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The Rebbe's Recommendation

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Charlop, author of the famous Halachic works Chof Yamim, was one of the leading Orthodox rabbis in America in the previous generation. In 1957, on Tishah BeAv, the fast commemorating the destruction of the Holy Temple, he was on the West Coast, and his son, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, a rabbi in the Bronx, was visiting his in-laws in Buffalo. Thus the wife of the elder Rabbi Charlop was home alone in New York for the fast.

That year, the strenuous fast and the recitation of the Kinos prayers with intense concentration took its toll. At nightfall, Mrs. Charlop's vision suddenly became blurred, and then she could not see at all. At the same time, she felt piercing pain in her temple. Stunned at this strange course of events, she desperately groped her way to the phone and called the Katz family, friends who lived not far away and whose son, Dr. Sheldon Katz, was chief resident neurosurgeon at the Montefiore Hospital.

Dr. Katz hurried to the Charlop home and, after a brief examination, he called in the chief of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to come to see Mrs. Charlop at home. His diagnosis was that Mrs. Charlop had suffered an aneurysm in one of the major blood vessels in her head. The doctor felt that her only chance, slim though it was, would be an operation to stem the blood leakage in the head. In those days, doctors were just learning how to perform this operation, and the chances for survival were not high. But the doctor felt there was no alternative.

Rabbi Charlop used his connections to have his mother examined by Dr. Morris Bender, a top neurologist.  After several days, Dr. Bender met with the Charlops. He explained to them that in order for him to definitively ascertain Mrs. Charlop's problem and possibly avert impending catastrophe, she would have to undergo an encephalogram - an angiogram of the head. While today this is a routine procedure, at that time it was a much more complicated matter. "The angiogram itself," Dr. Bender acknowledged, "involves some danger to the patient." Nonetheless, he felt they had little choice. For this reason, he was consulting with the Charlops, before carrying out the procedure.

The Charlops told Dr. Bender that they would like to think about the matter before giving their consent. Mrs. Charlop asked Rabbi Baruch Putterman, a family friend who was a distinguished rabbi in the Bronx and a noted Lubavitcher chassid, to ask the Rebbe whether or not they should go ahead with the encephalogram.

The Rebbe advised the Charlops, "Find a doctor who will say no to the procedure!" Thereupon, the Charlops asked Dr. Bender to help them get a second opinion. "Who would Dr. Bender recommend?"

The doctor was livid. He must have felt that the Charlops were a bit ungrateful, after he had extended himself, and to such effect, on Mrs. Charlop's behalf.

Dr. Bender was at the top of his field. There were few doctors whose opinion he would consider at all worth reckoning with. He gave the Charlops two names: Dr. Houston Merritt, President Eisenhower's doctor, and Dr. Samuel B. Wortis, Dean of the New York University Medical School. He was sure they would agree with his opinion.

The Charlops contacted Dr. Merritt. He was in Colorado then attending to President Eisenhower, who had suffered a stroke. Understandably, he could not leave the President's bedside. "Consult with Dr. Wortis," he told the Charlops. "He'll be able to evaluate whether the angiogram is necessary or not, although I doubt he or I would override Dr. Bender."

Dr. Wortis was called, and after examining the patient and closely studying the medical notations, he told the Charlops, "It's hard to disagree with Dr. Bender. Nevertheless, in this situation, I'm convinced that an angiogram is not called for. It's not worth even the small risk."

Although Dr. Bender was surprised when he heard the recommendation of Dr. Wortis, he did not press the point, and Mrs. Charlop did not undergo the angiogram.

She asked her son to bring her siddur to the hospital and place it at her bedside, so that if her sight returned, she would be able to use it again for holy matters. Her faith was wondrously rewarded. Several days later, she was able to see again, and except for occasional weakness in her left foot, she fully recovered. The cause of her blindness and pain was never diagnosed.


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