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13 Hours between Life and Death

As told to Rhona Lewis

It wasn’t just a headache. It was a brain tumor.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

 “Something is not right here,” said Mazal, my closest friend.

I wanted to nod, but I knew that if I moved my head the slightest bit, it would set off another wave of excruciating pain.

“You need major surgery. Tonight.”

My first thought was — my kids. I am a single mother and, at the time, my eight children were all under the age of 15. It was the night of bedikas chometz and instead of staying at home with them, I was driven to the hospital by my sister Ahuva. My children were shepherded off to devoted friends.

Just nine months earlier, I’d felt my first stabs of pain — sharp daggers of agony that would hit the side of my face. Since then, pain had become my shadow. My only respite was Tegretol, an anticonvulsant medication, which my doctor instructed me to take three times daily. If I missed even one, the vicious pain would return in full force.

I became vigilant about taking my pills on time. I was once at a park in my neighborhood in Brooklyn when I jumped up, as if I had sat on a tack. My friend, sitting next to me on the bench, shot up, too. I explained that I’d simply forgotten to take my medication, then rushed home to pop another pill.

I was running on automatic and had little time to think about what was happening to me. As a divorcée with limited family support, the responsibility of providing for my children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs fell on my shoulders. To cover the bills, I took on a job as an aide in a kindergarten class. Even though I was going through pummeling pain, I went to work day after long day — I had no other choice. 

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