In 2010, when my daughter Sammi was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (a misdiagnosis, it turns out, but that’s another story), I suddenly had to learn to cook without dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, and wheat. The restrictions were part of something called the “six food elimination diet,” a way to tease out if any of those major allergens (plus fish, which we’d never eaten before so didn’t need to eliminate) might be making her sick. To describe this as a lifestyle change is not so different from describing the stay-at-home orders of our current pandemic as “taking some time for myself.” It was a smackdown.
I felt like I had a handle on dinner, initially. I could do some things with beans and rice and gluten free pasta that seemed manageable. What really messed me up was breakfast. At the time, Sammi was about to turn five years old. Living, as we did, with a grown man whose favorite breakfast was highly processed simple carbohydrates flavored with chocolate or artificial colors, doused in soy milk, meant that most of the time, the ample supply of cereal was our go-to breakfast, especially for Sammi and her then-eight-year-old sister, Ronni. The first week of the diet, I spent a dejected half-hour in the “natural foods” section of the grocery store, returning with some very beige cereals that made both kids groan.
Eventually, we settled on a few things that worked for Sammi in the morning, not without a lot of trial and error. In the years that have followed — long past the end of the six food elimination diet — I’ve come to realize that a lot of what she and I both like for breakfast is still either safe for that diet’s restrictions or pretty darn close. Every summer, as reminders show up in my Facebook memories of what it was like to plunge face-first into cooking for that diet, I realize that it changed my palate, my cooking style, and my approach to feeding my family. Not all of it was bad. Some of it has made us — dare I say? — a little healthier. I thought I’d share a few accidentally safe breakfasts for the six food elimination diet here for anyone who’s searching for what the heck they’re going to eat in the strange new culinary world in which they find themselves. Continue Reading…
In the third week of my state’s stay-at-home order, a friend asked me to teach her to make challah via Zoom.
Challah, the traditional braided bread that Jews eat on the Sabbath and on most holidays, isn’t a complicated recipe. It’s not hard to make, as breads go, with most recipes using just flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt and oil. My mother made challah regularly, long braids during most of the year and round loafs for the High Holidays in the fall to symbolize the unbroken circle of life. When I was a little girl — ok, even for most of my adulthood — I knew challah to have only two varieties: plain or full of raisins.
I made my mother’s recipe for years, but when my daughters were just 5 and 2, I offered to host the Friday night Sabbath meal before my brother’s wedding, and I decided to make my friend Hilary’s challah. You can watch me tell the story of this very important challah here, but suffice it to say that the way I received this recipe — over email, just before she went to bed on the other side of the world — was dramatic and exciting and forced me, for one of the first times in my life, to improvise, guessing at the number of eggs I should use. My mother and I — who had never made a challah with no eggs — peered over the edge of the bowl after adding one egg, then another, and finally a third one, declaring this to be our best guess. The challahs rose in a warm oven, were rubbed with whisked egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and baked into the kind of loaves you see on the cover of Jewish cookbooks. They were gorgeous — chewy and sweet, delicious ripped in chunks from the loaf or sliced perfectly and slathered.
I made that recipe for years and years. I brought it to the Yom Kippur break-the-fast gathering to which we were invited for years, all to cheers from the other guests who remembered it from the years before. “Debi’s challah is amazing,” the hosts told everyone, and I glowed and beamed even while demurring. “It’s my friend Hilary’s, really,” I’d say. “Well, Hilary’s plus three eggs.” Continue Reading…
I’ve dedicated this blog to telling my family’s story about misdiagnosis and healing within the American health care system. It’s been a cathartic way to process my grief over what happened over nine years to my daughter, Sammi.
Today, you won’t read anything about that here.
I had a significant advantage all those years: I am a white woman. I was more likely to have health insurance (which I did, for me and for my family); I was more likely to be listened to (sometimes, I was!); I did not interact with doctors from a position of deficit in a system that is implicitly and sometimes explicitly devaluing my life and the life of my child. So today, I’m going to share some links to articles about what it is like to operate within that system for Black people.
“An algorithm widely used in US hospitals to allocate health care to patients has been systematically discriminating against black people, a sweeping analysis has found…. the algorithm was less likely to refer black people than white people who were equally sick to programmes that aim to improve care for patients with complex medical needs. Hospitals and insurers use the algorithm and others like it to help manage care for about 200 million people in the United States each year.”
“…one study of 400 hospitals in the United States showed that black patients with heart disease received older, cheaper, and more conservative treatments than their white counterparts. Black patients were less likely to receive coronary bypass operations and angiography. After surgery, they are discharged earlier from the hospital than white patients—at a stage when discharge is inappropriate. The same goes for other illnesses.”
“A 2010 study from the American College of Cardiology found that only 3% of practicing cardiologists in the United States are Black. Having a Black doctor increased Boucicaut’s confidence in her treatment plan. ‘The doctor said he’d treated many people my age — mainly Black men — who had the same heart condition,’ she says. ‘That gave me comfort.’ Kalinowski shared a similar sentiment. “It is extremely crucial… to increase the pipeline of Black women and men who are addressing these issues,” she says. ‘We need to continue to invest in the diversity of researchers and providers who are researching these issues and committed to seeing these data turn.'”
“If there is no physiological explanation for differing treatment of the same phenomena, we are left with the notion that subtle biases, implicit and explicit, conscious and unconscious, influence the clinician’s judgment…”
“Researchers at the University of Virginia quizzed white medical students and residents to see how many believed inaccurate and at times ‘fantastical’ differences about the two races — for example, that blacks have less sensitive nerve endings than whites or that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly. They found that fully half thought at least one of the false statements presented was possibly, probably or definitely true.
“Moreover, those who held false beliefs often rated black patients’ pain as lower than that of white patients and made less appropriate recommendations about how they should be treated.”
“For many public health experts, the reasons behind the disparities are not difficult to explain, the result of longstanding structural inequalities. At a time when the authorities have advocated staying home as the best way to avoid the virus, black Americans disproportionately belong to part of the work force that does not have the luxury of working from home, experts said. That places them at high risk for contracting the highly infectious disease in transit or at work.”
Though this blog focuses mostly on health care, it’s important to understand not only the extreme challenges in attaining quality medical attention as a Black person, but on the overall racist and structures that form the base for American society. There are many lists of articles and books you can read to educate yourself. This week, I also listened to several podcasts that formed a good introduction to this important consciousness-raising decent white people must undertake:
When my best friend visited me from Israel in the summer of 2006, her daughter — the same age as my younger daughter, Sammi — was recovering from an ear infection. Like Sammi, my friend’s daughter had been through a lot of ear infections that year, and my friend had been traveling with a small bottle of ear infection medication just in case. When they left after a week at my house, I found the bottle had been left behind.
I panicked. I started emailing, sending messages through Yahoo Messenger, calling her temporary US cell phone. I couldn’t reach her for two days, and I imagined her in a panic, desperately searching for the bottle of medication. When I finally did get in touch with her, she was already home.
“Do you want me to ship it back to you?” I asked. “I don’t know how much express shipping to Israel is, but I know how miserable these infections can be. How is she?”
“Nah,” she said. “It’s just an antibiotic. I’ll get more if she gets another infection. You can throw it out.”
“Seriously!?” I answered. “But just the whole hassle of going and getting another prescription…do you know for sure it wouldn’t be cheaper to send it to you?”
“What? No, it’s no big deal,” she responded. “It’s just a quick visit down the street, and the meds are, like…ten shekel?”
I did the calculation to dollars — about two dollars.
“Right, but the visit to the doctor,” I pressed. “How much every time?”
“Nothing,” she answered. “Nothing, it’s free. Wait, how much does it cost you?” Continue Reading…
No good deed goes unpunished, right? Isn’t that the saying?
I have never been a fan of those “my word of the year” nudges that start trickling in around mid-December. “What’s your word of the year for 2020?” It showed up, seemingly, EVERYWERE, this winter. I always thought it was kind of simplistic to boil everything down to one concept, as though my needs would never change over the course of twelve months, as though my scattered, low-attention-span mind could hold just one word in the front of it for twelve months and then, once it had a good, solid grip on it, be able to just release it and pick up another.
Besides that: I love words. How would I ever be able to pick one?
But then, toward the end of 2019, a lot of big change seemed to be coming for me and my family. I had finally signed a contract with a literary agent for the memoir I’ve written; my oldest daughter was a senior in high school and applying to college; my parents, who live far away, were beginning to struggle with some health issues; and I just couldn’t picture any longer what my life would look like in three months, six months, a year. When my kids were small, the path forward was pretty clear: fourth grade and then fifth, middle school and then high school; I’d work and make dinner and go to their soccer games and plays on the weekends. Even when my younger daughter’s illness made some things murky (would she ever eat well? would she make it through this next surgery?), I could imagine life on the other side even if I didn’t like what was coming. At the end of 2019, though, none of the next steps were predictable.
As the new year began, a friend invited me to her birthday party at a local boutique where we could make our own hand-stamped jewelry. (Side note: this boutique sells wonderful things and is doing online orders. It’s run by a lovely person who could really use some sales, so maybe buy some stickers or jewelry or a mug or some greeting cards!) At my friend’s party, I was trying to decide what to write on my little piece of metal.
I’d been talking with friends the week before about how I’ve been thinking about all this change coming my way, and knowing it was all too big and too much for me to control or brain-my-way through, I’d just decided to roll with it.Continue Reading…