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Ronnie Katz Gerber
Communications Chair, Hadassah Los Angeles Metro Region

Friendship on call

Photo courtesy of Hadassah
Photo courtesy of Hadassah

My friend Bette called me the other day. I’ve known her since I was about 8 or 9 when we both moved into our homes on Long Island. She is from Levittown and me from Brooklyn. Her dad a lawyer, mine a free-lance architect. We both had stay-at-home moms. She had two brothers, I had one. We hit it off and here we are. I’m in Palos Verdes and she in La Jolla, CA. And both of us having organ concerts by phone almost weekly.

What’s an organ concert with no music involved? It’s an oral litany of aches and pains. Oys and Gevalts. Ach and ugh. We’re seventy-four. She was diagnosed with MS over 20 years ago and lately things are deteriorating. Me? I have stage four chromophobe cancer for two years and counting now. Both of us are troopers. No real complaints though we are aware of our conditions. We just mention that today is good day. We’re grocery shopping, playing bridge or mahjong, having lunch with a friend. I’m catching up on my Hadassah events. That sort of thing.

Or it’s not such a good day. She caused a car accident and although there were no injuries she was taken away in an ambulance because she blanked out and couldn’t respond to simple insurance requests or questions. Great fast thinking on the part of the other woman. She was taken to Scripps Hospital where her doctors were familiar with her history. She’s been unlike herself for some time, I think. Her gait is rigid and oh so slow and off balance. Her responses slow and broad, not really targeted. This is a very bright woman who always made honor roll or dean’s list or could play bridge and teach math with her eyes closed. And her piano playing will warm your heart. The truth is, age and illness slow us down, but if you understand it, it did not slow her down. Life is a tug of war, and she tugs—hard. You know, “Women Who Do, “our Hadassah slogan. And we live it privately as well as publicly, as well as charitably.

Recently, I’ve had a challenging month. February is somewhere in a cloud for me. I spent it with Covid as my partner. I’ve been vaccinated, boosted, careful and only inside my pod and bubble of life. It’s been this way, in some respects since my cancer diagnosis. Covid just made it a degree or three more restrictive. Then, I felt a sore throat. A big sore throat. Lethargy. Oy. So, I went to get tested right away. Twice. Negative twice. In the meantime, I can’t function, my breathing is labored, taste buds are gone, I’m exhausted or feverishly sleeping. The runs! I’m not even eating, and I have the runs. What’s up with that?! Come on guys! This must be Covid! Omicron OMG. Finally, I get a positive test result. They say my nose is too bloody to have a clear reading of the test, but they devised something and came back out to the car with a positive result. Sent me home. No meds. No follow up. Not even a fare-the-well. Week upon week I’m sweating it out. I can’t swallow or freely breathe. But sleep is constant, so I don’t even know what day it is half the time.

My Hadassah friends are most actively checking in with my son, Jason, as well as leaving soup and pudding and creamy things should I feel like eating. My son must be taking care of things and tending to our dog, who I sense is pretty much by my side.

To top this off, I develop a problematic constantly bloody nose. But I figure it’s either a crumb left by Omicron or allergy season. It’s not debilitating, just annoying. What I didn’t know will come in a moment or two. Because I get subsumed by lesions and blisters all over my mouth, eyes and nose! Talk about ugly. And it hurts like hell.

I can’t open my mouth to speak or eat. I know some consider this a blessing. Ha Ha! It’s a cutting, biting pain. And any food or drink flares it. I recognize it. I get it like people who develop hives. When I’m overwhelmed by stress. Omicron overwhelmed me. Imagine if I hadn’t been vaccinated… l now looked like any Kardashian sister mated with a platypus duck and I was their love child. Horrific. Once again and still I can’t eat. I’m losing too much weight and feeling lousy. I know this one. There’s no cure. It’s idiopathic and UCLA has a list of what it’s not: shingles, measles, herpes, on and on. But what is it? No one seems to know. I must sit this one out – and my nose is so sore. My mouth is disfigured and on fire, my left eye is all but closed and throbbing. But this too shall pass.

But wait—There’s more! I’m possessed by a swelling so profound I literally can’t fit into any shoe, slipper or sandal. No ring gets past by first knuckle. My face is finally recognizable and I’m able to eat soups and creamy bland things when I can’t bend my ankle or fit into a shoe. Sure. Kick me when I’m down. But I realize this might be a heart thing. I call my wonderful cardiologist, who never got back to me. Twice. Eventually I realize I should be taking my blood pressure more regularly to see if there’s a problem. I’m also having a strange headache. I never get headaches. Day three I give in – but reluctantly. The headache was the tiebreaker. At midnight I decide I can’t abide this, and it might be a stroke warning, BP is 188 and climbing. Rapidly. Off we go. Thank G-d my son is willing and able. Johnny on the spot and caring.

We get to Torrance Memorial Hospital and my BP is now 210. They don’t waste a lot of time. CT scan – where they found a sinus infection. Ah the nose culprit. Chest X-ray, blood test, IV for pain, BP meds. They have my history there and my cardiologist is affiliated there. Though it isn’t clear to me that she’s in the loop. I’m there five hours when I’m regulated enough to be released with a boatload of instructions and new meds. My morning cocktail is turning into a five-course meal.

But I’m home and healing and eating and seeing friends. Hooray! Then Bette calls. “Hi, what’s new? “We both say nothing is new. And then we simultaneously blurt out “I spent the night in the E R.”  Well, if that’s not friendship, what is?

About the Author
Ronnie Katz Gerber is currently Communications Chair for the Hadassah Metro Los Angeles Region. A retired English and drama teacher for one of the largest school districts in California, she has written, directed and produced a handful of curriculum-based plays for her students and received a Los Angeles Awards nomination for her educational outreach through the arts. She has now turned her attention to columns, articles and short stories. Ms. Gerber is active in the community doing volunteer work and also spends her time pursuing her avid interest in travel. She has visited most of Europe, Russia and Africa, China and a bit of South America as well. Most springs, she hosts foreign exchange students for a month while they take an American culture and language crash course at a local university. As a result, she has spent time with them and their families abroad. Her family, especially her grand girls are the best activity of any day.
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