Last night, my husband and I went to a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant for a quick dinner before heading to a parents’ meeting at our son’s school. He had the chicken and I had the fish, along with the usual assortment of side salads.
I had barely put the last bite of fish in my mouth when I started to feel sick.
I’ll never know for sure whether it was an accidental allergic reaction — I have diagnosed food allergies, but not to anything I ate – or severe food poisoning. The doctor at the E.R. said it was impossible to know for sure. But I do know for sure I will never feel the same about my neighbors – in particular, the members of the first response team from neighboring Kfar Manda and the Jewish EMTs in the ambulance that soon followed: The confident one who called me “Mami” and told me I was going to be alright, and the cute one wearing the kippah who didn’t look older than 18. I’ll remember the nurses and doctor who took care of me at the Holy Family Hospital of Nazareth, and the patients in the beds next to me screaming in Arabic.
As you probably guessed, we never made it to the parents’ meeting. My husband took me straight home, where I stayed in the bathroom, violently ill. After about 20 minutes of this, I knew the reaction was severe and required attention. First, I told my husband to grab the epi-pen I carry in my purse. I’ve lugged this thing around with me for seven years, ever since my son was diagnosed with severe nut allergies at age 2. It’s maintained residency there at the bottom of my handbag along with the dusty gum wrappers and old pen caps, but I’ve never had to use it.
I’ve certainly obsessed about using it – on him or on me – and I’ve instructed countless teachers and relatives on how. But last night, when I popped the safety off the top and jabbed it into my thigh, I proved to myself what I’ve always told the anxious adults who care for my child, “When you need to use it, you won’t hesitate.”
My husband’s eyes bulged as he watched me stab myself and as I told him to call the Israeli version of 9-1-1.
The next hour is a blur. I recognized the Arab accents on the three gentlemen who entered my house holding medical gear in large metal containers, but I didn’t care. I just wanted the shaking to stop. It was only much later, after one of them popped his head into my room in the E.R. to check on me, that my husband told me he was one of the first response team who came from Kfar Manda, the Arab village next to Hannaton, where I live.
As hazy as the ride to the hospital was, my memory of the E.R. is clear. By then, I had been pumped with steroids and two bags of saline drip. I was still nauseous, but significantly improved and alert. Too alert. Soon after I arrived, two patients were checked into the beds next to me. One seemed to be in a similar situation to me – severe pain and vomiting. As she moaned, my husband remarked that it was probably lucky we don’t know Arabic; I just held my ears and hummed to myself. You didn’t need to speak the woman’s language to know she was praying to God for help, and begging for relief.
I held back tears as they brought the next guy in. In my imagination, as I unwillingly listened to his screams, he had either lost a limb or his wife. We found out later, when the police came to interview him, he was the victim of a terrible crime.
By that point, grateful for the food poisoning and/or for the epi-pen, I just wanted to go home and recover. Moreso, I wanted to hug my sleeping children; snuggle against their pure innocence; watch them breathe. My mind, which had been up until that point fogged with fear and discomfort, was now all too filled with socio-economics, class structure, and war.
In this country, I constantly feel like a young child, always learning something new and aroused by a here-to-fore unknown awareness of the world around me.
Today, I am moved by the pain of my neighbors here in this land where appearances are more than deceiving; they are cause for confusion and often unnecessary fear. Today, I am touched by the love of my neighbors, who despite what they may learn as children from jaded adults and from personal experience, still find reason to commit their lives to caring for people who are different from them; people they might just as easily consider enemies.
Today I am grateful – for my health, of course, but also for our level of consciousness, which is more elastic than we think, and able to shift in a moment. One minute our eyes are closed; and the next they are open. One minute we judge; the next we offer our gratitude. One minute we hate; the next we love.
Let it be love that carry us forward.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.This was first posted on her blog on May 22, 2012.