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CHAPTER 2 Covid Enters: The Start of My Battle With Covid19

How Covid 19 Changed My Life for Good
and My Experience at Cape Cod Hospital
(Covid 19 patient, 5 days, 2/4-2/8)

Chapter 2
Covid Enters: The Start of My Battle With Covid19

My dear friends the purpose of my writing this blog is not simply to provide a record of my illness and recovery. The motivation behind my writing is to share with you the many lessons I have learned throughout this period. I also want to impart to you how I saw the hand of G-d involved in every step from the contracting of Covid19, to the battling with the illness, through the recovery from the illness, and hopefully the full and complete recovery very soon.

We arrived home from NY late Sunday night, 1/24.  Monday was a regular day.  I drove Zali to school in Brookline in the morning and then headed to other meetings and responsibilities in the Boston area that were scheduled for that day.  I visited an office, and before entering they took my temperature which was 96 or so.  I didn’t return home until evening.  By that time I was already feeling weak and I wasn’t feeling right.  Tuesday morning, 1/26, I still wasn’t feeling well, but I can remember that it began to rain and snow that afternoon and I was still schlepping around after spending time in the office at Chabad for most of the day.  My head began to hurt with a strong pain above my right eye, similar to the pain of a strong sinus infection, along with some pain in both my eyes as I remember removing my contacts as a result of the discomfort.  That day, I thought about getting tested for covid19, but I was advised to wait, because if I had caught covid19 in NY I was told I needed to wait a period of five days before getting tested in order to get an accurate result.  The pain continued on Wednesday, 1/27, with my head continuing to hurt even more than before, and I treated the pain with a mix of Tylenol, Tylenol cold, ibuprofen and even Sudafed as these are what I’ve used in the past for sinus related pain and congestion.  The over-the-counter meds certainly helped to an extent but did not alleviate the pain completely.  This left me feeling very cloudy in my mind, unable to focus and work and I realized this must be a bigger problem.  I also had other strange unpleasant symptoms that I prefer not to share.  The strange thing is that I never lost my taste and smell until today as I write this. I’ve since learned that when you lose your taste and smell you usually end up with a lighter covid19 experience, but if you don’t lose your taste and smell you can expect to get attacked in different ways that are a bit more interesting and painful.  So I made an appointment for the next day on Thursday, 1/28, at an Urgent Care in Brookline, MA, which was suggested to me by friends to have a very quick turn-around, to get tested for Covid19.  It was my day to pick up Zali from school, so I scheduled it for 4:20pm, a few minutes after pickup so I can run and get Zali a slice of pizza before I head to the Urgent Care.  That way he can eat something right after a long day in school especially since our trip home would be delayed. Another benefit of getting tested in Brookline was that they use short swabs.  If you’ve ever been tested before you know what I mean.  You can either get a long swab shoved up your nose and then they make sure to spin it for about 15 seconds so that when they finally pull it out you practically need a Tylenol for the pain and must have the Kleenex ready for all the sneezing that follows.  The short swabs are placed gently in the bottom portion of your nostril and don’t make you feel like someone is sticking a swab up to your brain.  I made it to the Urgent Care on time and I was amazed to see that the place was empty not a person in the waiting room.  The last time I went there the place was full.  I also noticed later that I had received a text informing me that my appointment would be delayed by 40 min just as I did the previous time I went there, but the fact was the place was empty and I was admitted immediately.  The nurse gave me the covid test and I then met with the Dr. who was on call Dr. Ronak Shah who turned out to be a really nice guy.  He checked my vitals, my breathing, and my oxygen levels.  At that time, my temperature turned out to be regular (maybe it was the Tylenol), he did not hear any wheezing in my chest, and my oxygen level was still way up in the 90s.  He told me that it is very possible that all the symptoms I was having were related to covid19 and that we could only determine that once we get the results.  Until that time, he suggested I continue the meds I was taking and if it turns out to be covid there is nothing additional I can take as my body will ultimately heal itself as it fights off the covid.  He also added that if the pain becomes unbearable over the weekend, I should call him and he may prescribe anti-biotics in case I have a bacterial sinus infection, but for the time being I should just wait and see.  That Shabbos, 1/30, when I woke up, I felt I should not go to Shul.  I was just tested and if it turns out that I am positive I certainly do not belong in Shul as the last thing I would want to do is infect others.  Plus, I just was not feeling well and could not see myself walking to Shul and certainly not leading the service.  I stayed home alone as Devorah, Levi, and Zali headed to Shul.  By Divine Providence, Levi decided to come home for Shabbos not knowing that he would be here to save the day and lead the services in Shul instead of his father.  Shabbos ended with our Musical Havdallah service on zoom with Levi on the guitar and I managed to do my part despite the way I was feeling inside.  The results arrived Friday evening and by the time Shabbos was over I learned that I had tested positive for covid 19.  Not good news at all.  But at least I knew what I was up against.  I realized I had a Sunday morning service the next morning, 1/31, on zoom that I had not cancelled.  Since it was from the house, I set my mind that I will not cancel it, and I will make every effort to get up in the morning and lead the service.  As difficult as it was, I ended up getting up the next morning and tried to appear as well as I could to lead the service while I sat on a dining room chair and only stood up for short periods when I had to.  The pain from my head ended up extending itself to my stomach with excruciating pain on the lower right side of my stomach.  This made Devorah and me think appendix and worry that there might be an additional issue.  After consulting once again with Dr. Shah he explained that covid has many ways it expresses itself and the pain in the stomach can be completely related to covid.  Then came the blue finger symptom.  On Tuesday, 2/2, I noticed my right, middle finger is blue.  Not the entire finger, just the two lower knuckles.  Interesting, the upper knuckle was numb.  I could not understand what was going on but Dr. Google confirmed that one of the many covid19 symptoms is blue fingers or blue toes.  Great!  So how do we deal with this one?  Well, first you start moving your finger until it stops feeling numb and then you rub it until the blue disappears.  It worked.  It would go away for a while, but then later I’d look at it again, and it was blue again.  The next thing I hear is Devorah telling me that both of my hands look discolored.  Not purple blue like my finger, but somewhat discolored.  This led to a lot of questions and the unknown of what was going on and where this is leading to.  Of course, I’ve heard of blood clots before.  Unfortunately, a colleague of ours in Boston just lost his Dad to covid19 after a blood clot led to a stroke a week into his illness.  How were we do deal with this at this point as we were aware that it was not a joking matter?  The first thing we did was send to the pharmacy to get an Oxy Meter.  My numbers were still in the low to mid 90s but I started feeling shortness of breath and difficulty taking deep breaths.  Devorah was trying to teach me how to inhale and exhale but I was not such a good student, I could not do it.  This was not normal.  Devorah was in touch with several good friends from our community both Doctors and Nurses who were there to assist us with our concerns and help allay our fears, and we are so thankful to them for their valuable support and kindness.  I tried to reach out to my primary care physician a doctor affiliated with Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston.  That didn’t work out too well either.  After many attempts trying to reach him, I only succeeded in getting in touch with his nurse who insisted that it was not essential that I speak to the Doctor.  I begged her to have him call me, which never happened to this day.  She said there is nothing that can be done for covid19.  If need be, I should visit an urgent care and consult with them.  That was a little lesson for me of what is going on today with the healthcare system.  I think it’s time for me to find another Doctor. 

A relative of mine suggested I call Dr. Zelenko, the famous Dr. who introduced the widespread remedy of Zinc, Hydroxychloroquine, and Azithromycin that he claims reduces hospitalizations and death due to covid19.  He said he knew him well and that he would be willing to help me.  “Just call him”, he said, “and he will be happy to help you.”  My relative who knows him sent me his number, and I called him.  When I realized he is not picking up the phone, I sent him a text.  I wrote that I am a Chabad rabbi on Cape Cod sick with covid19 and I can use some help urgently, would he kindly contact me to guide me?  The response I received was to contact his assistant who schedules his appointments.  After texting his assistant I received another very long text message that included the following.  “Dr. Zelenko does not take insurance his fee is ….dollars per patient.  Another option is  They use Dr. Zelenko’s treatment protocol.  I believe their consultation fee is ..dollars.  Dr. Zelenko DOES NOT DISPENSE MEDICATION.  He may write a prescription based on his professional opinion, after consultation.  Please read the entire message before responding.  Thank you.”  After receiving this response I said to myself thanks, but no thanks.  First of all my relative suggested that Dr. Zelenko would be happy to help me and I should simply call his phone.  Sure I will be happy to pay him anything at this point, but why all this runaround?  Second, he writes that he does not dispense medication.  What good is it if I will not be able to get the medication I need?  Would the pharmacy even fill his prescription? 

So I headed onto the next plan, late Wednesday evening, 2/3, I contacted my cousin in NY who is very involved with the Hatzalah Ambulance Corps.  Today the Hatzalah is recognized worldwide as the one who initiated the treatment of covid19 with dexamethasone (Steroids).  They discovered that the steroids help reduce the inflammation surrounding the lungs and allow for increased breathing and healing and with use of this method they saved thousands of lives in NYC and across the nation as this helped prevent the need to intubate people.  I texted my cousin who said he will be happy to help me, but just as I got on the phone with him he said he just received notice of the death of his brother-in-law, the husband of his wife’s sister, shortly after he was administered his second covid-vaccine injection.  He said he is overwhelmed as he must immediately make all the arrangements for the funeral that would take place on Thursday in accordance with Jewish law.  He could not talk to me at this time.  Strike two for me.  I understood him fully and felt terrible for his situation and for the loss of Rabbi Yisroel Rapoport, 54 years young, the Chabad rabbi in Vineland, NJ, rabbi of Congregation Sons of Jacob, who I knew very well from my days in yeshiva in Los Angeles.  Yisroel was an older student, just 4 years older than me, when I was studying there and he was the most amazing, happy, funny, personality to be around.  He had a heart of gold and was a dedicated rabbi to his community.  He was so energetic.  He always walked around with a smile and had a good word to say.  I hung up the phone not knowing what to do.  But there is nothing like a doctor who is a personal friend or as they say in Hebrew a “yedid”.  When people would write to the Rebbe to ask health related questions, the Rebbe would often respond, “k’atazas rofeh yedid”, “follow the advice of a doctor who is also a friend.”  Dr. Lisa Moreno knew of my situation and told me I can call her 24/7 to ask for advice or for guidance.  The first thing in the morning, I called Dr. Lisa, who after hearing me out, strongly suggested that I go to the emergency room.  “Who knows, you may be walking around with pneumonia, and we need to rule that out.  Please rabbi, go to the emergency room and have them check you out to make sure everything is ok.”  And that is how G-d led me to the Cape Cod Hospital where they ended up saving my life.  You see, my dear friends, in life there are so many choices and so many paths to be considered, yet somehow Hashem finds a way to lead us to the right path.  We do our part, we try one path, then test another, sometimes proceeding on one for somewhat of a distance only to find out that the road we are on leads us to nowhere and that there is a much better road in store for us.  That inner compass that directs us from day to day, that influences our choices, and finds a way to alert us regarding the obstacles that stand before us is the voice of G-d within us and around us.  We simply have to pay attention to that voice and to the many signs Hashem puts before us.

Stay tuned for the next chapters:

Cape Cod Hospital: The good and the challenges

My Shabbos in the Hospital 

CHAPTER 1 The Very Beginning: With the Rebbe at the Ohel 10 Shevat 5781

How Covid 19 Changed My Life for Good
and My experience at Cape Cod Hospital

(Covid 19 patient, 5 days, 2/4-2/8)

Chapter 1
The Very Beginning: With the Rebbe at the Ohel 10 Shevat 5781

I visited the Rebbe’s Ohel, Shabbat, January 23, to spend a complete Shabbat in close proximity to the Rebbe’s Ohel, a first for me since the Rebbe left us physically on Tammuz 3, 5754 - June 11, 1994.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but as a Chabad rabbi dedicated to a community 24/7, knowing how much the Rebbe wants me to be present on Cape Cod for weekly Shabbat services to teach and to interact with the members of our community and visitors, it really never allowed me the opportunity to pick myself up for a Shabbat and leave for this purpose.  I can only recall in my thought, a dear friend Rabbi Abba Refson, who at a similar age to myself decided to never leave the proximity of the Rebbe’s Ohel following the Rebbe's passing.  He said, “how can I leave the presence of my teacher."  From that very first day following the funeral he rented an RV and parked it on Abraham St at Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens.  Visitors began flocking to the Rebbe’s Ohel on a daily basis from the first moment after his passing.  Abba had a new job set out for him.  From morning to evening he was occupied with assisting visitors present their prayers to the Rebbe, and to help them perform mitzvot whether donning Tefillin or reciting prayers prior to meeting the Rebbe’s soul to prepare for this very spiritual experience.  Abba has since built a large visitors welcome center at the Ohel that operates 24/7 to provide space for meditation and prayer, Torah learning, Yeshiva, Mikvah, sleeping accommodations, ongoing daily services, a Judaica shop, meals for visitors and more.  On a regular simple weekend around the year hundreds of visitors gather at the Ohel to spend Shabbat together.  On special occasions however, many thousands can arrive to celebrate Shabbat together at the Ohel.  This January 23, was a special Shabbat, the world would observe 70 years since the Rebbe uttered the first Maamar [Discourse] to accept the role of 7th Chabad Rebbe, to take on the mission of transforming this world to its most ultimate state, as he declared.   In his first words of acceptance the Rebbe stated, "this is the 7th generation and it is the job of the 7th generation and its leader to finally bring the Shechinah down to this world.  Akin to Moses who was the seventh leader in his time who was tasked with restoring the Shechina (Divine Presence) to this world, the job of this 7th generation [from the Alter Rebbe who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov as spiritual mentor to bring the light of G-d to this world] is to restore the Divine Presence [the “Shechina”] to this world."  I had a painful week [prior to 1/23], a very painful meeting that ultimately turned out to be very good and worked itself out in the very best way possible, but nonetheless, considering that meeting and considering that our weekly minyan has been dwindling lately due to fears related to the covid 19 pandemic amongst our community members I got this inner voice that suggested I go to the Rebbe to spend this special Shabbat marking 70 years at the Ohel.  I accepted the idea.  Devorah gave the approval, and I was good to go.

Knowing how many people will be present and not wanting to mingle too much, I rented a large RV with my dear brother-in-law, Rabbi Asher Bronstein, who also decided to join me for his first Shabbat at the Ohel that weekend.  At the end it became a family affair, with Mendel, Chaim, Levi and Hershy joining me too.  [not all of them slept in the RV].  I picked up the RV in New Haven, CT, eliminating the need to drive it extra miles, and I parked it on Francis Lewis Blvd. adjacent to the Ohel.  There was security by the NYPD at the Ohel around the clock so that was no issue at all.

I must say the whole experience at the Ohel was phenomenal.  Indeed, I did not meet many colleagues there.  Again the Covid 19 pandemic had its effects even in the Chabad community.  There were very few Rabbis my age and almost none older than me.  I would say out of the 4,000 or so who were present 95% were students the remaining 5% were older.  But after being isolated on Cape Cod for the last 25 years this was a real eye-opener to me.  I’ve heard many a time elderly chassidim recall the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the years just after the Holocaust when Judaism in general was in decline and the Chabad community in Brooklyn was in its early birthing stages.  They would reminisce on the small number of students on a Shabbat in 770: 50-60 was considered a large crowd.  I grew up in the 70s’ and 80s’ and yes the Chabad community was growing in the US, but it was slow.  I might have had 50-250 in my contemporary circle of friends or in my age group from all Chabad Yeshivas globally as a student growing up at that time.  But what I witnessed today was altogether different.  There was an army of students, thousands upon thousands of them.  Plus I know, what you see is not what you get, because the students who were present at the Ohel were only a fraction of the Chabad students across the globe.  Yes, many Yeshivas were in attendance, both national and international, but I knew that just a few miles away in 770 there are thousands more Chabad students who were celebrating the Shabbat there and there were many Yeshivas that were not in attendance due to Covid 19 circumstances.  So for me to see this revival of Yiddishkeit in our time before my eyes was very uplifting.  That’s not all.  These boys were thirsting for information. As I’d walk through the tent following services, a group of boys would grab me.  “Sit down, tell us something about the Rebbe”.  Please share your experiences with us.  It was incredible for me to see an army of youth thirsting to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe, a story, or any first-hand experience.  I learned that the 7th generation is far from over.  In fact, it is exploding.  There was so much positive energy present, so much power for good.  I must add, when I decided to go to the Ohel, Devorah was worried whether I would have enough food.  Again, I learned that was not a problem at all.  There was an abundance of food.  No pushing, No shoving. It was plentiful, fully catered, buffet style, with wait-staff filling your plate for as many refills as your heart can desire.  In any case, who had time to eat, with all the students around you asking you to share something with them, singing songs in the spirit of Shabbat, and farbrenging together the whole Shabbat passed by so quickly.

To Be Continued.... 

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