Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Last month, while concluding a visit to Texas – a great place to be in the summer if you have a hankering to fry eggs on the sidewalk – I decided to try to get an earlier flight out, as I had an important appointment the next day. I was going to have to change planes in New York and wanted to ensure I got in on time.

While “up, up and away” used to be the norm, now it’s more like, “up, up and away –

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maybe later, or tomorrow. Here’s a food voucher and a blanket.”

Being prudent, I called the airline and a very sympathetic customer representative told me that because I had booked online with a partner airline, he could not change my ticket even though I had offered to pay the change fee.

Okay, I thought, I’ll call the booking airline and see what they could do for me. Again, a sympathetic customer service representative told me that they had no control over their partner’s portion of the ticket. Once in New York, I could look at switching to an earlier flight – although how would I get one if I was mid-air having just left Texas on my original flight?

However, what I was told kind of made sense, since it was technically a two airline international flight, but I wasn’t sure if the “no” message I was given was truly based on knowing.

I got to the airport quite early – I had a ride and, honestly, it doesn’t matter where I am sitting when I am working online. I headed straight to the ticket agent and asked if I could go standby since changing ticket wasn’t an option – or so I had been told on the phone.

The agent told me the flight was full, and that he was having trouble accessing my reservation as there were two confirmations numbers for the two portions of my trip.  To my delight, he persisted, had an “aha” moment, a “knowing” one, found my reservation through a “back door” and put me on standby!

Finally, someone who worked at “knowing” rather than “no-ing,” which is actually the path of least resistance. I have heard stories of halachicly meticulous rabbeim who avoided “no-ing” and made the effort to be “knowing” and, for example, declare a chicken kosher. They did not take the “easy way” out!

I quickly went to the assigned gate, waited for the gate agent to show up and asked if I was confirmed on standby – the idea being to make sure I was on the list and that I was at the beginning of it, as it’s first come first serve. She looked at me puzzled and handed me a boarding pass.  I was thrilled and suffused with relief. I would not have to worry about getting to my connecting flight on time.  After we took off, I looked around and saw that my “full flight” wasn’t full, after all.  If empty seats could daven, there would have been enough for a minyan.

The point I am making is that there are facts based on a genuine lack of awareness and there are facts based on reality. So do not get deterred by a “no,” and try again.

My story gets even better. I arrived in New York and went to the airline’s boarding gate, to confirm that I was on standby for the 6:30 pm so I would not have to wait till 8:00pm for my booked flight. To my surprise, the delayed 5:00pm flight was boarding, and even though my reservation again remained elusive for a few minutes, I was put on that flight. (We didn’t take off for over an hour due to there being about 20 planes ahead of us, but still I was beyond relieved and grateful that Hashem had ensured my getting home for my VIA [very important appointment.])

This was just a flight, but “no-ing” as opposed to “knowing” can lead to very serious ramifications when it comes to doctors and diagnoses.  The “no-ing” of a medical specialist, like a radiologist, dermatologist, etc., can be life changing, For example, “No, your stomach pains are from stress, relax, take aspirin,” and months later, delayed testing reveals a very serious health issue that could have been better resolved months earlier.

Recently, while getting blood work done, I sat next to a younger woman who told me that for four months her doctor told her she had bronchitis – even though she had lost 25 pounds in one month and had no appetite or energy. Finally, a quick visit to an ER revealed that she had Stage 4 lymphoma – and it had spread.

Don’t assume that the “no” from a doctor is based on “know”ledge, because as amazing as he/she might be as a clinician and although he/she may have your best interests at heart, even geniuses make mistakes. Get another opinion even if you have to pay out of pocket.

I used to believe that second opinions were crucial when one got “bad news.” Now I believe that when the doctor comes out smiling and says the test was negative for whatever scary thing was being sought, it might be prudent to have that outcome confirmed a second time a few weeks/months later. There can be false negatives and false positives, so another set of diagnostic eyes can be lifesaving, or at the very least give you invaluable peace of mind.

While on the subject of health, there is an amazing resource literally at our fingertips. The Internet offers a wealth of medical information. Educate yourself. Type in a question and various websites will pop up with answers – so many, in fact, that you can easily get confused, terrified, and feel doomed. Is my headache a glioma – a malignant brain tumor?

The trick is to go to medical websites set up by reputable hospitals and medical institutions whose articles are geared for non-medical personnel. These sites help you formulate the proper questions you should ask when you see your doctor.

“Knowing” to the best of your ability is a powerful tool. Ignorance isn’t, and can lead to your own, “no-ing.” “No, there is nothing wrong with me, it’s just heartburn.”

Ultimately, whatever outcome you have medically, legally, financially etc., try to learn whatever you can. You are your best advocate, not the hired help, no matter how top-tier he or she is his or her field.

As I have mentioned before in earlier columns, one of the most inspirational messages I ever gleaned was from an obituary (of all things) that I read decades ago and never forgot. It went something like this:

“Eighteen years after being given six months to live, and having outlived his specialist, Dr. So and So, and his surgeon, Dr. Sew and Sew, the family of Mr. Yoni Ploni sadly announces his passing.”

Don’t take “no” for an answer, until you have proved to yourself that this “no” is actually a true “know.” Being passive can lead to false “knowing” and giving up prematurely.

Hashem is the one who runs the world, but we have an obligation to be proactive; to do reasonable histadlut, knowing that the outcome is in His All-Knowing Hands.

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