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A Home for Netanel

Chaya Yankelowitz

Netanel’s mother was pale and drawn. Elinor watched as she wiped a stray tear, gathered her bag, and walked out of the ward, leaving her baby behind

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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PAID IN FULL “After intense negotiations, the decision was reached that the Health Fund would reimburse the hospital for the cost of care in a rehabilitative facility,” relates Dr. Ofir. “That reimbursement covered roughly half the cost of a day of hospitalization. The other half was contributed by the staff; all of us, from the senior medical staff to the auxiliary staff, deducted from our salaries to pay for Netanel’s care”

When Elinor opened the door to Room 7, on the children’s ward of Mayanei Hayeshuah Medical Center in Bnei Brak, she had little idea that the tiny baby who lay there — hooked up to oxygen and a feeding tube — would transform the next four years of her life.

Take Care of My Baby

Armed with a clipboard and a ream of paperwork, Elinor pushed open the door. A mother sat in a chair, cradling her infant. “Hello, Netanel’s Mom,” Elinor began. “What brings you here?”

“We’ve come from Schneider’s Children’s Hospital,” the mother said, her voice low and feeble. “Netanel’s been there since he was born. Last week, he was back in Intensive Care. When he was no longer in critical condition, we decided to transfer here.”

Elinor nodded. She turned her gaze to the infant who lay in the hospital crib, dependent on both oxygen and a feeding tube. His facial features quickly identified him as having Down syndrome. His tiny size and lack of movement marked him as suffering from numerous medical issues.

Elinor examined Netanel closely, and stroked his thin body. She filled out the forms and prepared to move on to the next intake. As she headed to the door, the mother held up her hand. “Stop,” the mother said. “I want you to know that I can’t care for Netanel any longer. I have a family. I’m weak. I’m sick. Please, take good care of him.”

Elinor looked more closely. Netanel’s mother was pale and drawn. Elinor watched as she wiped a stray tear, gathered her bag, and walked out of the ward, leaving her baby behind.

The next morning, when Elinor entered Netanel’s room, she noticed that his tiny leg was stuck between the bars of the crib. The little baby just lay there, not crying, not even attempting to free himself. For Elinor, it was a watershed moment. “I said to myself, what’s going on here? This baby doesn’t cry, he doesn’t react,” Elinor recalls. “That told me that he was used to being alone. We immediately transferred him to the room closest to the nurses’ station, so we could give him a lot of attention.” Efforts were made to reach out to the mother, but all overtures were firmly rebuffed. In the meantime, Dr. Chana Ofir, head of the department, focused on stabilizing Netanel.

 

Netanel suffered from a heart condition, and he had difficulty swallowing, which caused him to aspirate food into his lungs and led to pneumonia. Although his parents had tried to care for him at home, the frequent hospitalizations and his intense needs made this impossible for him. “We admitted him for treatment and rehabilitation. We were aware that this would be a lengthy process.”

Elinor decided to make that process as homey and nurturing as possible to the little baby. His room — until now referred to as the isolation room — became “Netanel’s room.” The plain walls were hung with pictures, one nurse brought in a set of pretty blue linen, and all the nurses contributed a selection of baby accessories and toys. An unspoken pact had been made between the staff: This baby will not grow up in a cold, sterile environment.

With no mother to cuddle and caress, whisper and hum, the nurses took on the role. Foremost was Elinor, who was assigned to fewer patients so that she could spend time caring for Netanel. Every morning, Elinor gently washed Netanel and spent an hour massaging him and playing with him.

“Massage is beneficial for every baby,” explains Debbie Bek, the head nurse, of Elinor’s investment. “It’s especially important for a baby whose baseline is inferior.” After a few weeks, Netanel began registering his interest. “He would cry when I stopped the massage,” Elinor recalls. “He wanted more. After a while, he learned that there’d be more the next day.”

When Elinor and the other nurses were busy with their duties, volunteers cared for Netanel. Elinor brought in gentle music and stimulating toys and taught the volunteers how to challenge Netanel through play.
“He blossomed. You could see he was happy. And then, one day he smiled.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 552)

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