Each night for 6 weeks when my husband said goodnight to me in the ICU burn unit of Hadassah Hospital, he never knew if I’d be alive when he returned the next morning.
After my brush with death in a house fire in 1981, the first days were consumed with a constant plea:
Please let me continue to be a wife to my dear husband and a mother to my three young children. These life goals crystallized before me.
It was like riding on a highway and seeing a large billboard with my life’s’ goals painted clearly on it. I knew what I was fighting for; there was barely a remembrance of anything else.
How did I become the best patient in the burn unit? Galit had suffered burns in an army accident and during a hospital visit was not shy to show me the worst of her scars, pulling her hair back and revealing what little remained of her ear. As she rolled up her sleeve, I was shocked to see the skin on her arm swirled and contracted, pulling it into a ninety degree immobile angle. Galit’s kindness in sharing her experience with such ease was not only brave, but it inspired me then to realize that following the doctors’ orders could have such a far reaching benefit.
I would only understand years later how sharing our story with others could deeply influence them to appreciate their Divine gifts, giving hope and courage to help them get through their own challenges. Galit, I am grateful and indebted to you for helping me to realize this.
It was in the Ein Kerem Burn Unit that I first got a glimpse of a special kind of Chessed. Simcha Holtzberg, a’h the “Father of the Wounded Soldiers” visited me with an entourage of young soldiers, bringing nuts, chocolate, song and smiles. He would often accompany burn patients into the chamber of the dreaded baths. As they cried out in excruciating pain while their bandages were ripped off, he would comfort them as a father would want to help his own son. Simcha did what most parents themselves could not do; opting to share the yoke of unbearable pain and suffering right by their side.
Years later, the army was in the middle of making a movie about Mr. Holtzberg. It was to be shown at his seventieth birthday party. Before that day came, he passed away. Instead, the movie was screened at the “Sheloshim,” (the thirty day period after a death) and I was mesmerized by what I saw. Which words did Simcha use to comfort dying soldiers and young amputees?
Watching this master in action, I figured out his genius. He joked with them, learned about their lives and listened to their dreams. By focusing on them totally and believing in their recovery, he could talk of
future events in their lives, such as graduating from school, getting married, greeting future children, as if it was a given. Simcha Holtzberg, a’h, may he rest in peace, was able to weave hope into their lives.
This enabled those suffering to find the courage to embrace life and endure painful treatments. Thank you, Mr. Simcha Holtzberg; your priceless deeds continue to inspire me. May these acts of loving kindness be an eternal merit for you and your family.
My husband and I started visiting burn patients around the country together. He gave me emotional support and his Hebrew was such an asset. During our very first hospital visit, I cried, feeling the terrible pain of this young man. Deep burns are red, black and swollen, distorting looks. It was obvious I needed more preparation. Only six years ago, a dear friend told me that, in the beginning my face” looked like a pizza”, contrary to what I had been told. ”You look like you had bad sunburn”: in my teens, after falling asleep under a sunlamp (not recommended) the mirror reflected a very red and swollen face. It didn’t look like me, but I could see eyes nose and mouth. I said to myself, I can handle that. That non- truth enabled me to heal with less fear and worry. What a Kindness.
I co-authored my story in the book “Who by Fire,” and began to speak publicly. As I spoke in different cities around the world, many felt comfortable to tell me their troubles. Over time, I got more accustomed to strangers sharing their stories with me but I still found myself in the familiar “mother mode,” mistakenly thinking I had to find solutions to every problem and an answer for every question.
We began to get calls from families whose relatives were suffering from burns and didn’t want to talk to anyone. Understanding the importance of “one who has been there”, seeds were planted to expand our work.
I was in contact with the Jerusalem hospitals and would be on the alert for new burn patients. Then we stocked the burn units with English and Hebrew copies of, Who by Fire. Now we also distribute an inspiring DVD.
It wasn’t till two young women appeared at my door in 2003, that we realized how much work needed be done. As they were sitting on my couch, one started to tell her friend’s story. Her son was a young burn victim who needed the costly “Pressure suits” and special creams, and she needed money for taxis, fast food and babysitters.
I listened carefully, wondering just how I would fit in. The Mom, a single parent, told me of her dire financial problems. With a helpless feeling in my heart, I thought to approach a charitable woman I knew, to help with the families’ multiple needs.
I had never asked anyone for money beside my parents and husband. Rav Shlomo Goldstein gave me priceless advice, which I have since used in many situations: “If you are doing the will of Hashem, you will receive “Siata Dishmaya”, special help from The Almighty. Although I was apprehensive, I called a wealthy friend and forced the words to come out.
Receiving her contribution, Baruch Hashem, left me with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
That was the beginning.
My recovery has enabled me to return to a normal life, infused with sensitivity for others suffering and a feeling that I can do what needs doing; going totally beyond my nature, remembering constantly that Hashem is with me right now. Hashem is always here to help us especially when others are in need.
After reading Hallel for thirty years, I realized that one sentence has an extraordinary application in my life.
“Ahavti Ki Yishma Hashem et Koli Tachanunai.” ”I love Him, for Hashem hears my voice, my supplications.”
If Dovid Ha Melech says to Hashem, I love you because you listen to me, and to my deepest entreaties…..then surely listening is a powerful way to win the love of those closest to us. (Listening =Love=understanding, so needed in our speed generation.)
I was so inspired that I started teaching about the benefits of the Art of Listening, even though I was still a novice. It has opened my eyes to how this skill can enhance all relationships.
Some burn victims have confided their feelings of being weak and disillusioned. Others have voiced their deepest fears, which would otherwise have remained painfully trapped inside.
Thirty years after that damaging fire, my husband and I have seven more children, Baruch Hashem, including a daughter with Down Syndrome and a growing handful of grandchildren. My goals as wife and mother remain unchanged, but I know the yetza hara (evil inclination) is always busy with this.
I established the Chaya Malka Burn Foundation, Inc. to repay the overwhelming loving kindness, which was showered upon me by our Creator, and the entire Jewish Community. It has become my third mission in life.
The foundation provides essential support to burn victims and their families. We help them cope with their emotional, physical and financial struggles by providing counseling, offering additional burn treatment information, giving supplemental funding to purchase pressure garments that help prevent deformation and prevent scarring. The suit also pushes down existing scars.
For me, “Those Pressure Garments saved my life” with Hashem pulling the strings.
Today we publish the Burn Prevention Post Newsletter three times a year, as a public service to alert and educate.
Would you know what to do in the first seconds after a burn?
What to do if you smell gas?
Do you have smoke and carbon dioxide detectors with good batteries? A FIRE EXTINGUISHER?
Be Safe, Be Informed.