Culture, Family, Food allergies, Health

Peanut-flavored twist of fate, or a miracle?

I’m writing this while it’s still very fresh.

Because I feel like I need to process it all.

Earlier this week I was engaged in a heated discussion in the comments section of a fellow blogger and fellow mom of food allergic kids about how Israel doesn’t take food allergies seriously.

Earlier this morning, I blogged about how frustrated I feel with the Israel medical care system.

And then, like a freak thunderstorm that knocks down the tree that just misses your house, the Universe decided it wanted to tell me something.

I think. Or else it’s all a very very strange coincidence.

Around lunch time, I got a call from my husband. He was on his way home with the boys from school. The 9 year old had just thrown up all over the car. My husband then told me that my son had eaten a candy at school and started feeling sick after. He was afraid it had nuts in it.

But he wasn’t sure. My son hadn’t read the ingredients.

Our smart son; our careful son; the one who has had now 7 years of experience living with food allergies… he slipped up.

Of course, one can understand. It was a sucking candy. Not a chocolate bar. Not a cake or a cookie or a brownie. An orange-flavored hard candy. At least that’s what it looked like and even tasted like to him.

In all our years of reading ingredients, we have never once ever come upon a hard sucking candy with nuts in it (save for coconut oil, which he is not allergic to.)

I think he got complacent. And, like any 9 year old boy, careless.

Maybe we got complacent. We stopped nudging him.

Either way, today, after years of wondering what it would be like to look anaphylaxis  in the face, I did. Smack dab.

This wasn’t my son’s first allergic reaction. He’s had three reactions in the past — one last Spring even to a new food he wasn’t allergic to in the past — but all have been treated  successfully with Benadryl, an antihistamine. It’s the first course of treatment according to our allergists, unless his lips swell or he can’t breathe.

Today, his lips weren’t swollen and he could still breathe, but yet, he was not right. I could tell. Kinda. But not for certain.

As soon as he got home, I could see he was pale. He also couldn’t breathe from his nose. And while he could still breathe from his mouth, his throat hurt and his voice sounded like he had something stuck in there.

I wasn’t quite sure he “needed” the epipen. But I held on to it as I evaluated him. I looked in his throat. It looked swollen.

I had just given myself the epipen a few months before for what I had thought was allergy but turned out to be food poisoning. At the time, I told myself, “It was good you did. Now you know it doesn’t really hurt. Now you will really give it to the kids if they need it and not worry about it hurting.” (Ask any parent of kids with food allergies and most will tell you they worry about having to give the epipen to their kid. “I don’t want to give him the shot. It will hurt.”)

I looked at my son and asked, “Do you feel I should give you the epipen?”

He was scared. He hesitated. He didn’t say, No. But he couldn’t say, Yes.

I said yes for him.

I reminded him that it wouldn’t hurt. It would help.

He was brave. Very brave, as I stuck the epipen in his thigh.

Thank goodness, I did. Later, after we took him to the doctor; after the doctor checked his vitals; after he gave him steroids as a follow up treatment; he told us, we did the right thing.

And it was only after that, my husband pulled out one of the wrapped candies the teacher had given us to show us what he ate. Another child had handed them out during recess when the teacher wasn’t there.

The candy said Praline on the wrapper.

Pralines are not nuts, themselves. They are a nut-flavored candy or cookie.  It wasn’t part of our vocabulary … the one we’ve always used when training him on what to do around food. My son didn’t know what a praline was. Because it’s a nut candy, he’s never eaten it. Also, it’s not something children generally eat in anywhere in America I’ve ever been (except Georgia, now that I think about it). My son has never seen anything like that.

Of course, if he had read the ingredients written in teeny tiny crumpled up type on the wrapper, he would have seen the word “peanut.” We did.

I can’t be angry at my son. I am too thankful right now he is alive.

I am thankful he trusted his body and got help right away.

I’m thankful that his teacher called us immediately as soon as she heard he had eaten the candy.

I’m thankful my husband happened to be nearby with the car and could get him from school.

I’m thankful I had the courage to give him the epipen even though I wasn’t sure he “needed” it.

I’m thankful there was a clinic open to see my child (even though the first two ones we called were closed and no one available to answer the phones).

I’m thankful we had friends around to help us with our other kids.

I’m thankful traffic on the one lane road to the clinic wasn’t extraordinarily slow as it often can be.

I’m thankful the doctor on call at the clinic happened to be our pediatrician, who knew us, and who we felt comfortable with.

I’m happy he took us seriously. I’m happy the nurse and the receptionist at the clinic also took us very seriously. I’m happy the teacher (who called us later to check on him and express her concern) and the children in my son’s class all took it seriously.

Of course, I am most thankful he is sitting next to me right now bugging me to get off the computer and get him a popsicle.

He is ok.

He is ok.

And, perhaps, there are Israelis who take food allergies seriously.

After today, I imagine some of them will likely take them more seriously than they did before.

I’m not suggesting the turn of events was all the work of something supernatural or magical. Or that someone or something was really trying to send me a message.

(They do take it seriously.)

(He is in safe hands.)

(You will know what to do.)

(He will be okay.)

But, one way or another?

Message received.

Health, Learning Hebrew

Olah’s Lament: Health Care in Hebrew

Universal Health Care is not all Peaches and Herb, as I once thought.

(And yes, by Peaches and Herb, I mean peaches and cream.  But ever since I accidentally once said “peaches and herb” (with a soft h) when I really meant peaches and cream, I am compelled to use the much sillier Peaches & Herb. It’ll catch on, you’ll see.)

Back to Universal Health Care.

Why am I title capping Universal Health Care: it’s not a proper noun.

And yet people speak of it as if they know it intimately. As if it’s a person or a place that requires commitment to or vehemence against. As if it requires an I.D. bracelet.

Since, in general, I tend to be non-committal or centrist when it comes to most heated political issues, I typically spoke in the past of universal health care in lower case.

Until I moved to Israel.

Because now, being in the system (as opposed to just daydreaming about it), I have stronger opinions.

Now, all of a sudden Universal Health Care is title capped. It’s personal.

When I first moved to Israel, I loved that I could go to the doctor whenever I wanted (or so I thought). I could get bloodwork done, a strep test, and an anti-fungal cream all in the same place, and pay practically nothing. No co-pays for visits. Pills cheap like candy. And all because I had a little card with my name in Hebrew and my new Israeli ID number.

Universal Health Care, you the Man! I thought.

Why is everyone up in arms about this concept? Who wouldn’t want doctors at the ready? Prescriptions for 5 bucks a pop?

Now, two years later and nine months into a mystery health condition to which I can’t seem to get anyone to pay attention, I’m a little less enamored with the concept that once seemed simple.

Of course,  lack of personal attention is not a problem unique to Universal Health Care, you might say. We also have this problem in the United States, where health care is privatized.

True. We do.

But, in the States I managed to find a few doctors within my insurance program who gave me a certain level of specialized attention. It was attainable, if not a little challenging.

But here, I feel very much as if I can’t find anyone in the system to care. Like, no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t be able to find a doctor who would see me through this condition until we figured out what it is and what to do about it.

Don’t worry about me. I’m not dying.

But if I was, I wouldn’t know it. Because no one will give me an answer! They just keep passing me on to someone else who is “more specialized” than they are.

My next visit (4 doctors and two ultrasounds since the first visit) is supposed to be to a “general surgeon.”

Can anyone tell me what that guy does?

How does he know more than the “general practitioner?”

Or the “woman’s doctor?”

Or the “woman’s doctor surgeon?”

The Hebrew word for surgeon SEEMS to be used interchangeably with specialist. Which is just as confusing if not more than the fact that the Hebrew word for infection (daleket) is the same as the Hebrew word for inflammation

Infection and inflammation are TWO VERY DIFFERENT diagnoses!

Just as different as surgeon and specialist…at least where I come from.

The surgeons here are apparently the only doctors in Israel that learn a specialty. Which, if taken literally, is really upsetting to me as someone who likes to avoid invasive procedures.

Worse, the surgeons are super-specialized to the point that if your problem falls just outside the boundaries of the region they are specialized in, they give you the “Ain Ma La’asot” shrug of the shoulder and send you off to the next guy. Who, of course, doesn’t have an open appointment until 6 weeks from Wednesday.

6 weeks from Wednesday at 8:10 pm.

(By the way, no one — not the hottest super model; not the youngest, most peaches and herby looking man or woman — looks good doing the “Ain Ma La’asot shrug.” If we don’t give this cultural expression/body language up simply because it’s defeatist and obnoxious; we should give it up because we look ugly doing it.)

The funny thing about Universal Health Care in Israel is that everyone here is happy they have it, but if they want someone to take them seriously, they see a private doctor.

By which I mean specialist.

By which I mean surgeon.

By which I mean general surgeon … 6 weeks from Wednesday.

It’s possible this is all one big misunderstanding.

That there is some secret I don’t know because I’m new here. Or there’s some magical expression I need to say in Hebrew when I call *2700, the hotline for my kupah.

It could very well be one big misunderstanding.

Especially, since there’s no “manual of services” available in English when you join the Universal Health Care system in Israel. Not even if you pay extra to be in “Mooshlam,” the upgraded platinum level of service. Which, as Americans pre-conditioned to be terrified of socialized medicine, we all buy into.

Yes, it could just be yet again one big misunderstanding.

My recommendation to Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2013, in light of the damning article and follow up posts about them in Ha’aretz this week?

Work with the kupat holim on an American-friendly semi-private health care system. A happy hybrid between Private and Universal. Something to please the centrists — those of us who prefer our health care systems to be lower capped, as long as they work in our favor.

Community, Love, Relationships

What comes after bliss

One of the first blogs I wrote about my Aliyah experience was a basic explanation of why we moved to Hannaton, and centered around our desire to live in an intentional community. I wrote this post less than a month after landing in Israel and only 12 days into our life on Hannaton.

I was in bliss mode.

Are you familiar with that method of operation?

Bliss mode:

* The first three months with your new boyfriend.
* The day before you marry your husband.
* The first two weeks your newborn baby is in the world. When he is so exhausted from birth he sleeps all the time. And you are still surrounded by friends and family who want to feed you and hold the baby.
* The first month at your new job. The one with the new title and the higher salary.

Bliss mode:

* The minutes after the editor accepts your pitch, but ten months and ten revisions before the piece is actually ready to submit.
* The first week in your new apartment, your new neighborhood. When you are absolutely, positively sure you made the best decision EVER!

When I look back at that post from January 2011, I can see how some of my friends and family back in New Jersey were upset with me. Put off by what they interpreted as my comparison between how I saw community here on Hannaton (“desired,” “nurtured,” “preserved”) and my all but outright trashing of community “back in America.”

Sorry about that. That was crappy of me. I would have been pissed off at me too.

Some of the less personally insulted friends and family, however, might have read the post and thought, “Ha! Give it time. You’re still in bliss mode, silly.”

I do that sometimes when someone is clearly operating in bliss mode.

And those seeming cynics would have been right.

The same way my brother-in-law — the one who told me and my husband in the first months of our courtship:

“You two are very cute. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

— was right.

Except, they’re not cynics. Not really.

His was not intended as a warning or a prediction or a buzz kill. It wasn’t a commentary on his own marriage or the strength of mine and my husband’s relationship or love for each other.

It’s just the truth.

Bliss mode begins and it ends.

It is scientifically proven.

And, as the researchers say, if we were constantly in bliss mode, we would never get anything done.

Think about it. Bliss mode is not sustainable.

Think about how much focused attention and energy it takes to build and maintain relationships; to create and raise a family; to build and sustain community; to develop a successful business.

If we were constantly in bliss mode … never in “Hey! You smell like cow manure all the time” mode … we would be so focused on our personal bliss that we couldn’t see the areas in which our situation could be improved.

Room for improvement doesn’t cancel out bliss.

It just reframes it.

And so I remind myself of this when I step in dog poop on my sidewalk for the 50th time this week. And I remind myself of this when I get yelled  at and honked at by an impatient driver, who happens to also be my neighbor. And I remind myself of this as my kids track in mud to my living room…and as your kids track in mud to my living room…and then they all eat shlukim on my new couch and spit out the wrappers onto the floor.

I remind myself that just because it’s no longer bliss…doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.

The best bliss is one that transforms into a loving and long-term attachment; a dedicated and loyal commitment.

Yes: Gorgeous sunsets over grassy hills and hot sex in inappropriate settings are bliss-scented bonuses that keep us warm during metaphorically cold, dark winter periods in our relationships — whether those relationships are with our partners or with our communities.

But attachment and commitment are what surely sustain us.


Love, Spirituality

Proof of Time Travel, and Other Conclusions Based on Raw Emotion

I am 38 years old.

Now you know.

But I don’t know.

I don’t know how I can possibly be 38 years old.

First, because in my mind, my mother is 38 years old. And physics teaches us that my mom and I can’t be the same age.

In my mind, my mother has brown hair with a few blonde highlights. She wears jeans and a polo shirt. She makes me peanut butter and jelly. Impossible, since my son is allergic to peanut butter and we don’t keep it in the house.

My mothers yells at me for waking up my baby brother from his nap. Who? Who is napping?

My brother? My son?

My mom is planning my bat mitzvah. My Sweet Sixteen. She’s dropping me off at my boyfriend’s house. At college. At my new apartment.

She’s 38.

And me?

I’m 20-something. Or something followed by the word “teen.”  Impossible, I know, but so is 38 years old.

In the day-to-day in which I wake up, shower, get myself and my three children ready for work and school, I can submit to the possibility of being 38 years old. A 38 year old, after all, is a grown up who does grown up things, such as taking care of herself, her children, her bills, her errands and her home.

And I do these things. I’m not crazy, after all.

But when I finally have a moment to myself, and I sit in the reality in which I am 38 years old, I am confused.

Almost as confused as if I woke up one morning and I was 63.

Or on Mars.

Or being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I don’t know how I can possibly be 38 years old.

True, it was a long time ago I played kickball in the front yard with my brother and the neighborhood kids. I know it was a long time ago because the details of these games are blurry, faded.

And, yes, it was a long time ago that I walked down the football field in a graduation gown. I can’t remember the color of the dress I wore underneath. So it must have been long ago, as my memory is excellent. And if it happened recently, I would certainly remember the color of my dress. I would remember the restaurant we ate lunch at. I would remember why I told my parents I didn’t want a party.

This certainly all happened long ago. It’s the past. It’s before. It’s inaccessible. Or is it?

Because sometimes, when I press play on a particular song and I close my eyes, I can touch the wet sand on the beach in Margate. I can smell the Fruit Loops soaking in a bowl of milk in the basement of Thurston Hall. I can hear high-pitched giggles around a long table at a restaurant in the East Village. I am present. In the middle of a very important conversation. That’s taking place miles and miles away from where I am sitting with my headphones loosely dangling from my ears. And the girls are wearing Baby Doll dresses with leggings. And the guys have Caesar haircuts like David Schwimmer.

Sometimes, when I am in the space between waking and dreaming, I hear Stephanie’s voice.  If I was 38, Stephanie would already be long gone from this world.

Sometimes, I smell the burnt electric remnants of a blender mixing a chocolate Alba drink; I hear the organ playing; and I catch the vague outline of my Bubbi’s hydrangea-patterned nightgown. Impossible. It’s been 20 years since she would have been able to manage the steps to that apartment. And she’s gone, too.

You call it memory. But I call it time travel.

What’s the difference, really, between recall and time travel? If I can smell, hear, taste, and even touch 1992; how can you tell me I’m 38 years old?

I applaud their efforts, but physicists are looking in the wrong places for proof that time travel is possible.

They should be spending less time with quantum mechanics and  more time with the human heart and brain.

Relativity baby. It’s special.