“Don’t worry about it. You’re probably just overly stressed.” That was the message I kept hearing from doctors at my health clinic. They repeatedly assured me that their cursory exams revealed nothing of interest.
It was 2003, about a year after I made aliyah, when I first started noticing signs that something was wrong. I grew tired and weak from my usual, everyday activities. And I had issues with simple coordination; I couldn’t even keep a grip on items — they just fell through my fingers. It was a challenge to do basic things like eating because I struggled to keep the food behind closed lips.
When my eyesight began to slowly deteriorate, I grew increasingly worried. A few years prior, I had undergone surgery to remove benign brain tumors called meningiomas. One of the first symptoms they had caused was reduced vision. So I knew the problem was far more serious than stress.
Suspecting a neurological problem, I demanded an MRI of my head. The doctors granted the request, but despite my follow-up questions, they never indicated that anything unusual had appeared in the exam. Meanwhile, my health continued to get worse. One leg dragged whenever I walked. I ran out of breath by simply walking around my apartment. My face was going numb. The doctors were hardly sympathetic — they insisted that I was suffering from hypochondria.
Eighteen months after the MRI, I woke up completely blind. A friend rushed me to the same hospital where I’d had the first one. The emergency room doctor conducting the new MRI was the same man who’d previously examined me. He explained that the sudden blindness was a result of a benign Petroclival Tentorial Meningioma brain tumor, which was crushing every nerve between my head and spine, including my optic nerves. He had identified the tumor at the bottom of my skull a year and a half earlier in the first MRI. He was shocked when I murmured, “I kept asking, but nobody told me,” as I slipped to the floor in a faint.
The benign tumor, once small, had grown considerably — and was slowly killing me. The prognosis was grim: If I didn’t get it removed, and fast, it was only going to cause more damage. I would go deaf, then mute, then become paralyzed, while agonizing pain ripped through me. I would likely end up in hospice on a morphine drip until I passed away.
My only hope was surgery, but even that wasn’t simple. The tumor was so embedded in my brain that it would take an incredibly skilled surgeon to remove it without killing me in the process.
To find such a surgeon, my dear friends and several doctors began an extensive, worldwide search. The wait was agonizing. Since the hospital staff could do nothing for me, I returned home to my apartment, no longer able to see the world around me. When I took a nap or went to bed at night, I didn’t know if I’d wake up again. I lived in a state of fear. My friends prepared my meals and stayed by my side. We hugged, learned emotionally strengthening Torah thoughts, and prayed, prayed, prayed. Men in the community made Mi shebeirachs for me week in and out.
The massive search turned up two qualified practitioners. One was in the USA, one was in Israel. I knew that the surgery could not go the least bit wrong or I’d lose my life, if not the quality of that life, right there on the operating table. Friends offered to pay my airfare to America so that a world-famous neurosurgeon there could do the operation.
In the end, I decided not to leave the Holy Land. “I made aliyah,” I told my friends. “My mazel is here, not elsewhere.” I trusted my gut instinct. It was the same strong instinct that led me to become religious when I was in my early teens.
As the day of my surgery approached, I begged Hashem to save me. For emotional comfort, I turned to my friends; for hadrachah, to my favorite mentors. I had one chance to stay alive and I chose to behave as if it would work. In time, I believed what I was saying.