If you have a head, you can smile
Hadassah Mount Scopus, Amputations ward. The scariest place in the world… People come in whole; two arms, two legs – and they come out… . A patient looks down to check the time, and his left arm isn’t there. Another leans over to tie his other shoe, but there is a limp pants leg where his foot used to be. A terrifying place, terrifying. No one is smiling. All hope is lost. Patients sit quietly, with darkened faces. And the weeping…
But one man is smiling – R. Tuvia. He is an exception in this place of sadness and despair. Diabetes claimed his left leg; the blackened limb is gone. He is still a young man, just turned 50! How can he be smiling? How, for heavens’ sake?
One of the nurses in the ward cannot hold herself back from asking. “They cut off my leg,” answers R. Tuvia, “But not my head. If they would cut off my head, then I wouldn’t be able to smile…”
Later, he goes over to a patient, an amputee. The other patient is sitting crying bitterly, mourning over his leg. “Smile!” demands R. Tuvia. The Jew looks at him perplexed. What is there to smile about? Look at the calamity that has come upon me! I have no life left. But R. Tuvia will not desist. “Smile! If you get depressed, no one will want to be around you. I am telling you: Smile!”
A long time later, the patient begins calling him every day to receive encouragement and to learn how it is possible to live in spite of such troubles. R. Tuvia is the only one who can give this type of encouragement. If you would only see him… What a life he has! How much suffering he endures. Yet, through it all, he manages to smile.
When Tuvia became an amputee, life changed drastically. First, he had to move to a ground floor apartment, modified for the handicapped. He needs a great deal of help. When he goes out, he rides around on a little scooter. Just to get into the house from the yard, he needs someone to push his wheelchair. Only when there is absolutely no choice, he gets up and hobbles around, but it is terribly painful. His prosthesis rubs against the stump of his leg and this causes painful swelling.
Diabetes continues to consume him. Now, his right leg might have to be amputated. His kidneys are very weak, his arms lay limply at his sides; it takes enormous effort to move them…Apart from the diabetes, his heart is deteriorating. He is brought in for an emergency follow-up operation. He comes out alive and he perseveres. What extraordinary stubbornness! He gets himself to work every day and supports himself. He takes care of customers and suppliers, and he marries off six children…He has a prosthesis where his left leg used to be, but the fire in his eyes continues to burn. Pushing his wheelchair into the circle of dancers, he grabs the hands of the chosson and Tuvia, too, is dancing like everyone else. Everyone surrounds him, clapping their hands. They share the joy of a handicapped man, this “elderly” man who is only in his fifties.
Diabetes continues to consume him… ”the quiet death” – That is what they call this cruel disease, and this is what is happening to R. Tuvia. He is dying little by little. His life is being taken from him stage by stage. He now has a cataract in one eye; his teeth are falling out. Finally, due to the unending treatments and troubles he can no longer muster the wherewithal to support himself. His hair becomes prematurely white, and his hands no longer serve him as they did. They tell him again and again that his right leg may have to be cut off. No matter how much medicine he takes, he cannot bring his blood sugar level down.
One day, his doctors declare that he should not go back to work. He must close the business. That day destroys him.
Like a Gravestone
Why get up in the morning? What is the point of living? His body is already long dead; there is no way to help it. Once, everyone in Kiryat Sefer knew that R. Tuvia had the answer to any difficulty. He would lend you money if you needed it; he would make things happen… Once his home was a big “address” for collectors, he would sign on huge monthly payments for his sons’ yeshivos. But today? Today, people go to the shuls to collect money to pay for his son’s wedding. They are burying me – he tells his close friends. That I should need to rely on tzedakah?!
He is despondent. His pain is overcoming him. He has no parnassah and his body has failed him. He has no satisfaction in life, no reason to make an effort. The disease has left him devastated, and closing his business was like placing a stone on his grave. Where is the R. Tuvia who encouraged others? Who will encourage him now?
He has lost the will to fight. The strength to endure has left him. His body is sick, but his mind is still active and sharp. Now, he says bitterly, either to the loony bin or to the cemetery. But, first, if only I could pay off my debts. Massive debts have accumulated over the years of his long illness; his new, modified apartment has a much higher rent than the old one. He has married off six children and his business is gone.
His Heart is in Danger Now
And now, to top it all off, his heart has begun to give out. He has a date for an operation, with treatments before and after. More expenses; every specialist must be paid, and R. Tuvia has lost his will to go on. There is no more money; his body is almost entirely gone. Enough already – what will be will be.
When he had his business, and the time came to marry off a child, R. Tuvia took loans. It was hard, but he was able to pay them off on time. Now, the faucet is closed. Here is a man with unhealthy eyes; his left leg is gone and his right leg not far behind. His kidneys are weak and his teeth have fallen out. He is a helpless man, falling apart so young, dying before his time. Where will he get the strength to survive this operation? And what about all the formidable expenses – when he hasn’t even begun to pay off the previous ones?
His health is deteriorating constantly. What will be next? The spirit has its effect on the body; the pain, the debts, the helplessness, the shame of having to come on to others – it is likely to kill him. Sometimes poverty is the last straw. And now he has to deal with heart problems…
May we never know such troubles. May we never taste the bitter taste of a body going bad. And, through all his pains and worries, he still feels ashamed to accept our help. It is so hard for him. He owes so much. But there is no other way, If we don’t remove his debts and return some semblance of normalcy to his life – if we don’t find the money for his upcoming operation and the treatments involved – he won’t survive. Let us at least do this for R. Tuvia, to give him something that will make a difference in his life. Let us pray for him and hope that our help will make a difference and return to him that joy that he lost.
“All who are merciful receive mercy in kind…”
R. Tuvia was once a happy, inspiring man; now he is broken.
He has lost a leg; he is half-blind and his hands no longer serve him. His business has closed; his kidneys are failing and he needs an urgent operation on his heart.
His life is falling apart and he has neither the ability nor the money to help himself.