A word about Sukkot

I walk around my sparkling bright city of Modi’in and everywhere I see sukkot. I see them on balconies, in front of houses, in plazas next to apartment buildings, in front of restaurants, even at the health club. And you don’t have to be traditionally observant to have one. Lots of our non-traditional neighbors have built them too– some using the same materials we use, others draping sheets or cloth across wood or metal and placing decorations inside.

I find these sukkot to be captivating. I began to think about what it was that captivates me and I realized that for me it is analogous to seeing a very tiny baby. Who doesn’t feel love and compassion and especially protectiveness toward a little baby? And why? Because babies are so very vulnerable. They are completely and totally dependent on someone else to care for them.

The sukkot, to me, represent that same vulnerability. We are strong, we live in big stone buildings. We have indoor plumbing and washers and dryers and air conditioners– but one week a year, we are vulnerable. We represent ourselves out there on the street or balcony or shopping center as vulnerable. And as I looked at am yisrael, the people of Israel, putting ourselves out there, open and vulnerable, I thought of two things: how despite the fact that we live under a constant state of threat, we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable and how it is only because of a deep and abiding faith that we continue to do it.

I pray that our Protector will continue to protect us and that sukkot will be a holiday of pure joy when we can know that despite the frailness of our dwellings, we are safe.

A fishy* story

It started off innocently enough… Yom Kippur was over. I broke the fast of the kipper with holy mackerel (it’s having been a holy day and all). This was smoked mackerel which in Israel comes vacuum packaged as sliced off the fish- skin, bones, and all. I think of it as the fish that closest resembles whitefish which is not easy to find here– the closeness growing in direct proportion to the last time I ate whitefish. Most of the time, my husband de-bones it and mashes it into a salad that tastes more and more like whitefish salad the longer we live here.

But, at the end of Yom Kippur, I was hungry (25 hour fasts tend to do that to me) and eating the fish unprocessed didn’t seem to be a ridiculous idea. I suppose I had forgotten how many bones reside in that fish, because I soon had a mouthful of bones and before I knew it, I had swallowed some of them. It never occurred to me that that would be a problem.

One bone remained in my throat, or so I thought. I tried to gag, to cough, to eat a lot of bread, to drink a lot of water– I tried everything I knew to get rid of it. Maybe it had gone and just a scratch in my throat was annoying me. I went to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up. I wasn’t sure it was still there, but I coughed and coughed and felt as if I were drowning in mucous.

I went to the ENT doctor’s office. He said that the “foreign body” (a much nicer term than f**h bone) was beyond my throat, maybe in my esophagus. He told me that foreign bodies in the esophagus were very dangerous. He sent me to the emergency room with a request for a CT scan and removal. As I approached my house, my husband was waiting on the corner and jumped into the car to accompany me.

Once registered in the ER at the hospital, we were sent to the ENT ward. We sat there for a while until a cute, attractive young female physician came to examine me. She used an instrument of torture. This is worse than the thumbscrew, the rack, and yes, even water boarding. Briefly (ah, had it only been briefly), the procedure involved taking a skinny garden hose and threading it through my nostril, making a turn at the back of my nose, and pushing it down through my throat into my esophagus. All the while, the sensation was something between being burned successively lower and lower and being scratched and scraped (ok, touched me in places I’ve never been touched before) on the back of my throat. In addition, I was to stick my tongue out as far as it could go, breathe through my nose and say the sound eee. I am not certain that I wasn’t being secretly filmed for a future TV show entitled “How the medical establishment legally tortures old people.”

After her two initial attempts yielded nothing, I was sent for a CT scan. An hour or two later when she had the results, she showed me where it was and attempted, using the same instrument of torture, to extract the bone. Her attempts were, alas, futile. She then tried to grab it while I was lying on a gurney with my next extended. Again, futile. She said that I would have to come back at 8:00 in the morning for a procedure under general anesthetic.

We went to the ER and tried to leave. We were told that I had to stay the night because leaving and returning would make it two hospital visits and only one would be covered automatically by the referral I had brought in the day before. So, at about 11 p.m., I sent my husband home. I was told they would find me a bed. Since I hadn’t even thought that this could happen, I was unprepared– no book to read, iPod close to out of batteries, nothing to do– nada. So I sat and began writing this blog post on some scrap paper, knowing that when I actually wrote it, I would likely not even look at what I wrote. But I needed to fill the time.

Lots of time went by. Finally someone vacated one of the padded benches in the waiting area (more like a long hall) and I took a blanket that someone else had used and covered myself and went to sleep. The area was, of course, noisy. Nonetheless, having been through a day containing a couple of traumas, I was able to doze. Until 3 a.m.

At 3 a.m. in some hospitals in Israel, the triage part of the emergency room closes. That means that although emergency cases such as traffic accident victims and people who suddenly become very ill are seen, the run of the mill cases pretty much don’t come in at those hours and therefore they can save on the cost of staff and take whoever is left to the major ER unit.

I was awakened from my sleep by the sound of a drill sergeant’s voice saying, “Get up lady; we’re going to find you a bed!”

Sounded good. Sounded very good. Too good to be true.

She led a parade of about 25-30 patients through the halls to a rear corridor. We were a sorry band of old and young, Jews and Arabs, and even a prisoner in handcuffs and leg irons and his two armed guards. The nurse collected everyone’s charts and told us it would take a “few” minutes to get organized. In reality, “few” means 150. Yes, 2.5 hours later, I was given a gurney on one side of a four-sided desk complex that was in the center of the ER complete with fluorescent lights and the incessant beeps and moans that punctuate the jabber, the shouts, and the clanging of metal against metal. I took my head scarf and tied it around my eyes and took my iPod and used its last remaining hour or so to help to block out the noise. I slept for about an hour.

As 8 o’clock approached, I asked for my file and made my way to the ENT clinic where I was still expecting to have general anesthesia to rid me once and for all of the bone.

Only at about 9 another doctor took me into his examination room and proceeded to do the same torturous exam. But this time, his failure to see anything was my fault. Only after his exam, which resulted in the sensation of my entire throat down to my chest being burned from the inside did he tell my husband that he hadn’t seen anything suspicious on the CT scan and was just checking.

Doctor number 3 called us into his office. A native English speaker, he told us that he sees nothing suspicious on the CT scan. He said that what the other doctor had seen was a left over part of one of my tonsils– that that is common and unremarkable. He asked me some questions like “Do you have trouble breathing?” “Do you have trouble swallowing?” “Does it hurt when you swallow?” The answers to all three were no. He said, “Well, then there’s nothing there. There’s nothing on the CT and no symptoms to suggest there’s anything there. You’re fine.” I heaved a sigh of relief — until he said, “but I am, of course, required to examine you just to be sure.” You guessed it. Torture once again. This time, for no reason.

Once I recovered, we were on our way. Stopping for a post-traumatic lunch…

Post-traumatic lunch

Post-traumatic lunch

Henceforth:
No mention of f**h, other than gefilte, will be made in my house.
Salmon will now be termed “the other orange fruit.”
No pictures of the sea that might suggest anyone lives there are allowed.
No visiting of any home with an aquarium.
and finally…
“Finding Nemo” is banned. Let Nemo get lost. Who cares.

*hence the word fish will appear in my blog as f**h
Be sure to check out Akiva’s comment…

Obligatory “I’m getting old, blah blah blah” post

Yes, it happened. I can’t believe it. A very frightening thing happened to me just a few days ago. I had a birthday. And no, not just any birthday, but that one that rejects any rationalizations. I am getting old.

Once, when I asked my father if it was awful to get old (he never did get old) he told me that it beats the alternative. I agree.

But how did this happen?

How can it be that I still am 30-something inside and, well, this old?

On the one hand, it seems that there is no logical escape from the conclusion. On the other, here are a few of the things that I didn’t think I would be doing when I got old:

Having what? 27? 28? 30? grandchildren*
Picking fruit off trees in my garden, in ISRAEL!
Seeing giant tortoises and magnificent frigates and blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos
Zip-lining over cloud forest in Ecuador
Visiting Machu Picchu
Taking another group of people to China
Writing a blog

So yes, the number did change, but a number is only a number. Life is more fun every single year. I am blessed.

And yes, it’s much better than the alternative.

*Depends on how you count