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Monthly Archives: August 2020

Down Prednisone Way

            A few weeks ago, I finally gave in and went for my first doctor visit since the Covid-19 shutdown. I was hoping to do a telehealth thing, by phone or computer, because the oral specialist I needed to see is located in a hospital, but his booker said uh, no. I was offered an appointment, in person, for a month or so in the future, and I said maybe and hung up. Then I called my primary care doctor, hoping she could treat the inflammation in my mouth herself, at least temporarily. I made a telehealth appointment with her, and downloaded the necessary app and watched the training video (really), but then she called and said she needed to see me in person. So I put on my mask and gloves, and drove to her office, where she proceeded to lecture me on getting over my Covid fears and agreeing to see the specialist at the hospital because she couldn’t treat such a thing herself, damn it. She also took blood, so at least that was productive. She also did a Covid antibodies test and I was, predictably, negative.

“As if I’d let you get close enough to other humans to catch their respiratory droplets. So silly.

So, after the talking-to from my primary care doctor, and getting the blood test results, I reluctantly called the oral specialist’s office again and humbly asked for the appointment in person for a month in the future. And then, after a few deep sighs of relief that I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital for another month, the office called back and gave me a new appointment, at the end of the following day.

Walking into an actual hospital, after months of watching the Covid news, was not a calming experience, but they did have some protective measures in place. I went through a special entrance for people with doctor’s appointments, and had my picture taken, with the mask on, and walked through a sensor that read my ID badge, but then I wandered through half of the hospital by myself, passing doctors with their masks half off and other wandering patients, until I reached the dental department. Then I sat in the doctor’s waiting room for forty five minutes, socially distanced from the other two patients, listening to the secretaries kibitz over their masks.

I tried to distract myself with languages practice on my phone, but I kept noticing all of the staff members walking by with their masks on their chins or dangling from their ears, and then there were all of the surfaces they touched without gloves on. I was afraid I would either get Covid, or go bonkers, if I had to sit there much longer, when a nurse came in, wearing a mask, a face guard, latex gloves and booties. Just seeing her all dressed up lowered my heart rate considerably, especially when it turned out she was there for me.

She said she recognized my eyes from last time, but I couldn’t say the same. I wanted to complement her on her outfit, and ask where I could find a face shield and booties for myself, but I thought that might sound weird, so I just followed her through the hallway to a set of open cubicles separated by curtains, possibly used instead of the doctor’s office I’d been in in the past which was closed-in like a box with no airflow. My doctor was busy reading my chart, or cartoons, on the computer when I arrived so I chatted with his student (it’s a teaching hospital), also wearing mask, gloves, face shield and booties, about my history of symptoms.

I wore my mask until the last possible second, and then felt like a criminal when I had to take the mask off to let them look in my mouth. But they were too busy staring into my mouth and speaking in incomprehensible medical jargon to notice that I was breathing at them. I have no idea what they were actually saying, but I think it translated mostly to, “Ooh, it’s really red over there!”

The result of the visit was that the doctor put me on a short course of Prednisone, something my doctors have been avoiding (like the plague?) for more than ten years, for fear of triggering my family history of Type-two Diabetes. But the other option was a long term immunosuppressant that would just be reaching an active dose in September, when I’m hoping to be in a classroom with a group of loosely masked children. When I said that to the doctor, he sort of shrugged, like, I guess it could be a problem to take away your immune system in the face of a highly contagious virus, but, eh, it’s up to you. I chose to go with the Prednisone because it would be short term, and I could take it now while I’m still mostly isolated at home.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

            Also, Cricket told me that I would love Prednisone. She’s been on short courses a few times for a slipped disk in her back and she found the experience exhilarating – Food! Running! Pooping! Food! Other humans have also been touting the benefits of Prednisone for years, and telling me that I would feel like I could conquer the world. That is not a familiar experience for me, so I thought it might be worth a try.

“I run the world, Mommy. Not you.”

            But that was me being overly optimistic, and temporarily amnestic about my history of paradoxical reactions to medication. Within an hour of my first dose, I was exhausted and collapsed back into bed. I took two three-hour naps the first day, and then a full night’s sleep that didn’t end until noon the next day, plus another nap a few hours later. The big sleep lasted about three days overall, and then tapered off into my usual full night’s sleep and one nap a day. Except that I also felt nauseous and dizzy and strangely fragile, as if five different muscle groups were getting ready to tear at any moment.

“Oy.”

            By day five, the pattern had switched, and I couldn’t fall asleep at night, and then I was exhausted for two days, and then I couldn’t fall asleep again. The doctor had told me to call him at the two week mark, after reducing the dose by half at the ten day mark, so that he could decide what to do next, and I didn’t feel like I could call early to tell him about the sleep disturbance. I’ve reported weird side effects to my doctors before and they have made their eye rolls clear, even over the phone. They either don’t believe that I’m experiencing what I am experiencing, or they assume I’m just exaggerating, or they couldn’t care less. So I decided to wait and suffer.

            It’s humiliating and exhausting to keep going to doctors and trying medications and being disbelieved when I report what actually happens, but I have to keep trying, because the symptoms keep interfering with my ability to live my life the way I want to. If there’s a diet/treatment/medication/supplement/exercise that would make it possible for me to work more hours at the things that matter to me, or even have some fun, I have to try it. Right?

“Did you say fun?”

            When I called the doctor at the two week mark he said to go down to one dose every other day, to see if that reduced the side effects while  giving the drug a little more time to work. It took me a few minutes, after hanging up, to realize that he had actually listened to me. I decided that, since there had been some small improvement, and the doctor was actually taking me seriously, I might as well keep following his plan. We’ll see how it goes.

            Cricket is pretty sure that I should eat kibble (she would, of course, generously eat my human food instead), and do Downward Dog fifty times a day, and sniff as much grass as possible as my next experimental treatment. And when none of that works for me, she will just shrug and roll her eyes and tell me to take her out for a long walk anyway, because she needs her sniffies and I’m just gonna have to buck up and do my job because at least I’m not dead.

“Harrumph.”

            I think she’s ready for medical school!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Mumble Grumble Prayers

            One of my jobs as a synagogue school teacher is to teach my students how to pray, but sometimes I worry that I’m the wrong person for the job. I grew up going to a Conservative Jewish day school, where half of each school day was spent on Hebrew language, and Jewish history and customs, and prayers. But I don’t remember actively learning the why behind the prayers. I learned how to sing the prayers, and which prayers and blessings to say when, but the Kavanah, the intention, was most often left for last, or for never.

The assumption, I think, was that little kids couldn’t understand the deeper meaning yet, but by seventh grade I’d switched over to an Orthodox school where there was a sudden descent into the mumble grumble form of prayer. We didn’t focus on the music of the prayers much anymore, instead we gave value to the words of the prayers, with a requirement to read or say every single word. The problem was that the girls were given very little time to say the morning prayers, and it was mumble grumble, or nothing. Even at my most fluent, I couldn’t have even skimmed the Hebrew of the prayers in the short time allotted to us, though many of my classmates were able to do it, and even seemed to feel something. In orthodoxy, our teachers told us, the belief was that if we did the right things, and read the right things, and said the right things, we would become good Jews, even if we never understood the why of any of it. But for me, that method didn’t work.

“Harrumph.”

 I’m only responsible for teaching the kids a few prayers each year in synagogue school, which gives us time to learn the tunes, and the words (often in transliteration), but most of all the intention behind each prayer, which meant that I needed to know what those were; and in some ways I had to start from scratch. I did my research and reading, but most of my learning came from going to services myself. At my synagogue we learn a lot of different versions of the prayers, to emphasize different ways of looking at the words and meaning, but even when we use the same version over and over, we often stop to read a poem or hear a story first, to shed new light on the purpose of the particular prayer. And that has given me a lot of material to share with the kids, but, more often than not, I ask the kids if they can explain it to me.

“Huh?”

For example, the Mishaberach is a prayer for wishing someone healing from physical or emotional pain, so we spend some time talking about how a prayer might be able to comfort us, or give us strength, even if we don’t believe that God is answering our wishes directly. And when we look at the words of the Ve’shamru, a prayer we say on Friday nights to remind us of the obligation to celebrate Shabbat, I’ll ask them why we might need, or want, a reminder in the form of a prayer every week, especially one that we say after the Sabbath has already started. And then we can look at the Modeh Ani, one of the weekday morning prayers, in which we thank God for letting us wake up in the morning, returning our souls to us after a night in God’s safe keeping (go ahead, try to teach that concept to children without accidentally referencing zombies, I dare you).

“Zombies?!”

A lot of this focus on creating meaning is due to the fact that most progressive Jews (Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, Conservative, etc.) don’t feel obligated to pray. In orthodoxy, you are supposed to accept the burden of obligation, in rituals, and daily behaviors, long before you ever learn the why behind the what, which is what makes mumble grumble prayer a help to them. In progressive Judaism the why always comes first, because many of the obligations have been made voluntary, which has its own risks.

Sometimes I worry that my synagogue school students are missing out by spending so little time on their Jewish education each week. I wouldn’t have been able to fill my brain with so much of the how of Judaism, and the history of Judaism, without half of each day of my childhood being set aside for learning how to be Jewish. And I feel lucky to have the background I have, and the wealth of information to tap into. My hope is that, in the time my students and I have together, they will learn to see the obligations of their religious community as more than worth the gifts they will get in return, especially because there are so many fewer obligations in Progressive Jewish life. And maybe this lighter touch will keep them from falling into the mumble grumble form of religion, where the obligations drown out the inspirations.

            In my ongoing search for ways help the kids to feel connected to the prayers, I went to a Zoom presentation by the founders of a musical group called the Nigunim Ensemble, based in Israel. They have created new versions of old prayers, incorporating chants and new rhythms from Arab, Persian, and popular Israeli music. Their message to our Zoom class was that the Jewish world can, and should, widen its ideas of prayer music, not only to include more people in our community, but to add more layers of emotion to the experience of prayer. And I was excited by all of the new sounds they were introducing to us, but for me, the message that came through most strongly was the sense of joy I heard in their voices. And I realized that not only singing good music, but singing in community, allows me to feel heard and accepted, as I am. And, when I feel heard by my community, I start to think that maybe God can hear me too.

“We can hear you, Mommy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?