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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘ER’

Mekhi Phifer (‘ER’) Checks Out the Cobra

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Mekhi Phifer is no stranger to fake action, having portrayed Dr. Greg Pratt on NBC’s medical drama “ER,” FBI agent Ben Reynolds on Fox’s “Lie to Me,” and CIA agent Rex Matheson in “Torchwood: Miracle Day.” This week, Mekhi had a rare opportunity to try the reral thing, on a vist to an IAF base in Palmachim, south of Tel Aviv.

The Thin Line Between Joy and Tragedy

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

“There is a thin line between love and hate,” the saying goes. Two opposite emotions, yet one can so easily transmute into the other.

I have lately come to see that there is also a thin line between joy and tragedy. Joyful and tragic events can converge on the plane of time, emotional ink bleeding across the intersecting lines. Or an experience might transform without warning – a crushing setback unfolding into the greatest triumph, the height of celebration spiraling into heartbreak.

The only way to survive the roller coaster ride is to travel on a cushion of faith.

If this all sounds like a bunch of preachy philosophical pabulum, let me back up a bit.

*    *   *

One evening in February, my husband and I were relaxing in our living room. The Olympics hummed along on TV, my husband the weather-buff was devouring online updates on the unfolding East Coast snowstorm, and I was holding our baby daughter in my arms, feeding her a bottle. Our little boy was asleep in his room. One minute, a tranquil family tableau. The next minute, panic! Baby turning blue, her body stiff, her life hanging in the balance. I don’t know exactly how long she wasn’t breathing – a minute or two that seemed like 20 – but they were positively the most terrifying moments of my life.

By the grace of Hashem (and with the help of fast-responding Hatzolah volunteers, kind neighbors, and a top-notch ER) everything was fine. Tonight we are back here relaxing in the living room, enjoying the gift of another evening together.

*   *   *

Now, allow me to take you back a little further to when the learning really started.

After a progression of fertility troubles culminating in a bleak prognosis, my husband and I were at a very low point. Windows closing, the limitations of medical science laid bare.

Thus, we felt incredibly blessed approximately one year ago to learn we were expecting a second child.

Our jubilation turned to disbelief when initial tests put the viability of the pregnancy in question. But things progressed. The months of sickness that followed seemed a small price to pay. We were buoyant, if anxious.

A little past the halfway mark, the pregnancy became high-risk when I was diagnosed with a serious complication. Up and down, up and down. Where was this road going to take us?

At just 29 weeks, our daughter was delivered by emergency c-section. She weighed a little over 2½ pounds. The doctors whisked her away before I could even blink.

Right away, the confluence of joy and sadness struck me. Our daughter had arrived on Simchas Torah. The holiday of rejoicing with the Torah – Hashem’s greatest, everlasting gift to us – singing and dancing and celebrating our good fortune as its recipients. And here we were, my husband and I, in a hospital room, trying to digest our frightening new reality.

That first night, on Motzaei Yom Tov, my parents came to see me. “Mazal Tov!” bellowed my father, ever the optimist. The words rang strange in my ears. Yes, the birth of a child is always a blessing. But this new life was yet so tenuous, her prognosis then so uncertain. How could I celebrate when my baby lay tethered to machines, her tiny body utterly unready for the tasks of living?

For two months, the NICU was our baby’s home and our second home. Day by day, she made progress and showed a strong spirit. I was proud to see her batting her arms and legs, but I learned that all that movement wastes precious energy needed for growth.

Two steps forward, one step back is the rhythm of the place.

There were highs: the first time I held her (it was several weeks before that was possible), every clean test result, the day I finally saw her sweet face without any tubes or apparatuses. And lows: saying goodbye each day (often she’d finally open her eyes just when I had to go), having to ask permission for everything and defer to the judgment of others regarding her care, the night she contracted an infection and almost died.

We were at home sleeping when that crisis hit, blissfully oblivious until an unexpected morning phone call. Two days earlier, our baby had graduated into one of the “going home” rooms – those that house the bigger, stronger babies who are on their way toward discharge.

Perhaps the hardest part of those eight weeks was feeling torn between my child at home and the one in the hospital. Call it a severe case of Mother’s Guilt: the feeling that no matter what I did or where I was, I was shortchanging someone.

My mother has a dear cousin in Israel who is a chesed powerhouse. Among her wise expressions is, “In life you have to be where you’re needed the most.” I thought about that a lot during my NICU experience, and kept asking myself: Who needs me more right now?

On one hand, my son, then just shy of two and a half, sorely missed me when I wasn’t there. He was, in a word, confused. Children crave routine, and his had been quite upended. After my weeks of bedrest when he had been heard to chant in a singsong voice, “What happened to Mommy? What happened to Mommy?” I had disappeared into the hospital. But I didn’t come back with a baby in tow like in the big brother books we had read together. And he wasn’t allowed to visit the NICU, so he couldn’t see this “baby sister” he had been told about. The best I could do for him was to simply Be There. That meant cutting my time in the hospital short (or so it always felt).

Did the baby sense my absence? Not consciously, of course. But what about that subconscious-unconscious-visceral need that all newborns have to bond with their parents? Would she be scarred for life – not just because of the hours I couldn’t be there but because of all the cuddling she missed out on lying in an Isolette with wires and tubes and beeping noises and invasive procedures regardless of whether one of us was there?

So even as I sat playing with my son at home, or chasing him in the park outside, I felt conflicted. Delighted to see my son happy and carefree despite the upheaval in his routine, yet aching inside for my baby to come home, for our family to be whole.

Where does sadness end and happiness begin? Must the bitter overpower the sweet, or can it exist side by side, like two rivers flowing into the same heart? Hashem’s world is complex, and we are tasked with making peace out of the many pieces of our lives.

Throughout our journey, the jumble of emotions I felt led me many times to the brink of doubt. Each time we had to hold our breath again, I begged to understand: Why is Hashem doing this? Could we possibly have come so far only to lose it all? How can we bear to climb so high only to sink so low?

Will our baby make it? Will we?

But at least I had Someone to whom I could direct these questions. How, I wonder, can anyone get through such an experience without God? Whom do they call out to in the darkest moments? Just as I’ve always wondered how non-Jews and non-frum Jews handle the stresses of the week without Shabbos, I cannot fathom how one can get through a medical crisis without the succor of faith.

My husband and I are ordinary people. Our faith is imperfect. But I don’t think we could have survived our ordeal without it. From the very first night we learned of my pregnancy – and were warned that it might not last – we began a nightly Tehillim ritual of five perakim followed by a special Yehi Ratzon prayer from my Tefillas Chana siddur. The ritual continued while our daughter was in the hospital. It helped us connect with Hashem and feel that we were rallying the heavenly minions to our cause.

He heeded our prayers – and those of many others davening for us with hearts more pure. Our miracle daughter, the one all the nurses had labeled “feisty,” came home ahead of schedule.

*  *  *

This last year has been a roller coaster ride for our family. It’s made me realize more than ever how fragile our existence is, how unpredictable our lives. Not just from year to year, but from moment to moment. Why Hashem chooses to run the world this way I cannot claim to know. But I suspect that perhaps the unpredictability of life is supposed to motivate us toward continued prayer and dialogue with Him. It’s not enough to pray for something; once we have it, we have to pray to hold on to it.

Tanach is replete with examples of great individuals whom God drew to the brink of deprivation in order to elicit their deepest cries of prayer. Hashem wants to hear from us in good times and bad, in the throes of confusion and moments of clarity.

Unfortunately, not everyone manages to daven formally every day from a siddur (I admit I am among them). But as we go about each day, words that form in the heart and are whispered aloud – expressions of thanks, appeals for help – keep the conversation with the Almighty going.

When davening for our children, we typically focus on beseeching Hashem to grant them X or let them grow up to become Y. But that’s missing a step. Every parent must thank Hashem every day for the fact that he or she has a child at all. The same goes for spouses and parents. Because nothing is guaranteed; Hashem gives at His Mercy. The line between joy and tragedy is razor thin.

A neighbor of mine recently lost her father; a few weeks later she made a bar mitzvah. This type of predicament is, unfortunately, all too common. And yet, the show must go on. I know a girl who lost her father three weeks before her wedding. Yes, the wedding went on as scheduled. Not only is that undoubtedly what her father would have wanted, but it’s what our rabbonim advise. It is surely not an easy course. I can only imagine how much inner strength one must muster to make a simcha while still in mourning.

Regardless of the circumstances, undiluted simcha is rare in this world. There is almost always a sting, a yearning for the loved ones not there to share it. And don’t we make a point at every chuppah of tempering our joy with a remembrance of the churban? In galus, our joy is never complete.

*   *   *

We celebrated Pesach a few weeks ago, and Purim just before that. Each of these holidays illustrates the commingling of joy and tragedy in a different way.

Purim is the story of “V’nahapoch Hu” – disaster transformed into jubilation. Hashem is in control; it is never too late for Him to save us. In the Megillah, the very tools that were to do us in became instruments in our salvation: Achashverosh’s royal seal, the gallows Haman erected to hang Mordechai. Indeed, Haman unknowingly selected, through his lottery, a date for our destruction which is now forever enshrined on the Jewish calendar as one of rejoicing. And Esther’s ascent to the throne, which appeared at first as a grave misfortune, turned out to be the key to our enemies’ undoing.

Pesach, on the other hand, is an example of wondrous and unfortunate events occurring contemporaneously. In the first place, we are told that only one-fifth of the Jews made it out of Egypt. If just that small percentage numbered six hundred thousand souls – the headcount at the time of the redemption – how many millions of Yidden were lost during the centuries of enslavement? That is a tragedy of staggering proportions.

Moreover, the makkos wrought tremendous suffering and destruction, culminating in the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Yam Suf. While it may seem odd to mourn those losses, Chazal made acknowledging the Egyptians’ misfortune part of the Seder (removing drops of wine from our cups) and of the Pesach liturgy (saying only partial Hallel on the intermediate and final days of the chag). We ever so slightly mitigate our celebration because our redemption came at a great human cost. The moral lesson: We do not rejoice at another’s pain (even if it comes as due punishment).

We would all love to live in a world without pain. Some people seem, on the outside, to have a “charmed life,” but that can only be an illusion. There’s no such thing as a pain-free existence. That’s why it often strikes me at a shiva house when fellow condolence callers wish the mourners that they “should know no further tza’ar.” Well-intended and benign as the thought may be, it doesn’t reflect reality.

Hashem could have created a world without suffering where everyone lives forever in peace and vitality. God willing, we will experience such a world one day, may it come soon. But in the meantime, we are challenged to strengthen our emunah through the rough and tumble of life’s vicissitudes. (By this I do not mean to make light of anyone’s suffering. The recent trials of my own that I have chosen to share here pale in comparison to the horrors others have had to endure.)

*   *   *

Our little girl has, thank God, been growing by leaps and bounds. She will continue to be closely monitored – being a “preemie” doesn’t end when you leave the hospital – but we are optimistic. Most of all, we are profoundly grateful for our blessings. I hope that we maintain that awe and awareness as time goes by.

“Wonders happen if we can succeed / in passing through the harshest danger,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. Better yet, the words of David Hamelech: “Ha’zorim b’dimah b’rinah yiktzoru” – may those who sow through tribulation reap a thousandfold in joy.

‘Playing’ It Safe For Your Children

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

A few years ago I wrote in this column that at the bris of my oldest son – held in a shul whose members were for the most part elderly – a wizened old man approached me, peered into my face and muttered in a raspy voice with a Yiddish accent, “May your children sit shiva for you.” I was too stunned to say anything to him and just shook my head as he walked away. I thought, “nebach, he must be demented.”

 

Two more sons and several frantic runs to the ER later, it became all too clear to me that this alter Yid was in fact in full control of his faculties, and that he had actually given me a wonderful brachah. When he had expressed his hope that my children sit shiva for me, he wasn’t cursing me to “drop dead” as was my initial impression, but rather he was voicing the ultimate blessing – that my children outlive me. That they survive; that they not succumb to sickness or be victims of accidents or violence in their infancy, childhood or adulthood; that they bury and mourn for me and not, chas v’shalom, the reverse.

 

As we read during the recent Yamim Noraim in the Nesaneh Tokef prayer, there are so many ways the Angel of Death can snatch our souls. As I write this, there is news of huge death tolls due to a massive earthquake and the ensuing massive tidal wave known as a tsunami, as well as the all-too-common news concerning homicides, car crashes, flu and cancer deaths, etc.

 

While ultimately it is Hashem who decides whether we live or die, we are nonetheless commanded to watch over ourselves and, by extension, our children and those both young and old who cannot care for themselves. They are our responsibility.

 

Being a wandering bubby (especially over Yom Tov) happy to roll up my sleeves and do what bubbys do – namely help with the babies and toddlers – I became aware of some methods to keep kids safe that I want to share.

 

Kids are explorers. Once they discover that moving their knees and hands can get them anywhere – the sky’s the limit. Somehow bathrooms seem to have a special appeal.  But bathrooms are dangerous. Curious kids can grip the toilet seat and pull themselves up. Once up, they may stand on their tippy toes and bend over in an attempt to reach the water below. They can, G-d forbid, fall in headfirst and drown. Ditto for the bathtub – if there is water in it.

 

Older kids may get up on the bathtub ledge and try swinging from the shower curtain. As a five-year-old I did that – and fell headlong onto the tile floor. My mother must have been very concerned because she promised me a rare treat – an ice cream if I stopped crying. It worked. We were both lucky that it did.

 

It is crucial to put the toilet lid down after using it, empty the bathtub immediately after usage – before you take the child(ren) out – and keep the bathroom door shut. In fact, all doors should be closed behind you when exiting the room.

 

Speaking of bathtubs, when I bathe the little ones, I put an old pillow on the floor beside me. Newly-bathed, squirming babies are slippery and can wiggle out of your arms when you lift them out of the tub and start straightening yourself up. If somehow they fall out of my arms, they will hit the pillow instead of the hard floor.

 

It’s important to keep all pills and medications where children cannot reach them. (They look like candy.) I take a thyroid pill daily that is a lilac color and is sweet. If I were a kid, I’d likely eat all the pills in the bottle. When you put medications or other dangerous edible items away, be aware that kids are smart and they can push a chair, climb on it and reach a kitchen counter or cupboards. Kids can also reach up and possibly tip over heavy items that can fall on them. Metal or wooden knicknacks and chotchkes, should not be on any shelf – even the lowest one – because if pulled they can fall and crush little toes and fingers.

 

Young children can also climb on couches and chairs, and grab dangling window blind cords and wrap them (as a fun thing to do) around their (or those of younger siblings they are playing with) arms, legs and necks. An adult need only be out of the room for a minute when tragedy can strike. Also hazardous are the cords of cell phone chargers left in low-lying outlets, as well as computer power cords on the floor.

 

If possible, adults (even visitors) in homes with babies should try to see the world from a baby’s point of view. If you can, get on your hands and knees and crawl around. It’s a real eye-opener – and a possible lifesaver.

An Apology

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Dear Ann,

 

         I got a lot out of your article on line, relating to how to deal with a toxic person. I thought the article was insightful and offers excellent techniques for detachment and maintaining a loving nature. As a therapist, I work with mind/body techniques.

 

         I wish you lots of luck.


Sincerely,


S. K.

 


Hi Ann,

 

         A few years ago, I developed heart palpitations after the visit of an old friend, his wife and young son. At that time my sister in-law had pointed out that these were “toxic” people. I found the label very amusing and thought it was something my sister-in-law came up with. So when my wife told me about your column in The Jewish Press, I took it along to read on the train on my way to work. I am very interested in learning about “toxic people” and how to cope with them. I have avoided my friend, his wife and child for over a year now. They are constantly trying to get together with us. But I want to avoid a trip to the ER, so I make excuses to put them off. They are good people with good hearts but so severely toxic that I am afraid to be with them.


C. V.

 

 

         I’d like to thank my readers for all their reactions to my articles, both those in agreement with what I write, who have been helped by my articles, as well as those not in agreement. Some of my articles bring a stronger response than others. My series on Toxic People seemed to have elicited this type of strong and varied response.

 

         It seems to have struck a particularly negative chord with some machitanim (I have been asked not to print their letters) because I chose to use stories about machitanim as an illustration. It seems that these articles have offended some of my readers. It was not my intention to cause any pain but only to discuss possible situations that may arise and to offer potential solutions to them.

 

         The term “Toxic People” refers to specific diagnosis based on specific behavior. It is not a term that I made up for use in my articles. As I said in the second article, “It is important to remember that some characteristics of toxic people may be seen in all of us. This does not mean we are toxic people, nor should we be seen or treated as such.” Any misunderstanding of this or the situations I have described in my articles is unfortunate.

 

 

A word about relationships


 


         We all get involved in arguments. This is especially true in families. Everyone involved will perceive what happened in a different light. All involved will see different causes to the arguments and different cures. This is because we bring our different experiences and upbringing with us into any relationship, and it acts as a filter in what and how we see.

 

         Any first argument couples have in a new marriage may look more like an argument between “his father” and “her mother” in their method and style of arguing, than the actual one between the bride and groom. How we argue is as much modeled in our homes – by our parents – as anything else we learn. How we react to situations and how we see the motivations of others – whether children, family, strangers ormachitanim – is often the reflection of traits that have taken a lifetime to build up. They reflect years of experiences, both negative and positive and are as much a result of anger, pain, hurt and animosity in our lives as the reflection of the joyous experiences.

 

         Parents need to learn to accept the independent life style of their married children (whether they agree with it or not) if they want to work on having a positive relationship with their children. Machitanim need to realize that every family has different values and perceptions. These people need to be accepted and respected for their values even when one doesn’t agree with them.

 

         Values and personality traits that have taken a lifetime to build up in people do not change easily, even when change is desired by the individual. It is up to every individual to find a constructive, respectful style of communication to settle disagreements with anyone, especially family and extended family.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/an-apology/2007/09/11/

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