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TBHC Saved My Life

Larry Dvoskin
Grammy-nominated musician

On December 16th, 2016 I was admitted to the emergency room of The Brooklyn Hospital Center in excruciating pain. Each time I breathed in it felt like someone took a chainsaw to my abdomen. The day before had been a normal one. I went to a meeting, shopping, yoga, had pasta at an old favorite café in Greenwich Village. Later that night I felt sick to my stomach. I never throw up. It happens once every five years as I don’t really drink. However, after hours of discomfort, I forced myself to vomit once or twice. An hour later the excruciating pain began.

I was in Brooklyn staying with friends Trevor and Emily Kammeyer Sumner as my apartment was being renovated with workers pulling up floors and demolishing walls. I woke Emily up, who went to the pharmacy to get stomach medicine. After that didn’t help I contacted my doctor, who suggested more over-the-counter medicine and to wait a bit to see if it goes away. After hours of pain, I called 911 for an ambulance to take me to the nearest ER. I figured I’d get fluids, meds, and they would know what to do and I’d be home soon feeling normal again.

Very quickly tests showed I had an Esophageal Perforation — a hole in my esophagus (food tube) that would kill me in a matter of hours.

I was laying in the Emergency Room of Brooklyn Hospital medicated and wondering what comes next when suddenly a team of two dozen doctors and nurses surrounded me. They informed me I had a critical condition and they needed to operate immediately or I might die. I joke that having survived a lifetime of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that there was no way I was going to die that day. If there were a nuclear war the only survivors would be cockroaches, Keith Richards, and myself. These doctors and nurses explained it was exactly the golden hour when the surgery could be successful and started running down the hall with me on the gurney toward the operating room. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about? Surely a tortellini wasn’t going to do me in. I wasn’t concerned until I met Dr. Alan Saber.

Dr. Saber arrived and upon introducing himself as the lead surgeon who would perform the operation. He informed me there was a 50-50% chance I might not make it. It was only then that it dawned on me how serious the moment truly was.

Dr. Saber came to New York from his native land of Egypt to study medicine. One of the first colleagues to befriend Dr. Saber, who is Muslim, was Robert Rosenberg, a Jewish doctor at Cabrini Hospital. The friendship was about healing and saving others, not about religious beliefs or cultural differences.

Along the way a man named Rosenthal arrived at the hospital suffering from the same critical condition I had. A hole tore in his esophagus allowing stomach acids to leak into his body. He was a rabbi and 95 years old.

No one wanted to operate on the rabbi as he was so frail and elderly. Those in the hospital thought any surgery would result in his dying on the operating room table or shortly thereafter. Dr. Saber stepped up and volunteered to operate. To the delight and surprise of everyone he managed to save the rabbi’s life.

I’ve been asked what is the feeling like to be told you might die tonight, it might be your last moments alive? I felt very calm. First, I simply didn’t feel deep down that it was my time. Second, I was in expert hands and there was nothing I could do about it. Everyone else was channeling the serious concern of a life or death moment, allowing me along with the morphine to just relax and surrender.

Saber had reviewed my tests and told the hospital staff to prepare for this very critical and complex surgery. Tubes were inserted to keep me breathing, getting fluids, going to bathroom, etc.

Moments before I was wheeled into the OR I stopped everyone. I said “I want to let you all know who the person is you are about to operate on, so I’m not just a patient or number. My name is Larry Dvoskin. I have always done what I love which is to make music. I have worked with many of the world’s most well known music stars but have also mentored many young people to follow their hearts desire and go for their dream. If tonight is my last night on Earth, I thank God for an amazing full life and I am ready to face what’s next. However, I don’t feel it’s my time yet. I have more to give and would like to stick around to help more people, and make a difference in more people’s lives. I pray that all of you gathered are empowered by God to be my healing angels, and that the surgery is a success.”

This visibly touched and moved the medical team gathered. It made me into a person, not just a number. It showed depth and purpose and emotion in my life. In my imagination I feel it grounded the group with holy spirit.

Right before going under in the OR I posted a photo and plea on Facebook for friends to send love, prayers, and healing thoughts.

The next morning I awoke to gold streams of morning light, dancing with the silken window curtain overlooking Fort Greene Park. I was alive.

When I glanced online I saw that my plea moments before surgery motivated over 500 people from all chapters of my life to respond with messages of hope, healing, love, and enthusiasm for me to make it through to the other side. I felt wealthy beyond compare to have such an ocean of love break upon my shores.

But what made me marvel at the mystery and beauty of life was the follow up with Dr. Alan Saber the next day. Beyond the medical stuff, we started talking and he told me of his early days as a Muslim coming to US and being taken under the wing of Jews. I explained that I too was Jewish, and despite all the ugly rhetoric and Islamophobia in our political discourse, I couldn’t be more grateful for this Islamic man that saved the life of his Jewish patient. It gave me goose bumps, hope, a type of wisdom that we are indeed stronger together when we put aside our differences. We’re all human.

I am home recovering and it will take a good six months for me to potentially be back to full functionality. I welcome this healing period of rest. I will use it to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve been given a second chance.

To Alan Saber directly I say thank you for saving my life. To the hundreds of people who sent love and prayers I say thank you for sending the energy of healing, protection, and love that also saved my life. I am still here because of you. I couldn’t have done it without you. There are NO words to describe the gratitude I feel.