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Tag Archives: Covid 19

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 Problem with Charity

            I’ve always felt uneasy about giving charity. I can’t figure out which charities to help, or how to be helpful, or how to not feel guilty for all of the other charities I am therefore ignoring. As the Covid-19 pandemic has grown, I’ve watched others act generously, and give generously, and the peer pressure to do the same has been enormous, but still impossible to live up to.

“I don’t have peers, so I’m safe.”

We had a discussion about charity one Friday night at my synagogue, after hearing the results of a study that said the younger generation of Jews (AKA me) are not giving as much money to charity as previous generations. The consensus opinion among the older congregants was that young people don’t understand that charity is an obligation, and therefore they don’t even think about giving, either to their own communities, or to the needy, or to the arts, or medicine. The older congregants remembered their parents setting aside specific times to give Tzedakah to different charitable organizations. They would do this once a year, or once a month, or before major holidays, and they were purposely involved in the process by their parents, in order to teach them that this is an obligation they would need to live up to as adults.

The discussion then veered off into how we could (and should) use peer pressure to encourage people to give more money to charity; how we should purposely press on those guilt buttons and encourage competitive giving, and offer rewards to those who give, because people need to be pushed to do “the right thing.”

“Do NOT push me.”

And I was left feeling confused, and guilty, and troubled. Because I don’t want to be left to give charity on my own. I don’t have enough money to make a difference, and I don’t want to watch my single coin drop to the bottom of an empty well. I felt like something was missing from this discussion but I couldn’t figure out what it was, at least not right away. I needed to take some time to think about it.

            The word charity feels Christian to me, both because it is, and because it is so often paired with the word “Christian,” especially in all of the Christmas movies I inhale in November and December. The Hebrew word Tzedakah, though, has a somewhat different connotation, even though it is often translated as charity. Tzedakah literally means “righteousness” and refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. The Torah requires that 10% of a Jew’s income be allotted to righteous deeds and causes.

            Except, from where I sit, giving charity is much more complicated than that. For example, in the United States, people can receive tax refunds for giving money to charity, and many corporations see giving charity as good publicity. Does charity given for selfish purposes still count as charity? Does charity given out of guilt still count as righteous?

            I don’t think I’m the only person from my generation who has noted the hypocrisy, and been put off by it. But for me, there’s also a more personal set of issues in the way. When I was a child, my father often made a show of putting a twenty dollar bill into the pushka (the tzedakah box) at our synagogue, after weekday morning services, or buying gifts for people at our synagogue that he didn’t really know, or helping other congregants when they were locked out of their cars. And at the same time, he refused to pay the bills at home, or fix things that were broken at home. My mother was often left to seek out hand-me-downs, or to buy furniture at St. Vincent De Paul, or to go to consignment stores and flea markets (though the last two she’d have done anyway), to make sure we had what we needed. And then my father would suddenly give us generous presents, though rarely what we asked for, or needed. At the same time, he spent a lot of money on clothes and shoes and hats and books and classes for himself.

            It was very hard for my brother and I to figure out what we could actually afford as a family, and my brother just decided that we were poor, even though in reality we were solidly middle class, given our parents combined incomes, where we lived, and where we went to school, even with scholarships.

“Did you have to walk six miles, uphill, in the snow, to get your chicken treats?”

In graduate school for social work, I heard a lot about the debate between needs-based and rights-based approaches to poverty. Needs-based thinking leads to charity and philanthropy, or voluntary giving to the “deserving” poor. Rights-based thinking includes changes in government policy, income redistribution, wage floors and cash subsidies, so that poverty can be eradicated and no one is seen as “undeserving.”

            As a child, I believed (often incorrectly) that paying taxes would mean lifting everyone up out of the risk of poverty, and creating a social safety net. I thought taxes equaled that ten percent we were required to give to good works, plus some more for roads and bridges. I believed that we paid our taxes so that we could all have our basic needs met. Over time, I started to realize that this wonderful safety net I’d imagined was more like a Swiss cheese umbrella, and I could easily get rained on. I heard screeds against anyone who would apply for disability or Medicaid, like me, instead of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. And I realized that, in the eyes of a lot of people who did not know me, I would qualify as the “undeserving” poor.

            Often, the excuse for not covering the holes in our social safety net is that “charities can handle that.” Except, why would we prefer something as unreliable as charity over obligatory protections?

I think that a big part of why people prefer charity to taxes is that giving charity feels good. I see it in my synagogue all the time. The same people who grumble at having to pay yearly dues (to pay for salaries, building maintenance and repairs, taxes, and other boring things), will gladly give money at a fundraiser, or offer money to charity, or give time as a volunteer. Partially it’s because it looks like generosity, but more often it’s because it feels like generosity. It feels so much better to give a gift that you are not required to give, than to give what is required.

            I remember an episode of Law & Order where a man became addicted to giving away his organs. He wasn’t selling them, or selling his blood, or skin, or whatever else he was giving away, but the feeling of giving and of being generous was so intoxicating for him that he couldn’t stop, even when it put his own life at risk. But, he insisted that the person who received his generous gift be “deserving,” and he was the only one who could determine their worthiness. In fact, he felt justified in killing someone in order to re-gift an organ to someone he deemed more worthy. Giving charity gave him the power over life and death, literally.

            As, as a child, I would have preferred to have an allowance, or clear guidelines for what I could and could not have, instead of randomly receiving gifts (or charity) from my father, when he wanted to give them. And I feel the same way now. I’d rather know what kinds of support I can rely on, and where it will come from, so that I can plan ahead, and not feel constantly on edge about whether the needed gift will come in time, or whether I even deserve that gift.

“When do I get my chicken treats?”

In response to Covid-19, at first, the federal government of the United States seemed to be stepping up and taking responsibility for compensation, not just because we needed help, but because we had a right to it. We wouldn’t have to pay for testing, and we could rely on unemployment and subsidies and rent freezes to allow us to stay home as long as necessary. This made sense to me, both because other countries were doing their own versions of the same thing, and because it was clear that our government could have limited the impact of Covid-19, by testing early and often, providing adequate protective equipment to health care workers, and doing contact tracing as soon as the first cases were discovered.

Pretty quickly, though, it became clear that the measures put in place were wildly inadequate, with underfunded and understaffed unemployment plans, and much of the loan money meant to go to small businesses going to companies who had pre-existing relationships with the big banks. And despite those clear failures, congress was unwilling or unable (depending on your perspective) to offer further support. In response, some politicians advocated reopening businesses and throwing senior citizens into the volcano to appease the Covid gods. And then, because we thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, it became clear that the federal government’s already weak response to the coronavirus had dropped precipitously at the same time as studies began to show that poor people and people of color were being disproportionately impacted.

And, as usual, kind and generous people stepped in with charitable organizations to try to fill the gaps. Except, charity means that each individual gets to choose who they want to help, and who they don’t, and many people who needed help were left with nothing.

I have a tendency towards cynicism and hopelessness, expecting failure at every turn, but lately I have been seeing evidence that real change is possible, if you fight for it. I want to learn how to be hopeful and to believe that the current wave of protests and education and political change will take us further than we’ve been able to go in the past. Because honestly, if we don’t make a change soon, I think we’re screwed.

“Uh oh. Mommy used a bad word.”

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?