Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Consult with a Pharmacist

By Susan Esther Barnes

I spent a couple of weeks this month looking at a certain area of my body that was a little red, a little irritated, a little swollen, but no big deal. “It will probably go away on its own, right?” I thought.

I don’t like to go to the doctor for every little thing. I’m not the type of person who seeks medical advice for a cold or flu. Plus, I hate antibiotics. They mess up my digestive system. And this looked suspiciously like a candidate for antibiotics, not of the topical ointment variety.

Finally, my husband (have I mentioned lately how wonderful he is?) talked me into making an appointment with my HMO. I was gratified that the nurse practitioner was somewhat stumped. The two things I least want to hear from a medical professional in a case like this are, “This is nothing. Why are you wasting my time?” and “This is serious. You obviously should have come to see me immediately when this appeared.”

She said she would consult with a doctor more knowledgeable in this area, and she’d call me later. That afternoon, I received a call from another nurse, telling me I need to take anitbiotics, an anti-inflammatory pill, use a warm compress on the area twice a day, and make an appointment for a follow up visit with my regular doctor in one week.

When I went to pick up my medication, the cashier asked me whether I would like to speak with the pharmacist. I said, “Yes.” I highly recommend speaking with the pharmacist any time you’re about to take a medication that you haven’t taken before, or haven’t taken in a long time.

I had no reason to believe the pharmacist would tell me anything helpful in this case. I can read the instructions that come with prescriptions, and I’m the kind of person who really does read them, including the list of possible side effects. Nevertheless, I said, “Yes, I would like to speak with the pharmacist.”

The pharmacist told me how often to take the medicine, which was clearly marked on the bottles. She also pointed out that the anti-inflammatory medication is supposed to be taken with food, and the antibiotic is not supposed to be taken with food, so I can’t take them both at the same time.

I mentioned that it’s too bad I can’t take the antibiotic with food, because antibiotics always make me nauseous. She said, “Well, I recommend you take it with a cracker or a piece of toast. That won’t hurt anything, and will help to protect your stomach.”

I said, “Thank you, that will help. But antibiotics really mess up my whole digestive system,” and I listed a couple of side effects we don’t need to go into here. So she said, “Eat one yogurt a day. That will help replace the good bacteria that are being killed by the antibiotic. But don’t eat the yogurt, or anything else with calcium, within two hours of taking the antibiotic, or the calcium will prevent at least some of the antibiotic from being absorbed.”

I replied, “I usually take a calcium supplement with dinner. Should I stop taking that while I’m on the antibiotic?”

“No,” she said, “As long as you don’t take the calcium within two hours of the antibiotic, you’ll be fine.”

To sum up, if I hadn’t talked with the pharmacist, I would have seen the warning about not taking calcium with the antibiotic, but I would have worried about the calcium supplement, and may have needlessly stopped taking it for a while.

Furthermore, I would have had no idea that it would be okay to eat a cracker or two with the antibiotic to protect my stomach. And it’s likely it wouldn’t have occurred to me to eat the yogurt to help with the good bacteria, and even if I did, I may have skipped it due to worries about the calcium. Talking with her was well worth my time.

So far, after two doses each of both medications, my stomach and digestive system feel fine. I know it’s still early, and things could go downhill later, but so far so good. Which is a new experience for me with antibiotics.

I know we’re all in a hurry, and it seems like we have better things to do than waiting in a line for a consultation when we just want to get our medicine and go home, but I highly recommend making the time. You never know what you’ll learn.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Is Santa a Christian Symbol?

By Susan Esther Barnes

One of my posts at TC Jewfolk prompted a writer at the Twin Cities Star Tribune to write an article titled "Is Santa a Christian symbol or a relgious holiday poacher?"

Author Susan Hogan cites some interesting theories about how Santa isn't really Christian. In the end, though, where the Santa figure came from isn't as relevant to my original article as what he symbolizes now.

Ask any American what holiday Santa symbolizes, and the answer you will get is, "Christmas." What does Santa do? He brings Christmas presents. And what is Christmas? Even though many secular people celebrate this holiday in a non-religious way, ask any Christian in any church what Christmas is about, and they will tell you it's a holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus.

So maybe, technically, Santa is a Christian symbol once removed, but he is inextricably tied up in Christmas, a major holiday celebrated by Christians, celebrating the birth of a person of enormous importance to their religion. He may not be about, as Susan Hogan writes, "ho-ho-holiness," but neither should we pretend he is unconnected to one of the two major Christian holidays.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shabbat in a Hotel Room

My latest post at TC Jewfolk is here.

Read about how I ended up sitting in a hotel room on Friday night, with two candles, a bottle of wine, and a challah on the table, along with a prayer book in my lap and my cell phone beside me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

There's No Such Thing as a Good Stereotype

By Susan Esther Barnes

A friend of a friend recently made a couple of comments on Facebook, saying that Jews are good with money and with numbers.

My response to him was, "Maybe you meant your comments about money and numbers as a compliment, but promoting sterotypes about any group is neither accurate nor helpful, IMHO."

He then said, "Promoting sterotypes is different than accepting them. Why fight something that is sterotypically good instead of accepting it? Hebrew language is based on numbers as well so mathmatics and language are taught from a young age, there is nothing wrong with it. IMHO."

Unfortunately, Facebook isn't a good place to have a discussion like this. A blog isn't either, really, but at least it's a place where I have the room to set out my thoughts on the subject.

I will start by agreeing that there is nothing wrong with teaching math and language from a young age. In fact, as far as I know, in most countries and cultures both of these things are taught from a young age. Everyone learns language, certainly, and most school-age children have at least some basic math skills. There is nothing special about Jews teaching these things to kids.

There are, however, several problems with repeating stereotypes of any kind, including those that may sound, on the surface, to be positive.

First of all, stereotypes are generalizations placed upon groups of people, and as such, they are inaccurate. If you take a random group of Jews, you will find some who are great with money and numbers, some who are terrible at them, and some who are somewhere in between. The same would be true of any random group of people from any religion or country.

Add to this the fact that many people were not born Jewish, but joined us through conversion. Do you think something in the conversion process suddenly makes these Jews better at numbers and math than they used to be? Is there something magical about learning Jewish history, traditions and rituals that imparts these skills upon converts? I think not.

Second, when people say Jews are good with money, this often refers to all sorts of other, less benign-sounding sterotypes. For instance, people say Jews will try to bargain you down on prices, they say Jews will try to cheat you in financial situations, they say Jews will charge you interest rates that are too high, they say Jews run the banks in this country, etc. Like the stereotype of "good with money," some of these things may be true of some Jews, but they are untrue of the majority of us.

Third, sterotypes like these can be demeaning. If I am Jewish and I am good with numbers, by applying this sterotype to me you are insulting me. You are saying that my years of studying, my hard work, my hours spent doing homework and memorizing multiplication tables don't matter. You are saying my skill with numbers is not due to my hard work and diligence, but is rather simply a product of my religion or perhaps my genes. This kind of thinking causes resentment when a Jewish person does better than a Gentile in math classes. It is the kind of thinking that can lead to antisemitism.

Further, if I am Jewish and I am not good at math or numbers, you are telling me I am flawed. Gentiles can be bad at these things, but if I am Jewish and I am bad at them, there is something fundamentally wrong with me. You are telling me I am not, truly, one with my own people. I am, in your mind, an outlier, unusual, not okay.

Fourth, there are Jewish laws about lashon hara, the "evil tongue." The Chafetz Chaim, a great scholar of lashon hara, said that not only should we not say bad things about people in public, we should not say good things about them in public either. That is because saying something good may prompt someone else to say something bad.

For instance, if I say, "Isn't Betty's dress lovely today?" someone else might say, "Yes, usually she looks like such a slob." Similarly, if you say, "Jews are good with money," it might prompt someone else to say, "Yeah, that's how they got away with all those mortgage scams."

So please, dispense with the stereotypes. I am, like you, an individual. Please have the courtesy to try to see me as I am, not as you think people like me ought to be. And I promise, I will try to do the same with you.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Your Questions Answered # 6

By Susan Esther Barnes

One of the fun things about getting website statistics for my blog is I get to see the search terms people use to get here. A lot of those search terms are questions. You have some great questions, and I think they deserve an answer. So here is the latest installment of “Your Questions Answered.”

Are Orthodox Jews Respected in General by Other Jews?
This is a fascinating question. My first reaction is that I suspect that most secular and non-Orthodox Jews don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Orthodox Jews. Like any group of people, of course, it’s a bad idea to generalize. There are a wide range of opinions among non-Orthodox Jews regarding Orthodox Jews. Some people don’t respect the Orthodox at all, while others hold a deep respect for them. I’m sure every flavor along the spectrum in between those two extremes is represented as well.

I would say that, for many, Orthodox Jews are viewed as an anachronism, like the Amish. We respect that they want to live their lives that way, but we don’t want to live our lives that way, and we don’t like it when they try to force their views on us. I’d say the more they treat us with respect, the more we’re inclined to treat them with respect. Respect is, after all, a two-way street.

What does it mean when your mezuzah falls?
If your mezuzah falls onto the ground, it means you didn’t affix it properly to your doorpost. Seriously, there is no magic here. It is not a sign of anything bad. Pick it up, kiss it if you like, and affix to the doorpost more firmly. No worries.

What happens if a person dies during the Days of Awe?
The Days of Awe are the 10 days between, and including, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Under Jewish law, we don’t observe shiva (the seven days of mourning) and we don’t bury people during holidays. This includes the week of Pesach (Passover) as well, which affected me when my father, alav hashalom, died two days before Pesach.

You should always consult with a rabbi in a case like this, but if a person dies during the Days of Awe, I would suspect that the burial would take place as soon as possible after Yom Kippur ends, and shiva would start then.

What is the meaning of challah?
Challah is a special braided bread we eat on Shabbat. The practice goes back to the days of the original mishkan, the tent we carried with us in the desert, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, and had within it tables on which bread would be placed.

Unlike in Christian ceremonies, in which bread or wafers symbolize, or “become” the flesh of Jesus, challah in Jewish ritual is just bread.

What to do at a shiva minyan if you don’t read Hebrew
Having just attended a Sikh funeral this week, I know what it feels like to be at a service and to not understand the language being used. Some Hebrew prayer books contain a transliteration, which shows you how to pronounce all the Hebrew, using English letters. However, even lifelong Jews can have trouble reading a transliteration out loud if it is a prayer with which they are unfamiliar.

Therefore, if you’re not comfortable reading Hebrew and you don’t know the prayers, I would suggest you listen respectfully, and stand up and sit down when others around you do so. You do not need to genuflect, bow, or kneel at any time.

If you’re lucky, some of the service will be in English. The amount of Hebrew used will vary depending on the practices of that community, the leader, and the preferences of the family that is in mourning.

Why doesn’t my Orthodox colleague wash her hands?
If your Orhtodox colleague doesn’t wash her hands, it means she has poor hygiene. There is nothing, to my knowledge, in halacha (Jewish law) or Orthodox practice that would prevent an Orthodox Jew from washing his or her hands when appropriate, such as after using the restroom or when their hands are dirty.

In fact, Orthodox practice requires one to wash one’s hands on some occasions when secular people may not wash their hands, such as before eating a meal with bread, and upon leaving a cemetery.

Keep those questions coming!
I would love to answer more of your questions, so feel free to ask some in the comments section below, or just keep coming here via those interesting search terms.