Yehuda Solomont: The other person in the room

The blog became a lot more, what his mother, Debra Weiner-Solomont, calls "a search for knowledge."

'Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver which fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn't quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them." - Catch-22, from January 11, 2008, entry on Yehuda Solomont admits he's "obsessed with irony in general" and that he loves "Jerry Seinfeld-type humor, noticing things that are ridiculous." So when he discovered that a routine prescription for an eye problem while in the army might be why he's spent large portions of the past six months in Shaare Zedek Hospital with aplastic anemia, the 25-year-old knew he had to add it to his blog. While it's not certain the eye medicine caused the illness, Yehuda - a law student whose studies got put on hold last September when a planned sushi dinner with his wife Sara turned into a medical marathon they're still running - posted not only his own reflections about the possible connection, but actual video of his visit to the army doctor he'd filmed back then. It was just another example of a highly informative, moving and wildly entertaining diary of his ongoing struggle with the illness. Indeed, from the beginning of the couple's battle with long hospital stays, endless blood count figures - many of them posted on the site - and a search for a possible match for a bone marrow transplant, it's been the blog and the outlet it's provided that's helped them keep it together. "When I laughed about it, I guess I didn't have to think about what was really happening," says Yehuda. But the blog also became a lot more, what his mother, Debra Weiner-Solomont, calls "a search for knowledge." With only about five cases of the disease - in which the immune system essentially kills off the bone marrow - in Israel a year, Yehuda, a self-admitted Web addict, realized that sharing his experience could not only help him grapple with his frustrating and frightening situation, but help others also seeking information about aplastic anemia. The day after Rosh Hashana, the couple had planned to go out to eat, but first went to Yehuda's doctor to discuss his tiredness, easy bruising and other symptoms that had been appearing. The sushi would have to wait. Before the evening was over, they were starting the first of many long days and nights at Shaare Zedek. With his omnipresent Compaq Presario X1000 on his lap instead of his hospital tray, Yehuda doggedly sought out and shared information about the illness he found on the Web, along with pictures and video footage from the hospital and the Web. "I realized that there really isn't that much out there about aplastic anemia," he says. "It was a way for them to see how someone goes through it." Especially for young people like himself, "I felt it would be a good way for them to understand the process exactly." "It was like an IV," says Sara of Yehuda's daily routine of scanning the Web for other links or info to put up on the blog. His posts are all filtered through that Seinfeld-esque prism of irony. Indeed, he notes, "I had become the 'bubble boy,'" a character in a Seinfeld episode who also had aplastic anemia and had to live in isolation. Much of his ordeal wasn't pretty, but Yehuda's mix of popular culture references and emotion makes the blog fascinating reading. A post from November 22, 2007, shows him in the hospital for a visit and wearing a mask - just below a shot of Michael Jackson wearing one and a caption above reading: "Certain celebrities can get away with wearing a surgical mask and just hanging out with friends." Beneath a photo of himself with the mask on, he added: "Unlike Michael Jackson, people don't assume that I am protecting myself from them, rather I, Yehuda, must have some horrible disease such as malaria or cholera. But of course, we live in a politically correct society, where people won't outright show their fear of me, yet I feel fear in the little things. Perhaps someone will choose to walk on the other side of the hallway, as he or she passes me, or they will choose to take the next elevator. All I want to do is shout out: 'It's not me, it's YOU.'" In another post from November 23, he wonders: "It's 5:30, why am I awake?" musing on why someone was checking his vitals at that hour for no logical reason. In another he notes that the medicine he's taking has amazingly made him stop liking coffee, "which also explains my sudden craving for salad," while elsewhere he shares an important medical caveat: "All I care about is: Is it going to hurt and whether I'm going to need a catheter." One of the most moving posts is one of a National Public Radio segment featuring a young man interviewing his family members about the search for a match among them for his bone marrow transplant. "Yehuda's family went through the same testing, failing to come up with a perfect match." It was as if he were interviewing us," says his mother. Yehuda refers on the blog to people following his blood counts "like the Dow," but posting them lets the many friends and family who are tracking his situation get a sense of how he is doing, and provides more information to others with his condition who also might be reading. Readers could trace the frustration he felt as his doctors tried to find the right treatment - using an ATG serum to suppress the immune system so that the bone marrow can build up again, but debating whether serum from a rabbit or a horse might be the best course to follow or whether ultimately only a transplant would help. The annoying thing was that he didn't always feel so bad. In a post on January 1, he described how a friend recommended "the great healing powers of [reading] Catch-22," and Yehuda "had the same feeling that Yossarian had in the hospital." Explaining his own health dilemma, Yehuda wrote: "...if I would've been a little bit more sick, than they would know what to do with me, and if I was a little better then I would be healthy. I'm in a situation where they don't know exactly what to do…" "I really started to feel that my treatment felt less and less medical and more and more a thing of chance, where the doctors had no idea what to do and it felt like they were guessing," he wrote in a September 26 post. "So I said, let's have a poll - do people prefer rabbit or horse? People voted... and what was ironic was that the doctors had preferred horse and the readers rabbit, and in the end I had rabbit, which I thought was kind of funny." "Empowered" by blogging years ago while serving as an emissary in New York and which he even wrote from his pillbox during army duty, even the computer-crazed Yehuda has been amazed by the blog's importance to him during his long periods of isolation. It was, he says, like "having another person to talk to" in the room when things got him down. It was also useful combating some of the specific symptoms of aplastic anemia. "One of the problems is that it's hard to concentrate, sit down and write," he notes. Blogging is "like a continuation of what I'm feeling inside when it comes out... as if it's an extension of my brain to my fingers, and then it comes out and that's it and I post it. I don't even look at it. And after I'm done, I feel great." More than anything, however, the blog remains the ultimate tool for someone whose mother describes him as "always being a very curious child." He's constantly adding new links to articles about the illness or related ideas in what has become a personal quest. "I always want to understand," says Yehuda, and sharing information about his illness "is very important to me." Today he's feeling much better, although the future remains a bit uncertain. He and Sara hope for a transplant sometime soon so that Yehuda can return to law school in the fall, and a match has been found, albeit not a perfect one. Meanwhile the blog also has given them another bounty: "I have this obsession with history on a personal level, and on so many levels it will be interesting to go back. My children and grandchildren will be able to see it. It allows people 50 years from now to see and when I won't even remember what I felt about having aplastic anemia... I won't remember because I have a very short emotional memory, and this will be the only way that I can." But perhaps the most important lesson he and the other bloggers portrayed here have learned from their experiences is a humble observation that Yehuda posted on a November 20 post entitled "Thanskgiving Resolution." Explaining to those who'd written and left him thousands of e-mails and voice mails why he hadn't gotten back to them yet, he wrote simply: "It takes sickness to make you realize just how many people in the world care about you."