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  Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - 30 Shevat 5780
 
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Donít Do the Surgery

 “My head hurts,” Chana began crying again. Her mother cast her a worried glance. Her daughter’s headache seemed worse than a typical virus. She knew it needed more attention, especially since it was accompanied by other symptoms such as generalized weakness and aches and pains.

Their family doctor agreed and sent Chana for a round of tests. This was more than 30 years ago. Chana was examined with the most sophisticated imaging of the time, and the doctors came back with a sobering diagnosis: “Your daughter has a brain tumor. She needs an immediate operation.”

The shocked and bewildered parents could hardly digest this news. The doctors offered no option other than brain surgery. “I would not recommend that you take the risk of surgery if there was another option. We need to operate on her brain, the sooner the better.”

The parents were Chabad chassidim, and it was clear to them that they would take no step without obtaining clear approval and blessing of the Rebbe.

After explaining to the Rebbe’s secretariat the urgency of the matter, they were given an early appointment. Late one night they arrived at 770 Eastern Parkway for a private audience with the Rebbe. The Rebbe listened carefully to their tale and then said decisively, “There is no need for surgery!”

 “But what should we do?” asked the parents, their worry tinged with relief.

 “Go to the doctor and ask if he has an idea for how to treat her without surgery.”

The parents returned to the Rebbe and asked him the question the Rebbe had proposed. He gazed at them with a penetrating look. “I understand that someone is advising you not to go ahead with surgery. Have you consulted with another specialist?”

The parents nodded.

The doctor looked at them again and began to put two and two together. They look like chassidim. He was sure he knew which specialist they had seen. “Did you go to Rabbi Schneerson?” He asked in a tone not completely supportive, and did not wait for their response. “This is not the first time that I heard of him offering a medical opinion, and I do not understand on what basis he gives an opinion on such grave matters. His role is to give an opinion on Torah matters, and medical matters he should leave to doctors.”

The doctor noted that his words were not making any particular impression on the parents, so he added, “It’s your right to choose not to do the surgery. But in that case I must inform you that I cannot continue on this case. You will have to find another doctor for your daughter.”

The doctor’s extreme stance drove the worried parents to desperation. They went back to the Rebbe and told him that the doctor was categorically against any treatment plan that did not include surgery. They asked the Rebbe whether to find another doctor or to agree to the surgery.

The Rebbe instructed them not to argue with the surgeon. If he insists on performing the surgery, they should give their consent. However, the Rebbe added that they will yet hear from the doctor himself if the surgery was necessary…

The doctor was happy to hear that the parents had “come to their senses” and agreed to the surgery. In his defense we must add that he was not only happy that they had acceded to him, but was genuinely worried for Chana’s welfare, and believed strongly that surgery was the only option.

Chana was brought into the operating room while her parents waited anxiously outside, praying and reciting verses of Psalms. They were anxious but also curious how this would play out. On the one hand the doctor insisted that the surgery was an absolute necessity. On the other hand they had the Rebbe’s words…

A short time later one of the surgeons came out of the operating room and turned to the parents. On his face was a puzzled look. He told the parents that after they had opened up her skull they found that there was no tumor there—despite what they had seen in the images. The surgeons could not reconcile what they were seeing with the results of their tests, and therefore they conducted a thorough examination inside her brain. But the fact remained—Chana’s brain was perfectly intact, and the surgery was unnecessary.

 “Nu, can the Lubavitcher Rebbe give his opinion on a medical matter?” the parents teased the doctor who sent them to surgery.

The doctor smiled, half in defeat and half in delight, sharing in the family’s joy. “I throw up my hands. I must admit that he was right.”

   
 

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