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Harriet Berkal
Manny Berkal-Sarbit


by Harriet Berkal, December 1, 2017

As Jews, we are a resilient people with thousands of years of history of endurance. We have overcome obstacles so monumental that others may question how have we survived thus far.

Recently, I encountered a situation which called upon my fortitude as a person to see if I could overcome a medical hurdle which threatened to leave me potentially blind. I will elaborate in a moment but some of you may be shocked or not, that our medical system placed me in a dilemma asking myself: " Oh my God-WHAT IF they can't obtain this substance that is on back order in the short window of time left to save my vision?

On August 17th, I was in Toronto for a meeting. I arrived early on August 14th and didn't feel well. After three days in a hotel bed I was rushed to emergency for what turned out to be kidney stones. In the ambulance my blood pressure shot to 185/45 and the attendant said: “You must be in terrible pain.” I've had years of endometriosis so pain is all relative. Having said that, what I was about to go through in Winnipeg, I would only describe as agonizing and kidney stones, a walk in the park. The Toronto ER dealt with me promptly, diagnosed the stone, doped me up and sent me back to Winnipeg that same night, where I gave birth to my little crystal on the prairies.

Two days later, I saw some floaters in my eye, followed by flashes of lights in the corner. This couldn’t be a retinal detachment as I've already used my quota of hospital privileges up for the week. And who's ever heard of two medical issues like this occurring days apart? But I went to the Misericordia Hospital, where I was in fact informed that my left retina had detached and surgery was to be the next day. Okay; I'm not liking this tour of provincial hospitals but truly, what choice do I have? I fast after midnight.

The first surgery is lengthy and unlike other patients, I feel everything. I talk throughout the surgery telling them of my discomfort. My detachment is a bit more complicated and requires a sclera buckle around the eyeball, vitrectomy and gas. I required morphine afterwards when they place you in " positioning ": head down in a massage-like table donut contraption which you use at home for the next two weeks. Yes, it's uncomfortable and you have memorized the carpet fibre pattern to a "t". But, you do as you are told.

I'm optimistic that I'm through the worst and like the Maccabees, I feel confident that I will overcome this hardship and move on. Except here is where the “WHAT IF” part came in.

Upon my two-week examination, I am told that my retina has detached once again and that I require yet another surgery and should fast, BUT the one ingredient required to force my retina back in place is OIL. And, it's on back order. Uh huh, you heard that right - fresh out of oil - remind you of any of our forefathers stuck in the same position?

Miraculously, my excellent surgeon was able to secure some and in a longer and more agonizing second surgery he flushed the eye with OIL.

In a million years, I would never have thought I would have found myself in such a scenario questioning: WHAT IF?

But it has caused me to think of a variety of situations where we take things for face value and would never dream of any potential linkages. This can happen easily because we don't all research extensively or we just trust in certain things we never would have normally questioned the way I would never have thought the hospital would be out of oil.

There are thousands of individuals suffering from fertility issues. They assume it's a just because they fall into that position. But there has been evidence that if, let's say your mother dropped a lot of LSD in her days, the chromosomes of her own child might mutate and lead to infertility and miscarriage issues. How many people would ever make that possible association? Is there a definitive linkage? Medical opinions seem to vary.

For years, I had dental issues and it took 25 years for a dentist to connect the dots and figure out that I was born with no enamel due to a drug my mom had taken during pregnancy. I had never asked: " What if there is more going on here than meets the eye?"

A friend recently found out that her husband of four decades had dated another woman at the exact same time as they had dated. She assumed they were exclusive. He wasn't forthcoming and it caused pain many years later. His conviction to her at the time was so strong that it never occurred to her to ask: “What if he isn't seeing just me ?" It would never have occurred to her to ask as she believed in the relationship the same way you put your trust into hospitals having the key ingredient to salvage your vision.

The oil is still in my eye for several months but it is problematic to retrieve all of it in the next surgery. This time I have be blessed with the space to ask: What if something goes wrong? I can research the various methods and give myself the best chance of the most successful recovery within my power. Of course, not everything is within our control.

I have heard from several others that they have heard of people having retinal detachments days after kidney stones. Is it due to high blood pressure, coincidence or not related at all?

Long story short, don't be afraid to think and research outside the box. The answers may be right under your nose as it was when the oil reappeared during the miracle of Hanukkah. At face value, things appeared pretty glum but in the end it reversed itself. Never be afraid to ask those tough questions and be creative in your problem solving. Not everything is all that it appears. A lesson I have learned the hard way. Don’t be blind - remember the earth isn’t flat.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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