s help, we would be at the end of it in a few weeks’ time, but people who are wheelchair bound face these challenges daily, and I am amazed at their perseverance to overcome these obstacles.  For as much as we might think we do, we do not live in a very accessible world.  Next time you see a person with a physical limitation, think about what you might do to make their situation easier.  Kindness goes a long way.

Back to our story…..at 10 days in the cast, while trying to transition Dahlia from the car to her wheelchair, and into the house, Dahila pulled her back out.  She was in extreme pain and really could not move without tears rolling down her cheeks. The simple act of getting to the bathroom or up to her bedroom became excruciating.  She could not move. This went on for close to a week. There was nothing we could do other than cater to her needs and try to keep her spirits up, but the latter turned out to be harder than we thought.  

Dahlia is a sweet girl who rarely complains.  She honestly took the entire ordeal in stride most of the time, but at this point she was just so down and feeling sorry for herself.  She would cry and there was not much I could do to lift her spirits. It was in the midst of that week that I received a call from Rabbi Joseph.  

Rabbi Joseph wanted to know what he could do to make things easier.  I had assured him that Mrs. Rokowsky took good care of us and that things were ok, but then he said “But how is your daughter?  Would some distractions help?” This is how you know Bikur Cholim is being run by the most amazing team of people. Because it isn’t just about taking care of the medical or physical needs, their mission is to care for the entire family unit and every detail is thought of with care and consideration.  

The next morning, a delicious breakfast spread with a beautiful note was delivered to our door.  And later that afternoon, Dahlia’s good friend was brought over with a unique project. Just spending time with a friend in the middle of the day put such a smile on her face.  

Next, I got a call from Rebbetzin Shapiro who had heard about our plight from the Bikur Cholim office and wanted to know what else she could do to help.  She put me in touch with Mrs. Penina Lipton who has the Bikur Cholim media library in her house. What a brilliant idea! Penina chose a selection of DVD’s and dropped them off at our door with a thoughtful note for Dahila.  This really helped the time go by.

But what really lifted her spirits, was when the next afternoon her entire history class came to our home.  Dahlia’s teacher and classmates from the Hebrew Academy were driven over and turned our family room into a classroom!  Believe it or not, Dahlia really missed school, and this meant so much to her! It really got her out of her slump and we were so appreciative for Bikur Cholim’s efforts in making all the arrangements to have this happen.  

About a week later, Dahlia was feeling pressure in her cast.  The doctor was concerned about pressure sores and sent us to have the cast removed.  At that time, the injury was evaluated and there was a great concern about the fact that her knee had been in a cast for almost four weeks and it did not seem to heel too much.  We were sent to Ahuja hospital for bloodwork, ultrasound, and an MRI. While none of these tests are too invasive, for an 11 year old, it can feel quite scary.

It was Chol Hamoed Pesach, and we found ourselves in Ahuja for a long afternoon.  As I pushed Dahlia passed the Bikur Cholim room she said “why don’t we see if there’s something to eat?”  My response of course, was that it was Pesach and it was unlikely that there would be anything in there, but after all the poking, prodding, and tears, we decided to stop in the Bikur Cholim room for a few minutes just to get a break.    We could not believe it! The entire room was changed over for Pesach. The counters were covered and all the usual treats were replaced with pesadik options. Dahlia chose a nosh and I even had a hot cup of coffee before getting to our next appointment.  It was such a nice treat and it was heartwarming to see all the little touches that were thought of in the room from magazines to fresh fruit in the refrigerator. How lucky we felt to be a part of such a special community.

At this point in our journey, Dahlia was put in a brace to help stabilize her leg until we ruled out other possible diagnoses.  It was certainly easier than having to shlep around a heavy cast, but it came with a new set of challenges that we had to learn how to navigate.  This process repeated itself two more times, and with each new apparatus came a new learning curve. Eventually, after 59 days, Dahlia took her first few steps with her crutches.  We now entered the phase of physical therapy and began looking for an aqua therapy location per our doctor’s referral. This took some time, but eventually we were able to set up an intense therapy schedule.  

With Hashem’s help and Bikur Cholim’s support, Dahila graduated from aqua therapy exactly 100 days after injury.  She was able to stand on two feet at her Bas Mitzvah and express hakaras hatov for all the people who helped her through this ordeal.  It was a learning experience for all of us, but one which we will forever be grateful for.

Thank you Bikur Cholim of Cleveland for all that you did to support our family, and for all that you continue to do for our community.  

-Dassi Shtern