September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In Room 4 of the cardiac ICU, a palpable feeling of sadness filled the air. Tubes were emanating from much of Doug’s 64-year-old body. His wife sat by his bedside. Doug invited me to sit down, we exchanged brief introductions, and he and his wife began to share their story. Although many patients share their gratitude and stories of miraculous recoveries with me after surgeries, my gut feeling was that Doug’s story would be different.

Doug and his wife, Karen, had three married children, two grandchildren, and a successful business. They were not affiliated with a synagogue, but always attended one on the High Holy Days and ate traditional meals. They loved to travel together and spend time with their grandchildren when they were not working. Over the past couple of years, Doug’s health had taken a turn for the worse, resulting in kidney failure. After undergoing the arduous testing needed to be approved for a transplant, Doug was told that it would not be long for him to receive a kidney. However, his hopes were shattered at the end of the process when he developed serious heart complications and required heart surgery, the reason for his current treatment in the ICU. Unfortunately, the hospital in which he was supposed to receive the kidney transplant told him he was no longer eligible. Doug felt that his hope for receiving a kidney was completely gone, and he expressed to me that he was depleted and ready to die.

As Doug shared his story, tears streamed down his face, and I could see that Karen was equally distraught as she heard those words coming out of her husband’s mouth. The feelings of heartbreak, hopelessness, powerlessness and frustration were tangible.

I often ponder if and when to share details of my own personal story, however, I felt the time was opportune. I mentioned to Doug and Karen that my husband was a kidney donor through a Jewish organization called Renewal. They had never heard of it. They were both intrigued hearing about the organization and all that it does. I mentioned that my husband donated his kidney to someone he did not know and that there were many other people like him who have done the same! (In fact, at that time, Renewal had facilitated close to 800 matches and now is approaching 1,000 transplants.) Doug’s eyes lit up. As I shared that Renewal values every person as unique and that each person is evaluated case-by-case, I passed on the Renewal contact information. Karen said she would call to receive more information. After several more minutes, I passed on my personal contact information and told Doug and Karen to stay in touch, in case I would not see them again.

Approximately four months went by and within that time I saw many, many patients.

One Monday morning, I received a call from the Medical ICU for a patient, Doug S. Doug S.’s family was requesting the Jewish chaplain, as he was dying. The name, Doug S., sounded ever so familiar to me though I couldn’t remember who it was and what this man’s story was. I hear so many stories, and it is often difficult to remember the details of what was initially shared. Once I arrived at the unit, I peeked into the room and quickly recognized Karen. Everything came back to me very quickly.

I entered the room and Karen immediately embraced me. I glanced over at Doug in the bed and could immediately tell that his end was nearing.

Karen, through her tears, introduced me to her three children. When David, one of the children, heard who I was, he looked at me and boldly said a mere three words—“It was you.”

I was bewildered and a bit frightened. I had no idea what he was implying and what I had done. He repeated “It was you. You are the one who saved my father.”

I just looked at David with a puzzled look on my face and asked him to explain.

“I heard you met my father months ago. He was in a bad physical state and had given up all hope. But you mentioned to him about Renewal and about your husband and others like him who donate their kidneys to people whom they do not know. Hearing that people actually do that gave him hope. It gave him hope that he might get a kidney, too, and have a chance to live. Hearing your words literally instilled in him the hope to live every day. I believe my father stayed alive these past few months not because of all of this [pointing to the equipment with various medications] but solely because your words kept him alive. Thank you.”

I was absolutely stunned.

After further conversation and end-of-life prayers I left the room in complete awe and amazement. Doug passed away several hours after.

The purpose of this article is not to highlight Renewal and their amazing work (although you should feel free to research them to learn more). Nor is it to publicly praise my husband (and many others like him) who selflessly donated his kidney almost three years ago. The purpose of this article is to share with you the power of words. We often underestimate the power of our words and how they can affect others. Months before, when I had that conversation with Doug and his wife, I had absolutely no idea the deep and profound impact it would have on him. But apparently, my words literally kept Doug alive for months.

As we go about our daily lives, let us strive to be mindful of our words and how we use them. You might just save a life.

Debby Pfeiffer is a board-certified chaplain working at Morristown Medical Center through its affiliation with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ. She resides in Bergenfield with her husband and children. She can be reached at [email protected].

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