Thursday, September 6, 2012

#BlogElul: Who is watching your back? A Healing story

Today's Elul blog entry reflects on a healing theme and is written by guest blogger Karen F Rothman, M.D., a member of Congregation B'nai Shalom, Westborough.

A few years ago, I saw a young woman, Susan (a pseudonym), in my office for a follow up exam. I had diagnosed an early melanoma on her skin about five years before, when she was 27. At the time, she was just about to be married. Soon after her marriage, I also diagnosed her husband with a very rare and aggressive cancer that had spread to his skin. After a short but intense battle, he succumbed to the disease. Susan came regularly for follow up exams and was physically healthy, but was understandably finding it hard to resume any semblance of a normal life.

As I examined Susan I was startled to see the Hebrew word “R’faeinu” tattooed in bold black letters onto her lower back. Susan is not Jewish, her former husband was not Jewish, and the tattoo was a new
acquisition. I thought carefully how to frame a question about the tattoo. I asked her if she knew what it meant and how she came to get that particular tattoo. She told me that she had gone to a tattoo artist. Susan told the tattoo artist that she had gone through some tough times and needed to make a dramatic change in her life in order to move forward. Susan felt that getting a tattoo would be a tangible
reminder to herself that she couldn’t remain stuck in the past. I asked her if she wanted me to tell her what the Hebrew word meant; I told her that it was only used once in the Torah. It was the word uttered by Moses when he plead with God that Miriam be healed (from leprosy). I explained that Miriam was not only Moses’ sister, but the one who found water for the wandering Hebrews, and that without her, the newly freed slaves would probably perish. Miriam was healed and the Jewish people survived. I told Susan that I couldn’t have come up with a more appropriate sentiment than artist had tattooed on her.

Susan decided to move back to her home state to be closer to her parents and the rest of her family, and I have lost contact with her. Every week that we recite a healing prayer with the word “r’faeinu”
and every year when we read Kedoshim I think of Susan. I wonder at the combination of luck, intuition, and presence of God that led the tattoo artist to come up with that particular word on that particular person, and whether the artist had any idea of how perfect the choice was. I hope that Susan is further on her road to wellness, and wish her a r’fuah shleimah, a full healing of the body and soul.


  1. A very powerful story Karen...I would venture to say that,m like other professionals, a good tattoo artist probably was very aware of the meaning of the tattoo. Kudos to Susan for having found such a caring professional...

    Thanks for sharing this story...

  2. Beautiful beyond words. Thank you for sharing this with us Karen. xo

  3. I loved your post. Title of this post is very interesting. Tattoo artist are aware of these unique words.