Vivien Leigh, Illness and The Voice

vivgwtw.jpg

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara.

While filming Gone with the Wind, 1939 Viven Leigh was “indisposed” two days out of every month. She told producer David O. Selznik that her monthly flow was so severe work was physically and mentally impossible.

In fact, there was one man (or woman) at every studio whose delicate job it was to maintain a calendar charting the monthly cycles of their female stars.

Acting and actors are fragile creatures. Performing in front of a camera requires the stamina of a marathon runner and the concentration of a yeshiva student learning Talmud.

Illness wounds the body and afflicts the mind.

Pain is the ultimate destroyer.

Last week I woke in the middle of the night with pain in my left flank that was paralyzing. I suspected a kidney stone and woke Karen with a pretty lame piece of dialogue:

“Karen… something’s wrong.”

Soon enough, I was in the ER being treated with rather alarming doses of pain medication. A CATscan confirmed my amateur diagnosis.

Back home, over the next two days, the pain increased.

Surgery was required.

Karen and I are all to familiar with the peculiar universe that is hospital life. We spent eight years of our lives trying to save our son Ariel’s life. Eight years in and out of hospitals, eight years navigating the dangerous shoals of hospital bureaucracies, eight years trying to impose our will on a relentless illness.

In the hospital there is an endless parade of doctors, interns, residents, nurses, student nurses, nutritionists and human resource humans who ask the same questions over and over again. They prick the skin, draw buckets of blood and in their good efforts to restore health they end up, all too often, dehumanizing the patient.

Scenes from my hospital stay:

1. Wheeled into surgery, the anesthesiologist leaned over and introduced himself. I asked what he was using to put me out:

“The same drug that killed Michael Jackson,” he assured me with a huge grin.

2. After surgery, back in my hospital room, Karen asked the nurse for a cot. The love of my life was not going to leave me alone for a minute. A few minutes later the nurse returned and offered Karen a cotton swab.

Baffled, Karen gazed at the patch of cotton.

I said: “My wife would like a cot, y’know, a small bed so she can sleep in this room. Not cotton.”

3. Settled in the room, we heard a voice from another room. The voice was speaking Spanish in firm tones. The volume increased and the plaintive tones were that of a man in conversation with G-d.

“He’s praying,” Karen said.

Yes, no matter the religion, no matter the language, prayer has its own particular cadence.

The voice grew louder, echoed up and down the hallway. The voice broke into sobs and then ceased.

Karen and I gazed at each other. We were moved and comforted by the sanctity of this voice.

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41 Comments

  1. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Everyone:
    Thanks so much. Feeling better if a bit uncomfortable. More than ever I appreciate the Jewish prayer: Asher yatzar:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asher_yatzar

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Posted June 6, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Robert –
    Hope you’re home again and feeling better! Glad you caught the kidney stone fast and got it out before it got any worse. Take care and recover soon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Rachel
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    Robert:
    I am so sorry that you went through this ordeal. I hope you are recovering well and that you only know of excellent health in the future!
    I know the Ariel Avrech (zt’l) Memorial Lecture was yesterday. Every year I’ve wished that I could be in town to attend. From all I’ve ever read about him, it sounds like he was on a higher plane that most of us mortals…and we are all poorer for not having such a role model here to be inspired by. I wish for Hashem to comfort your family forever for this tremendous loss.

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  4. Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Dear Robert,
    I hope you are feeling better and were able to comfortably participate in Ariel’s memorial lecture today. Thoughts and prayers to you and Karen.
    ProphetJoe

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  5. Leah
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    refuah Shlama

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Miranda Rose Smith
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Priebe: How difficult it must have been for you to put those painful memories on the Internet! I salute you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Posted June 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    So many times as a child, my mother told me, “If you have your health, you have everything.” I thought she was an idiot.
    Years later, I now am well aware of who the real idiot was.
    Robert, I hope that you recover soon and “have everything.” Blessings, too, for a meaningful and memorable memorial lecture for your beloved son, Ariel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Jane D.
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Had to have kidney surgery once, for something else. Ow! Ow! Ow! Yeee-owch! is all I can say for hydronephrosis. Ow!
    Hope you are feeling much better soon!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Jackie W. - Kanasas
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Having survived ds3’s kidney transplant 8 years ago … hospitals are very expensive hotels. There is never enough darkness to sleep. The lights are on 24/7.
    When we would go to Children’s Mercy in KC we would usually see children who were dealing with more life threatening illnesses than a transplant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Sal
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Robert,
    Prayers for your speedy recovery. Will be thinking of you all on Sunday and hope the lecture is wonderful- the topic is intriguing and profound.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Thomas Priebe
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Hi Miranda,
    You said, “Dear Thomas: The poor boy was obviously in agony, of mind and body, and lashing out at his mother.”
    I don’t think we really disagree. I don’t know what the young man’s relationship with his mother had been like.
    That’s why I said, “I don’t feel I have the right to possibly blame anyone for passing away kicking and screaming … but I can admire with awe someone doing it with the dignity and gratitude that Ariel did … dignity that is permanent and which no force in the universe can ever erase.”
    My relationship with my father was not good, to say the least. He had genius-level IQ and a beyond-genius-level temper. He was the most intimidating person you could ever imagine (think of someone with an IQ of 160, extremely fast on his feet with an, at times, ruffian nature, looking like Clint Eastwood on massive doses of steroids).
    Growing up, I was in constant fear of him. He was very emotionally and psychologically abusive at times.
    That being said, in his last years, when he couldn’t walk and needed constant care, I would never have considered putting him in a nursing home. When he was near the end, I rushed to my parents’ house to say good-bye and comfort him. I forgave him. As my sister said, “He did the best he could. He was constantly battling his demons. And, he did love you. When you moved away to Hawaii, he was on the verge of tears for weeks.” (I wish she had told me that before he passed.)
    Now, I want my own children to respect me, not fear me.
    How I envy Ariel. He has a wonderful father!!!
    Thomas (who is sorry for the long post … having father issues will do that)

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  12. Christopher
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Robert – so sorry to hear of the kidney stone, but glad you are home and recovering. My prayers and best wishes to you and Karen, and all best wishes for Sunday’s lecture. G-d bless you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Miranda Rose Smith
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    Good health is taken for granted until something happens and then we really appreciate what we had.
    Dear Johnny: Trite but true, we never miss the water until the well runs dry.
    Ms Smith – hadn’t heard of that Dr/author – same one? Dunno. But to complete the hilarity I could hear a voice reverberate down the hall – in a slow mournful tone – N u r s e……….N U R S E……
    at 3 in the morning….
    Posted by: Bill Brandt at June 3, 2011 01:23 AM
    Dear Mr. Brandt: 999.99% surely not the same man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Bill Brandt
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    Ms Smith – hadn’t heard of that Dr/author – same one? Dunno. But to complete the hilarity I could hear a voice reverberate down the hall – in a slow mournful tone – N u r s e……….N U R S E……
    at 3 in the morning….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Miranda Rose Smith
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    My orthopedic surgeon 30 years ago believe it or not was named Dr Slaughter – well, anyway hope you are feeling better.
    Dear Mr. Brandt: You never heard of Frank G. Slaughter, the doctor turned pulp author?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Bill Brandt
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Robert – I somehow sensed you weren’t feeling well.Perhaps your blog has extra-sensory properties. Hope you are feeling better.
    A bit on my hospital visits (thankfully few).
    In the last few years to correct an irregular heart beat (afibulation) I had to be knocked out and “jump started” – yes- like a car with a jolt of electricity.
    Since the last time I had to be knocked out was over 30 years ago – and it was an unpleasant experience to correct a skiing knee injury – I was a bit trepiditious – but was astounded at the advancement in these drugs – no after affects – it was as if there was a switch on my body that turned me off and them back on.
    Your Dr needs to work on his “bedside manner”.
    My orthopedic surgeon 30 years ago believe it or not was named Dr Slaughter – well, anyway hope you are feeling better.
    I also read that Vivian Leigh worked a backbreaking schedule in GWTW as she was in almost every scene.
    I am almost ready to graduate with a BCH – Bachelor in Cinematic History thanks to Professors Avrech and Nolte.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Miranda Rose Smith
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    All the best,Shabbat Shalom v’Hag Samaech.
    Posted by: Miranda Rose Smith at June 2, 2011 10:57 PM
    CORRECTION-DON’T DELETE.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Miranda Rose Smith
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    The interesting thing was, that the part I was singing, was “Hodu L’Hashem ki tov” and was all in Hebrew, with no resemblance at all to Spanish.
    Dear Exdemexlib: I think Hebrew has a very similar intonation, a very similar cadence, to French.
    He was angry and bitter to the very end and took it all out on their mother. She said she couldn’t stand to hear the way he talked to their mother in the hospital.
    Dear Thomas: The poor boy was obviously in agony, of mind and body, and lashing out at his mother.
    Dear Robert: I wish you a r’fuah shelema. Are you going to take your kidney stone, in a jar, to work? I once worked as a file clerk in a law office and one of the attorneys brought in his gallstones. All the bestm,Shabbat Shalom v’Hag Samaech.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Peter
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Robert,
    Refuah shlaimah.
    Since I practice refuah in an emergency department, I definitely appreciate it when a little appropriate humor enters a situation. With patients that I feel a good rapport with from the start, I have been known to ask my nurse “Now can you get me the instruction book” just as I’m about to sew them up. You should see the look I get. (sorry Franny) But it’s great medicine for the patient.
    I’ve got to say this, Robert. Not only does your son’s neshema live, but because G-d put him on this earth if even for far too short a time, he is affecting all of us on this website. You’ve said that you started the site as a way to deal with such a loss. Well, your son is working good deeds through it at this very instant. We would not have this great venue, discourse, and your constant sober commentary, clear thinking, good humor, and respectful entertainment, if it weren’t for that young man. Ha ben shelcha chai.
    Peter

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  20. Posted June 2, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Hope you feel better soon. G-d Bless.

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  21. Solaratov
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly enough, I just had cataract surgery two days ago – and the anesthesiologist used the same thing on me.
    And my doctor said the same thing to me.

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  22. Johnny
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Good job playing doctor. I think I speak for everyone and especially Karen that you get well soon. Nurses I know all say men make the worst patients. Good health is taken for granted until something happens and then we really appreciate what we had.
    Of course under Obamacare it is illegal to diagnose yourself without a license so expect a visit. If you go silent we will all know why.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Lance
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Well..next time I’m in pain I’m calling Robert first for a diagnosis. 😉
    Robert….refuah shleima…may you have the speediest of recoveries.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. robc
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Praying for a speedy recovery for you!

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  25. kishke
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never had a kidney stone, thank God, but I know some who have, and they say the pain is simply indescribable. I’m sorry you had to go through this. Feel better.

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  26. Betsy
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Refuah Shelama.
    Good Call on the kidney stones but surgery, oy! Glad you’re home and doing better.

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  27. Posted June 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Robert, I’m sorry to hear that you were ill! I hope that you’re well on your way to recovery now. Refua shlema!

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  28. Carla
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m feeling particularly wimpy today but your words brought me to tears.
    Hope you are well.

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  29. Posted June 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Refuah shlema. May you not have to endure any more hospital stays or visits (unless for the births of any future grandchildren).
    And yes, I’ll be thinking of your family and community this coming Sunday, and no doubt looking at my copy of THE BOOK OF ARIEL…May Ariel’s neshama have an aliya.

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  30. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Everyone:
    Thans so much for your kind wishes.
    I am home now, exhausted but determined to pull myself together for the Ariel Avrech Memorial Lecture this coming Sunday, featuring Yossi Klein Halevi.

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  31. Gary Cummings
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Robert,
    I wish you a speedy recovery. God bless you.
    Gary

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  32. DrCarol
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I hope you are home and recuperating now–and not blogging from a hospital bed.
    Get well soon!

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  33. Franny
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Get well soon, Robert. The anesthesiologist’s remark would have not put me at ease (did you laugh?). I prefer a more reassuring bedside manner!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Thomas Priebe
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Oh Robert,
    I hope you’re feeling better!! I knew I shouldn’t have stopped by your wonderful blog (which I find to be dangerously addictive) for a quick glance when I have a million things to do right now … to find you’ve posted something about which I have a million things to say!!
    First of all, I must repeat myself by saying that your son, Ariel, having said, “I have had a good life,” at that young age in that situation, shows not only amazing courage and grace …. I must elaborate by saying it shows amazing gratitude to his parents for presenting him with a good, full life in such a short time.
    Reading Ariel’s story immediately brings to mind two stories:
    The first: When I was a young twentysomething working in my dad’s flagship store in Santa Monica, there was a Jewish girl who was a customer about my age who came in almost daily. She worked for a Jewish man who owned an art-framing store on the next block. She told us that even in middle-age, he was consumed with bitterness that his biological parents had given him up for adoption … he was full of anger that Jewish parents could do such a thing. She and I agreed that it seemed much more appropriate to forgive them, and to be thankful that the biological mother hadn’t aborted him … and, more importantly, to be thankful there was a couple willing to make the beautiful sacrifice of adopting a child.
    Now, the more important part of this story. Later on, her brother (like Ariel, in his twenties) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For months I would see her almost daily in our store and she would update us on her brother. Of course, she always seemed depressed and exhausted, but what seemed to be the worst part of the ordeal for her was her brother’s treatment of their mother. He was angry and bitter to the very end and took it all out on their mother. She said she couldn’t stand to hear the way he talked to their mother in the hospital.
    Of course, I have no idea about the family dynamics involved, but, after he passed, she said that it wasn’t only the fact that he passed that was heart-wrenching … it was the horrible feelings of blame and hatred that their mother had to deal with.
    I don’t feel I have the right to possibly blame anyone for passing away kicking and screaming … but I can admire with awe someone doing it with the dignity and gratitude that Ariel did … dignity that is permanent and which no force in the universe can ever erase.
    I will post the second story (yes, that’s only the first one!) after I’m finished with some urgent business. (I knew I shouldn’t have stopped by for a quick look at this blog!!)
    Thomas

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  35. Antoine Clarke
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Take care Robert. Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. But trust you to entertain us with Hollywood anecdotes at such a time!
    Refuah Shlaimah.

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  36. Posted June 2, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    !החלמה מהירה
    May you have a speedy recovery!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. exdemexlib
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    “The voice was speaking Spanish in firm tones. The volume increased and the plaintive tones were that of a man in conversation with G-d.”
    In Spanish-Portuguese Synagogues, there is a tradition to sing “Bendigamos” (a Ladino/Hebrew prayer) at the end of the services.
    I first heard it at the Bevis-Marks Shul in London, and as collecting different versions of prayer books is a hobby of mine, I got one of the Spanish Portuguese rite, and memorized one page of the “Bendigamos”.
    As I was singing this quietly to myself on a bus on the way home, an elderly Spanish woman said that it was ‘soothing’ and just like what they sing in Church.
    The interesting thing was, that the part I was singing, was “Hodu L’Hashem ki tov” and was all in Hebrew, with no resemblance at all to Spanish.
    There are some stories that some of the melodies of Yemenite congregations in their recitation of Psalms, are very close to the cadence of ancient Gregorian chants, and that there is a tradition that these go back to the Levite melodies of when the Temple was standing in Jerusalem.
    (anyway, thought it might be more interesting to you than silly propofol jokes …)
    Get well soon!

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  38. Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Sorry to hear this-hope you’re better soon.
    Little things like the doc joking about the drugs can really help humanize the experience.
    Re asking for the same info over and over, the vast sums spent on computerization don’t seem to have helped with this problem much, and not only in medicine. IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr, who sold punched card systems based on the principle “enter it once, use it a lot of different ways” would be appalled.

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  39. David
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Refuah Shlaima.
    Reminds me of Reagan’s, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”

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  40. kishke
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry to hear this! Are you home now?

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  41. Kent G. Budge
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “The same drug that killed Michael Jackson,” he assured me with a huge grin.

    I appreciate doctors with a sense of humor.
    Sometimes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    David Horowitz: “The War Against Judaism on the University Campus.”

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    Joel B. Pollak: “The Mainstream Media’s Betrayal of Israel.”

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    Yossi Klein Halevi: “What is Expected of a Survivor People: Lessons My Father Taught Me.”

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    Dennis Prager: “Happiness is a Mitzvah, Not an Emotion.”

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