‘The Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala,’ fresco by Domenico di Bartolo, 1441–2.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Cancer. Multiple relapses. Strokes. More than one. A half-dozen predictable geriatric annoyances, 69 years old.
I’m alive. I’m in Israel. What’s not to like?
Hello. My name is Philip Gold, proprietor of this little patch of The Jerusalem Post. Since 2013, I’ve written the “Life Lessons” column for the Metro section. Now that Metro has been discontinued, beginning this week, my editor (bless her) has transferred me to In Jerusalem and asked me to write an introductory column – a whiff of resumé, plus what the column is about and where I hope to take it.
Back in the Old Country I was, at various times, a marine; a college professor; a journalist; an author; a think tank pogue (a venerable military phrase denoting anyone who’s farther from the fighting than you are); and a total, humiliating failure as a TV talking head. They told me I had a great face for radio and should take it thence.
I decided to make aliya in 1970. Some 40 years later, my wife, after a hard look at what America was permitting itself to become, said, “We go.” Like so many olim before us, we arrived with extravagant ambitions, modest resources, and a rejuvenating desire to get out there and embrace whatever finds us.
A year later, almost to the day, I staggered into the emergency room, not really expecting to come out again.
But Israel does medicine real well.
After a couple years of vegging out, I decided to get back to the writing. Metro agreed to run a series on “The Lighter Side of Cancer” – all the bizarre things that happen to you in the clutches of the medical system; the strange and interesting people you meet; and occasional ruminations on the Unbearable Whateverness of It All.
The columns got a good response from cancer people and their families. “Thanks, we needed a laugh.” So I’ve been at it ever since, expanding my repertoire to include “The Lighter Side of Stroke” and digressing to offer various thoughts on the state of Israeli-American and Israeli-American Jewish relations.
If you think telling anecdotes about chemo can be surreal, try writing about a couple of oblivious picnickers, strolling through a mine field.
The problem isn’t all the opposition – antisemitic and Jewish – that’s rising. That’s eternal. The problem is all the support, Jewish and gentile, that isn’t there anymore. And it is best that we face it honestly and openly, before some crisis or disaster faces it for us.
Such has been the twofold nature of this column: the “lighter side” of disease and the heavy side of Israeli-American political turmoil. This counterpoint of subjects I expect to continue.
So that’s me and what I’ve been doing in this space. For the next month or two, however (health and human services permitting), I’ve got a somewhat different approach. Specifically, reader participation is invited to discuss a medical problem that few know about, but that affects millions.
In May 2017, I had a mild stroke. The CT scan revealed that I’d already had a prior stroke, an “old one.” A subsequent MRI indicated at least three old strokes, at least one TBI (traumatic brain injury) with capillary bleeding, plus some other nuisances. After digesting the notion that you can have multiple strokes and other injuries and not be aware of them, I started reading. A few sets of facts emerged.
First, while the effects of severe stroke and injury may be obvious, milder effects may not be. This is especially true when brain damage influences daily ideation, cognition and behavior, including pre-existing patterns. Paralysis and impairment are one thing; so are major behavioral, cognitive and emotional changes. Lesser, intra-psychic damage may go unnoticed, which may make it only more serious in the long term.
Second, the problem appears to be far more widespread than commonly known. We’re all aware of the ordeals of brain-damaged veterans, increasingly aware of the effects of repeated concussions and other incidents on American professional football players and others. But it is estimated that 10% of middle- aged American adults (probably similar in Israel) have had “silent strokes.” As for the numbers walking around suffering for decades with brains they had no idea were damaged... who knows how many millions?
No one knows. In one sense, the problem can’t be studied traditionally: “Recruiting volunteers for a study. Subjects must have damaged brains but not know it.” Perhaps there’s clinical psychotherapeutic data lying around; no one, to my knowledge, has attempted to collect it. So what we have here is a potentially epidemic problem that can’t be studied or treated.
Or can it?
Next month, a couple of ideas based on my readings and some talk. Again, reader input welcome – especially from those who’ve experienced this – and from those professionally involved. Israeli medical/scientific people, I would love your thoughts.