Part 2: The Sol Project and The Will To Live

Sol gives us strength as his will to live leads our way. As he went from one difficult day to another, no one had the right to complain about anything except for Sol. He did not realize how in a sense he prepared us for what was to come, which was not foreseen at all.

As mentioned in Part 1, Sol’s right leg had suffered tremendous damage due to the retention of water from heart failure which led to severe infection caused by his diabetes. He had survived his first cardiac arrest upon arrival, but as a result from the intubations one of his vocal chords had been damaged. This meant that Sol would speak in a very low whisper at best and it also meant that the chord was actually paralyzed so eating would be difficult. Naturally we were all upset from this, but this would not bring us to a breaking point.

With his diet so restricted I along with everyone else was able to bring Sol what became his favorite craving, smoothies. Given that his eating situation was difficult, we all catered to the craving. We filled his refrigerator with Mango smoothies, Haagen Dazs coffee, vanilla dixie cups, and sliced kiwi with strawberries. By now the hospital gave Sol his own refrigerator in his room – leave it to Sol! He also was granted permission to use space in the nurses fridge in their private space. Sol continued to make friends as the staff took a liking to this man, his smile and his charm. Additionally, he requested from us certain foods that could be put in a blender to make it possible for him to swallow in order to maintain his good nutrition. Everyone wanted to pamper him, even if just to preserve his strength so he could get released from this long hospital stay. (At 2 months we all felt the time in there too long!) The compassion from everyone became enormous and natural.

The priority was to deal with his leg which required six surgeries. These took place twice a week for a few weeks until the doctors instructed us to wait for it to heal. It is important to clarify that the surgeries and the healing process were not simple, but rather serious situations and certainly risky given the other health issues at hand. The leg from the knee and below to the foot was infected. It was very exposed from tears of the skin and very raw. Sol had to have a great deal of antibiotics intravenously to aid the healing of infection. He was unable to walk at this point and so then began the confinement to his bed as well as his endurance of tremendous pain from the sick leg. His physical therapist began arriving in the evenings to work him out each night. It was a true testament to Sol’s character that his physical therapist would not take any payment for these months of service. He stated to Sol’s wife that he simply regarded Sol as a father figure and would do this at no charge.

Once a patient is confined to a bed, the lack of activity is dangerous. The vicious cycle would begin. Sol needed to take pain medication, and was prescribed Dilaudid. This would escalate this story to a level worse than before; the thought of it personally makes me nauseous. It has always amazed me how easily pain medication is offered and insisted upon in the hospital. I mean, this isn’t just Motrin or extra strength Tylenol, these are addictive narcotics which are 8 times more potent that morphine! And so began the addiction to the Dilaudid. Sol was in agony and we saw it written all over his face following each surgery. Certainly from just seeing the rawness through his leg one could just feel his pain through compassion. The doctors insisted he needed those drugs and we hoped the healing would happen quicker than it did so we all tolerated the many episodes of Sol nodding out while sitting up in bed and having conversations with us as the drugs took over. It seemed as if he required more and more of the pain killer and so, through his IV line, he was given them. Those drugs in the quantity prescribed to him truly became what almost killed him in a sense, when the next cardiac arrest occurred.

It was October, month number 2 in the hospital, just before Halloween. My husband and I went over to visit Sol on our usual Friday before Shabbat visit. As soon as I entered the room I knew that Sol wasn’t himself. His sister and I discussed this and we were well aware it was due to the Dilaudid. By this time we had a routine with Sol. We had our visit and his meal with him and a few hours later we went home. That same evening when my husband returned from synagogue he said to me,”lets go back to Sol,” just to check in since he was so out of sorts earlier that day. When we arrived he was still not right, with his mother by his side in the room where he had been relocated earlier that day. On this new floor the monitoring of a patient wasn’t as good as the other floors. Since the plan was to get him to a facility in the next few days, the hospital decided to relocate him within the hospital. If a patient had a problem they would need to ring for the nurse on that floor; not like on the other floors where the cameras were on them at all times in case the patient needed urgent care. Sol complained he was having difficulty breathing and was trying to figure out the cause himself; needless to say our concerns were high. The nurse checked his oxygen level and it was alarmingly low. I recall insisting that they monitor him that night and not depend on him calling them, should the need arise. He was given even more narcotics for his pain and we left him to rest. His wife continued to spend time with him and was assured he would be attended to properly until morning when she would return.

The plan had been to get him into a facility for a barometric chamber to save his leg. Until our worst NIGHTMARE occurred. Sol’s wife received the call in the early morning advising her that Sol went into cardiac arrest, and that it took 15 minutes to bring him back. We immediately recognized that an awful mistake was made. This happened because Sol had been relocated to a floor that did not monitor patients at the front desk and because he was given Dilaudid for pain in excess. Anyone with a heart condition like Sol has cannot have so many drugs. These narcotics slow down the heart which in this case was already weak. Everyone was terribly disturbed at this – I think we will all always be haunted by this night. The next day we found Sol in an unresponsive state. It was devastating and still remains a time in this project that we will never get over.

Seeing Sol at that point hooked up to oxygen, having been intubated once again, was crushing. We felt helpless as it was a ‘wait and see” situation. Everyone was shell shocked but went into the waiting game. We talked to him, all the while as he was out of it, and we were told only time would tell. With a great deal of POSITIVE thinking, we knew Sol was in there and that he could hear us. Family and friends filed in to speak with Sol, encourage him and keep him going, assuring him that he will rise above this unforeseen and disastrous set back. The doctors did not really ever give hope, in my opinion; but Sol’s village kept it together. We pulled together indeed, and from that time until today the Sol project would be lead by positive thinking. With the family so very fragile we just began to hold each other up feeling confident in the strong man that Sol is.

Like I have said, Sol’s will to live would keep us going.

About the Author
Allyson Altit is from New York. She has worked in the travel industry for over 25 years as a leisure specialist. Her area of expertise is in European destinations and Israel. She has been involved with charity work for the Hadassah organization as well. In 2009 she graduated from Queens College majoring in Jewish studies.