Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Miracle in the Emergency Room

Shlomo Levi is one of the longest-serving employees of the Knesset. The legislature of the State of Israel employs hundreds of people who have no connection to any particular political party. They are merely workers in the Knesset facility, and are known collectively as the “Knesset workers.” This large and diverse group includes electricians, public relations spokesmen, managers of the various Knesset committees, and ushers, along with many other types of employees. The Knesset is almost like a miniature country, entirely self-sufficient and with a fully functioning infrastructure. Every effort is made to avoid the need to hire any professionals from outside the Knesset’s body of workers.

The staff of the Knesset is divided into a number of divisions – such as the Building and Maintenance Division, the Ceremonies Division, and the Technology and Computer Division – as well as many departments, including the Protocols Department, the Research Department, and the Public Relations Department. Most of the departments are staffed by dozens of employees, but one, which has fewer than fifteen members, is known as the Printing and Advertisement Department. This department consists of a small group of employees who bear the burden of a massive quantity of work. The director of the department is Shlomo Levi, one of the most popular and widely admired workers in the building.

Shlomo was born in Yerushalayim. His father, too, was born in the city, while his mother immigrated to Eretz Yisroel from Egypt. Levi began working for the Knesset in 1979, immediately after he had completed his military service. He is an alumnus of Yeshivas Kiryat Noar, a yeshiva that offers professional studies, where he was one of the top students in the field of graphic art and printing.

“How did you end up in the Knesset?” I ask.

Shlomo laughs. “The Knesset came to me. They were looking for a professional printer, and they contacted Kiryat Noar to ask for a recommendation. At that time, I was involved in negotiations with the directors of the Mossad. They were offering me a position in the field of printing, but we hadn’t reached an agreement. They told the Knesset staff that they had found a young man who was qualified for such a job, and since we hadn’t been able to reach a mutually agreeable deal, they suggested that the Knesset hire me.”

You probably met the famous Rabbi Alexander Lincher and his son, Reb Moshe, in Kiryat Noar.

“Absolutely. They were both incredible people. Reb Alexander was an amazing man with an exceptionally kind heart. As his talmidim, we were able to see how deeply he cared about the institution. Both the spiritual content and the secular curriculum were immensely important to him. We used to see him stooping to pick up papers that had fallen on the floor and depositing them in the trash.”

After completing his studies and his army service, Shlomo found a job working for the Safra printing company in Meah Shearim, where he was employed for several months. He laughs at the memory of those days. Only veterans of the printing industry can remember the working conditions at the time. “We had a machine called a linotype, which was like a typewriter, except that everything we typed could come out in letters made of metal, which we would then arrange in lines and use for printing.”

Those were the olden days, indeed.

From that job in Meah Shearim, he made his way to the Knesset. While a walk of only a few minutes separated the two geographic locations, they were light years apart in every other respect. Levi began his work for the Knesset as a regular worker in the printing department, a simple man sporting a black yarmulka and a white shirt. Today, the only things that have been added to the picture are a trimmed beard and the title of department head.

How did you become the head of the printing department?

“At a certain point, there was an internal tender for that position, after the previous department head retired. I won the tender,” he says simply.

Nevertheless, I happen to know that he was given his position despite the fact that he was not the senior member of the printing staff. In other words, his appointment means that the committee in charge of the tender reviewed all the candidates and felt that his abilities and talents made him the most suited to the job – not only by virtue of his professional skills, but also because of his ability to manage the department and oversee its staff in a pleasant and personable fashion.

The years that have passed since that time have demonstrated that he was indeed successful in achieving that goal. The employees of the printing department are known as one of the most unified groups in the Knesset. The department has earned several commendations, as well as an award for being the most outstanding staff in the Knesset, and Shlomo Levi himself has likewise received such an honor. In 2004, he received an Outstanding Employee Award for the veritable revolution that he created in the printing department. Not long ago, he received another commendation as well.

When they say that you created a revolution, what does that mean?

“I had all the mechanical equipment in the department replaced by digital equipment.” Shlomo Levi was ahead of his time. Before the Knesset had become digitized, he anticipated the change and instituted it in his own department, a step that earned him the wrath of many of his superiors. The Knesset administration at the time felt that it was excessive. Even the Knesset speaker, Professor Shevach Weiss, denounced Levi for his decision and even contemplating firing him for “unnecessary and wasteful” spending. Ultimately, though, it was precisely that decision that earned Levi an award.

Today, a visitor to the Knesset printing department, which occupies a large area at one end of the new Knesset building, will find that it uses the most advanced modern equipment. The walls are decorated with many framed letters of appreciation from members of the Knesset, government ministers, and other senior officials. Many more such letters have been filed away in the department’s offices. The printing department is one of the most oft-visited departments in the Knesset, as its services are used by the members of the Knesset and their staffs, as well as the employees of many other departments, including the legal and research departments. Every person who requires printing work receives rapid, professional, and – most importantly – polite service.

Can you give us a brief overview of the function of your department?

“In general, our responsibility is to print all of the materials needed for the Knesset’s sittings. It may be proposals of new laws, motions for the agenda, or other documents such as international agreements, coalition agreements, or the state budget, which are legally required to be placed on the Knesset table. In a nutshell, we print anything that may be of assistance to the members of the Knesset during a sitting. On any day when the Knesset meets, we print the full transcript of its discussions, which is disseminated to the newspapers, the political parties, and the senior officials of the Knesset. After some time, the minutes are collected and bound in volumes known as Divrei HaKnesset. So to put it even more briefly, we produce every document or piece of paper used in the Knesset.”

That includes the documents issued by the legal department and the Knesset’s responses to the Supreme Court?

“Certainly. We do everything. Today, there is nothing that is printed outside the Knesset building.”

That includes all the printing needs of all the committees as well?

“Of course. It includes every committee and every department, and it includes invitations to various events and special Knesset sittings.”

You forgot to mention that you also serve every individual Knesset member or government minister who needs to print anything – a document, a letter, or even business cards.

“You are correct. I thought that was clear. We do respond to the requests of every member of the Knesset or government minister, including providing for any needs associated with their parliamentary work.”

If I have observed correctly, I believe you have also begun doing graphic work. Is that true?

“Yes. We are becoming increasingly digitized and computerized.”

The Knesset printing department, which is on a par with the most advanced professional printing houses in the country, naturally saves the Knesset huge sums of money. Until just a few years ago, the jobs that required a particularly high degree of professionalism were outsourced to printing houses in Yerushalayim or Tel Aviv. Today, though, everything is done internally.

I ask Shlomo if his department indeed saves the Knesset large amounts of money, but he hesitates to confirm that. “I wouldn’t use that term,” he says. “I would say simply that we use our abilities for the sake of the Knesset and its members. When everything is done inside the Knesset building, it saves us not only money, but a good deal of time as well. Do you know how much time a member of the Knesset would waste if he had to run to an external printing house for all of his needs?”

Time, as they say, is money as well.

• • • • •

Shlomo’s background is not actually the reason for our meeting. Rather, it is a much more personal subject, albeit one that has become the talk of the Knesset. On Erev Sukkos, a rumor circulated around the Knesset to the effect that Shlomo had experienced a miracle, which began in the Terem Emergency Clinic.

Terem is an entity that was created to spare patients from the necessity of traveling to an emergency room in the event that they require treatment that cannot be provided by their local health funds. Terem was founded in 1989 by an American doctor named David Appelbaum Hy”d, and its first branch was opened in the building that houses Magen Dovid Adom in Yerushalayim, on Rechov Hamem Gimmel, near the entrance to the city. By now, the organization has expanded significantly, and the original Terem clinic has moved to the large building on the other side of the street, which also houses the offices of the Chief Rabbinate.

Appelbaum, a native of Detroit and a talmid of Rav Aharon Soloveichik, learned in yeshiva and went on to study medicine in the University of Ohio. He moved to Israel in 1981. In September 2003, he was sitting in Café Hillel in the center of Yerushalayim with his daughter, Naava, who was scheduled to be married the following day, when a terrorist entered the restaurant and blew himself up with a suicide belt. Seven of the restaurant’s patrons, including Dr. Appelbaum and his daughter, were murdered in that attack.

On that fateful day earlier this month, Shlomo was experiencing sharp pains caused by kidney stones, and he made his way to Terem from his home in Kiryat Menachem, a neighborhood near Bayit Vegan. He waited his turn like everyone else. Aside from the pain, he had no other reason for concern. He certainly did not suspect that his situation was critical. He was examined by a doctor, who decided to perform an EKG as well. The results were unclear, and the doctor instructed him to report to an emergency room. Actually, to be more precise, the doctor had Shlomo rushed to the hospital – and not in an ordinary ambulance, but rather in a mobile intensive care unit specially designed for cardiological emergencies.

This was a bit surprising. From previous experience, Shlomo knew that kidney stones were treated with injections of painkillers, and that he should then be allowed to return home. Nevertheless, he did not protest, presuming that he would merely receive the necessary injection in the hospital, instead of at Terem. On the way to the hospital, during the short trip from Romema to Shaarei Tzedek, another EKG was performed. “You are bothering the hospital for no reason,” the paramedic scoffed. “Don’t worry. There is nothing wrong with you,” he added.

In the hospital, though, Shlomo suffered a heart attack while he was being examined, and he was immediately rushed into surgery.

According to the rumors, you experienced a miracle: You suffered a heart attack in the emergency room. Can you confirm those details? It was an actual heart attack and it happened in the emergency room itself?

“Yes,” Shlomo confirms. “I was in the emergency room, and I was being examined because of the pains in the vicinity of my kidneys. While I was waiting for a doctor to arrive and go over the results, I suffered a heart attack. At first, I didn’t realize what it was; I simply felt a strong pain in my chest. I told the nurses that I was in pain, and they performed another EKG, which revealed that I was in the middle of having a heart attack.”

So then you were sent to the operating room.

“I was rushed there. Two doctors rolled my bed into an elevator, and we went straight to the operating room.”

Was that the end of the story?

“Catheterization is a procedure with several stages. The first is an examination. They insert a camera into the body to see what is happening in the arteries and the heart. That examination revealed that the main artery leading into my heart was 99 percent blocked! They immediately opened the artery and put in two stents to stabilize the opening. That was the end of the story.”

Have the doctors given you a clean bill of health now?

“They are still monitoring my condition.”

Did they tell you why the artery was blocked?

“No. I still don’t know the reason.”

Allow me to ask what may be a simpleton’s question. Usually, there are warning signs in advance of a heart attack. Did you have those warning signs and ignore them?

“In retrospect, I can tell you that I did have some advance warning signs. I had some pains, and I began having difficulty doing anything that required exertion. But I didn’t ignore those symptoms. Even though I didn’t know that they were associated with my heart, I went to doctors to consult with them about it. I complained to the doctors in my local clinic that I was having chest pains and I was having difficulty with physical exertion, but they didn’t reach the conclusion that it was a cardiac incident. They didn’t even have me undergo an EKG; they didn’t think in that direction at all. They thought that it was simply muscle contractions, nothing more than that.”

Shlomo was given pills to combat those “muscle contractions,” and after a week passed and he complained that he had experienced no relief, the doctors prescribed even stronger pills.

Was it negligence on their part?

“I don’t know if they were negligent. Perhaps someone else would say that, but I don’t know enough to decide that. I can tell you only that the signs were there for three weeks.”

Yet when you went to Terem, it was because of a kidney stone!

“Yes, and I went to Terem instead of to a regular emergency room. I told them that I had come for a kidney stone, and then the doctor there decided to perform an EKG. Then, since the results were inconclusive, he sent me to the emergency room, where both my kidneys and my heart were checked. Even the doctor in Terem didn’t think that I was having a heart attack, but he wanted the doctors in the emergency room to examine my kidneys and to repeat the EKG.

“In the ambulance,” Shlomo continues, “they performed another EKG and decided that I was simply wasting their time. They told me that there was no logic in coming to the emergency room; there were no aberrations at all in the EKG. Even in the emergency room itself, they performed an EKG when I arrived and they didn’t find the results particularly troubling. After a few hours of tests and examinations, they told me that I would soon be discharged. They recommended following up with my regular doctor for further treatment of the kidney stone.”

Is it the standard procedure to go to the emergency room for a kidney stone?

“Yes. You are supposed to go to the emergency room and receive injections to help combat the pain, followed by urological treatment in an ordinary clinic. That was their plan for me.”

Would you call these events a miracle?

“Yes, a major miracle.”

What would have happened if the heart attack had occurred while you were at home?

“I think the situation would have been very grave. I might not even be speaking to you today, chas veshalom. After I was hospitalized at Shaarei Tzedek for a few days, I had an echocardiogram, and I asked the technician what he saw. He replied, ‘I see that you had Hashgocha Protis…’”

What does that mean?

“It means that I emerged from that experience in relatively good shape. The ending could have been much worse.”

Indeed, if Shlomo had been home when he suffered the heart attack, things could have been drastically different. His home is relatively far from the headquarters of Magen Dovid Adom, where the ambulances are stationed. “The ambulances are at the opposite end of the city. In the best case scenario, it would take ten minutes for them to reach me. If there was traffic, that time could have been more than double. And then I would have had to travel from my home to Shaarei Tzedek.”

What does a person feel during a heart attack?

“I didn’t know that it was a heart attack, but I felt as if someone was tearing open my chest, simply ripping it to shreds. I felt terrible pressure.”

• • • • •

There you have it: a simple, small story of remarkable Hashgocha Protis and a miracle just before Sukkos.

I met Shlomo in the Knesset on Thursday, and I remarked that I was surprised that he had come to work. In response, he shrugged his shoulders. “Why not? It has been 20 days since it happened.”

His discharge letter from the hospital, he adds, instructed him to remain at home for a week, and so he spent the entire Yom Tov at home, after being released at the end of the first day of Yom Tov. He was told to rest for a week, and then to return gradually to his routine.

“For now, I am here. If I see next week that the exertion is too much for me, I will go home earlier.”

Can you share your insights or the lessons you learned from your experience?

Shlomo thinks for a minute, then replies softly, “I believe that in my case, Hashem arranged everything so that the heart attack would pass without causing any damage. It is very clear to me. He kept sending me to the doctor over and over, and every time I was sent away without any sort of treatment, He protected me and pushed me to return to the doctor again. Even in Terem, although the doctors thought that there was nothing wrong, He made sure that I would be sent to the emergency room. And even there, when they were about to send me home, He made sure to keep me there until the heart attack took place. It was tremendous Divine chesed in the emergency room itself.”

May you be healthy from now on.

“Thank you!”

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