Don’t Be an Adler

SPOILER ALERT: If you are even farther behind the times than me, this post will ruin a small subplot from Season 2 of the Amazon Original Series, The Man in the High Castle.

I know what Nazi doctors like Józef Mengele did in Auschwitz, but that does not make it any easier to stomach Dr. Gerhard Adler.  Adler is the “kindly” old physician in the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle, the disturbing alternate reality drama in which the Nazis and Japan won World War II and divided the United States between them.  Season 2, Episode 3 finds Adler in a well-appointed study on Long Island, pronouncing a death sentence.

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The Wall of Water

The Wall of Water

In the past month I have offered an oncology consult to a woman whose cancer was diagnosed eighteen years ago and declared cured thirteen years ago – a Jewish lifetime since diagnosis and long enough for a child to reach the age of Jewish maturity since her oncologic cure.

Such is the world of chronic illness.  We don’t let ourselves think in terms of cure.  We don’t let ourselves say we have had cancer, or had mental illness, or had lupus, but rather we are defined by them.  We are living with schizophrenia, suffer from lupus, or at the best we are cancer survivors.  The cancer is gone; it’s mark on us is indelible.

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Healing and the Haggadah

Healing and the Haggadah

This past Friday night, April 19, 2019, marked ninety-five years since a woman named Paula Harris, at the end of a long day toiling in her kitchen, set out a Passover Seder on the dining table of her home on Shady Avenue in Pittsburgh.  It was not a meal in which she was destined to take part.  No sooner had she finished setting the table than she left for Magee Hospital, in active labor.  The following morning, April 20, 1924, my Nana, Elinor Harris (later Goodman), came into the world, a Passover baby.

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Burnout or Moral Injury

Burnout or Moral Injury

One of the most unsettling passages in the Torah describes the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu, two of the sons of Aaron, in front of the altar. I was blessed this past weekend with the opportunity to lead the Open Book discussion at Romemu on the Upper West Side of New Your. Together we explored the connection between this episode and the struggles of healers, both those in training and well into their careers, to draw near to those they care about without running afoul of the rules and getting burned out or burned up in the process. You can watch the whole discussion here:

My deepest thanks to Romemu, especially to my hosts Rabbi David Ingber and Ariel Rosen Ingber, to Rabbis Mira Rivera and Dianne Cohler-Esses, and to Jeffrey Cahn. More importantly, thank you to old and new friends who came to learn; the living Torah we studied that day was far greater than any lecture I could have given on my own.

Purim and PTSD?

March 20, 2019

Be strong.  It’s all right to cry.

You can’t live in the past.  You can’t walk away from who you are.

Blot out the memory of Amalek.  Never forget.  (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

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A Sacred Space for Healing

                Science fiction author Douglas Adams once described something he called a “Somebody Else’s Problem Field,” a kind of force field that could be dropped over an unpleasant object so that we could all safely ignore what was clearly “somebody else’s problem.”

                I’d be lying if I told you I don’t sometimes wish I had one of these.  Lou needs a new knee, so badly that he cannot get in and out of his house because he lives in one of those impossible Pittsburgh residences with 164 steps leading to the front door and he can neither walk down them nor be wheeled out in a wheelchair.  If I send him to the orthopedist for an appointment he will not go.  Yet if he arrives in the hospital due to inability to walk and inability to care for himself at home, he will be admitted briefly, orthopedics will see him and say, “yep, looks pretty bad.  Follow up in the office in two weeks so we can schedule the surgery,” and clear him for discharge.

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Sinai and Synapses and … Strep Throat?

Sinai and Synapses is an organization devoted to the synergy between the sciences and the spirit. After months of schedule conflicts, postponement due to tragedy, and technical difficulties, Rabbi Geoff Mitelman and I finally sat down via Zoom last month to compare notes about how the practice of medicine fits into this picture. I’m really proud of the results and thrilled to share it with you all today!

My Stethoscope is Praying

My Stethoscope is Praying

They crossed the bridge again today.

Fifty-four years ago this week, March 7, 1965, the marchers in Selma, Alabama crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to demand equal voting rights.  Today, March 3, 2019, some of the original marchers, led by Congressman John Lewis, joined a new generation in crossing that bridge once again, in celebration of a victory and in recognition of work yet to be done.

Among those original marchers was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a friend to Dr. King, who remarked afterward to his daughter, “Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

The year before the march in Selma, Rabbi Heschel spoke before a meeting of the American Medical Association, as part of a discussion entitled, “The Patient as Person.”  Heschel spoke as reverently of medicine at that conference as he did of the work being done in Selma the following year.

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The Man on the Flying Trapezius

The Man on the Flying Trapezius

I can feel those tell-tale ropes, lashing the base of her skull to the middle of her spine, running from the nape of her neck to the tip of her shoulder and along the inside margin of her shoulder blade.  I don’t have to hear her tell it to know how she spends her days at work – hunched forward over a computer terminal, shoulders around her ears as they rise in tandem with the tension and anxiety of her day-to-day life.

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Our Revels Now Are Ended

Three-quarters of the way through the show I recognize that Prospero’s staff is, in fact, a caduceus.  In the same instant, I understand for the first time that the brooding, vengeful wizard’s sudden change of heart, the decision to forgive and to mend instead of to punish and to destroy, comes about because Prospero is dying.

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