I will admit to feeling high levels of stress and anxiety yesterday. Thankfully, I remembered the story of the Professor of Hanipoli.
Shaina started coughing (again) earlier this week. A visit to her pulmonologist confirmed what we had suspected: a viral chest and ear infection. We left with a shopping list for the pharmacy and instructions to reacquaint Shaina and Mr O. The plan was to keep her on oxygen at night and return for a follow-up with the doctor on Friday.
On Friday morning, Shaina’s oxygen saturation levels plummeted.
I wheeled Shaina down the hospital corridor to the doctor’s rooms (since she discovered that the hospital offers wheelchairs, Shaina refuses to walk to her doctor’s appointments). The receptionist met us at the door with the wonderful news that the doctor had just tested positive for Covid and would be off until next week. Knowing how alarmed the doctor had been when Shaina’s sats had dropped before, I knew we needed medical guidance. My anxiety peaked when the receptionist explained that the other ICU pulmonologist, who is familiar with Shaina’s case, was out of the country.
Back home, Naomi and I tried to reach our house doctor, who was away. Our trusted (now retired) paediatrician is overseas. With Shabbos fast approaching, we hooked Shaina up to Mr O full-time and regularly monitored her oxygen levels. I couldn’t focus on preparing an inspiring sermon for the community because Shaina’s heavy breathing fogged up my brain.
That’s when I remembered the Professor of Hanipoli.
Some two hundred years ago, an adherent of the Chassidic master, Reb Mordechai of Neshchiz fell desperately ill. When none of the local doctors could help him, he turned to his rebbe for a blessing.
The master’s advice was surprising, “Speak to the professor in the town of Hanipoli. He will cure you.”
To reach Hanipoli meant that the fellow had to schlep through the Ukrainian backwoods by wagon. Ignoring the expense and discomfort involved, he quickly set off.
As soon as he got there, the desperate man approached the locals, “Where does your professor live?”
“Professor? What professor?” they chuckled. “This is the hick-town of Hanipoli.”
“I don’t know… maybe he’s not a professor, just a doctor. Where can I find your local doctor?”
“We’ve never had a doctor in Hanipoli,” they assured him.
“No professor? No doctor? Do you have a local nurse?”
He quickly discovered that the shtetl of Hanipoli boasted not one medical professional. Dumbfounded and disappointed, he headed home. As soon as he could meet with his rebbe, he complained that his trip had been futile because there was no professor in Hanipoli.
“So, then,” Rabbi Mordechai asked him, “What do the people in Hanipoli do if one of them (G‑d forbid) falls sick?”
“They have no option but to pray to the Almighty and trust that He will heal them.”
“Aha,” the master replied, “I see you have now identified the professor of Hanipoli that I was talking about. The same Professor who helps the people of Hanipoli can help you too.”
Judaism instructs us to seek medical help. Sometimes G-d sends us a reminder that doctors are great, but we should not forget the Great Healer. Friday was one of those times. We followed the medical protocols that Shaina’s doctors had previously advised, kept the phone close by in case of emergency, and spoke at length to the Profesor of Hanipoli.
The reality of living with an ultra-rare disease is that the medical fraternity offers scant insight. They help us treat symptoms, and we share our insights and experiences with researchers overseas to help them better understand the nature of the illness. When medical doors close in your face- as they frequently do on the rare disease journey- it compels us to keep speaking to the Great Professor. We remain optimistic that He will help when the doctors cannot.