Writer’s Block

I haven’t posted on the blog for a while. An author might call it writer’s block, but my block was not of the writing kind.

Shaina has got her mischievous smile back in the last few days. The haze in my brain seems to be clearing as her personality reemerges. You know Shaina- in person or through my blog- she’s always happy. She dances her way through life, which is why we knew she was unwell when she struggled to muster her trademark grin. When you use every bit of energy to breathe, you don’t have much left to smile.

It happened quickly. On that Thursday morning, her older sister jetted in from Israel, and Shaina beamed non-stop. By Thursday night, her belaboured breathing set us on high alert. Other parents would have rushed their children to the emergency room. We hooked her up to oxygen and measured her saturation levels throughout the night. By mid-morning Friday, we were fretting in the doctor’s waiting room. She took one glance at Shaina and booked her into ICU.

Because she doesn’t talk much, we often misjudge how much Shaina understands. Her little face dropped when the doctor said we would have to “admit her”. We hadn’t considered that Shaina understood the expression. Oh, she understood all too well. And she was shattered. Tossing her adoration for Dr P, Shaina refused to make eye contact or wave her trademark goodbye when we left the doctor’s rooms. She frowned when the ICU nurses excitedly welcomed her back to their ward. And she was inconsolable for the first few hours confined to her hospital bed.

X-rays confirmed that her lungs were completely plugged up with pneumonia. For eleven days, Shaina lay listless. High-flow oxygen forced air into her lungs, and physiotherapists pounded her back to loosen mucus. The feisty girl who fights her nebulizer at home barely flinched when the nurses held the mask to her face.

Naomi and I took turns sleeping alongside Shaina’s ICU bed. “Sleeping” is poetic license for the one-ear-open catnapping you do in a Lazy Boy in between late-night crises. On our nights at home, the ICU alarms continued ringing in our heads, robbing us of sleep.

Shaina would only fall asleep at night while holding my or Naomi’s hand. I could wriggle free of her grasp for a few minutes at a time and had my laptop close by to catch up on work or compose a blog post. Ha! That was idealistic. Before I could finish a sentence, Shaina would whimper for my hand. Or her oxygen saturation would drop. Or the high-flow machine would alarm. No words saw the light of laptop as long as she lay in that hospital bed.

The truth is that, even if I had found the time to type, my head could only focus on one thing: Shaina’s health. People would ask Naomi and me what they could do to help or what we wanted to eat. We had no idea. Put food in front of us, and we’d eat it. What did we need? Shaina’s recovery. Our brains were a mush of medical feedback, anxiety over Shaina’s distress and how best to convince the doctors to keep her off a ventilator.

We’d been here before. When she is in medical distress, our brains lock onto the Shaina channel, and we can think of nothing else. It’s not writer’s block. It’s everything block. A parent who has seen their child gravely ill understands how life is drowned out by beeping monitors.

Thank G-d, Shaina is doing much better this week. We have weaned her off the high-flow oxygen, but she’s frustrated to remain tethered to an oxygen concentrator. The good news is that she’s belly-laughing again (you have to listen closely because she hasn’t regained her voice) and dancing to music videos (shh, we know it’s the “Nine Days”). Shaina lights up whenever her friends from school or the community pop past to visit.

Seeing her radiant face, Naomi and I can think again. And I pray for just plain ol’ writer’s block in future.

Published by rabbiarishishler

Husband, father and rabbi of Chabad of Strathavon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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