Posts tagged " coronavirus "

Taking a Back Seat While Others Man the Front Lines

April 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

Some of you may have caught the front-page story in the Wall Street Journal  highlighting how overwhelmed New York City hospitals are. The prime example used to illustrate the dysfunction, disorder and dangerous staff conditions was Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. That is the hospital at which our daughter first worked.

After graduating from nursing school, Lapinette #5  began her nursing career on the medical/surgical wards. After a few years, she moved to the ICU (intensive care unit). Two years ago, she went back to school to get an advanced doctoral degree as a nurse anesthetist. While her training requires clinical rotations in hospitals around the city along with classroom study, those rotations have been canceled due to COVID-19.

Her nursing license is current, the skills she painstakingly acquired during her years in the ICU are somewhat rusty but, like riding a bicycle, she could probably quickly get up to speed. Mayor de Blasio has written to her as well as to every other non-working nurse and she is getting phone calls from City Hall, pleading with her to go back to work.

Our daughter is hearing firsthand from her former co-workers about exactly what the newspaper article described. There is not enough protective gear to make even a pretense of keeping nurses and doctors safe from exposure to the virus. The physical and emotional toll on the staff is devastating

Our daughter, the mother of two young boys, is torn. She and her family have most likely had the virus. Her son’s preschool teacher tested positive and seven days later our children and grandchildren began running fevers and feeling achy. Seven days after that, her amazing babysitter tested positive and both our daughter and son-in-law lost their sense of taste and smell, indicative of the COVID-19. Thank God, their cases were mild and they recuperated at home. They did not meet eligibility for testing, so, like thousands of other people, their cases have not been officially confirmed.

Now she faces a dilemma. She has been trying to get tested to verify that she has developed antibodies to the disease. (An example of the disarray is that while the city is frantically trying to find more medical workers, antibody tests are not easily available.) If that is the case, she is feeling a strong tug to head back to the ICU. That pull comes from two places. One is connected to the reason she went into nursing in the first place, a strong desire to help people. I think the other pull may even be stronger. Akin to how soldiers in a unit bond together and support each other, she wants to provide relief to her ex-co-workers who are in the trenches.

As her mother, I am proud of her desire to contribute. My husband and I raised her to be a giver rather than a taker and she is living the teachings she absorbed. But, as her mother, I desperately want to protect her and our grandchildren. I am censoring myself not to plead with her to stay home and I admit to being grateful that she wasn’t on active duty when this plague broke out. Even some of her fellow nurses are telling her not to come back—lack of safety precautions for them is even worse than we are reading. America is failing to take care of those who take care of us.

Despite being strongly patriotic, none of our children enlisted in the U.S. military. There were good and valid reasons for their not having taken that path. Nevertheless, while we have always supported and appreciated our troops—even before 9-11—we haven’t laid awake at night worrying about our own child in a war zone. Now, with a son on the medical front line and a daughter considering stepping in, we are left praying for their safety and that of their comrades as we move into the back seat and respect their convictions and their need to make their own momentous decisions. 

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The Wrong Medicine?

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

The kids are not going back to school for the foreseeable future. If your family is smiling, laughing, physically active and relatively nutritiously fed, please pat yourself on the back. Every day is another triumph. But, if you will allow me, I diffidently would like to suggest that (some of) you might be making your life a little harder than necessary.

I’m talking to those of you who responded to news reports like this one, “Inevitably, children will be having more screen time,” with a huge, OH, YEAH! For many kids, schoolwork now demands hours online and with venues from opera houses to museums to astronauts reading stories from outer space, there are multiple educational and healthy resources available.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking. Maybe it is worth remembering that families who were quarantined during the horrific flu epidemic of the early 20th century had no recourse to digital entertainment. For most families, financial limitations ruled out large choices of games and toys as well. Paper, scissors and crayons, a bag of marbles and a homemade doll or truck somehow kept kids occupied. They had one more special ingredient—imagination.

I, too, have succumbed to the lure of easily available entertainment. After years of neither watching nor even having a TV in our home, now movies and shows are showing up on my phone and iPad! I admit that some evenings (perhaps too many) I now watch something instead of reading. As my husband teaches, the word amusement derives from a-muse, with the ‘a’ serving as the word ‘not’ as in atonal or amoral. Since the word ‘muse’ is an old synonym for ‘think,’ amuse literally means “not thinking.” Books can take me out of my world as well, but it takes more work and concentration to lose oneself in a book than in a multi-colored, fast-moving digital world.

I understand and empathize with parents whose children are going stir-crazy. If the parents are both working from home things are even more complex. But, maybe, just maybe having the kids home is an opportunity for boot camp to cut down on screen time. Life may be more miserable for a few days as children go into withdrawal, but re-learning how to play, putter, create and entertain ourselves using non-technological means is a worthwhile endeavor.

At the risk of sounding like a visitor from the 19th century, I’d like to share my experience at home a number of years back with six children who had chickenpox. They were all under the age of twelve (the baby did not get it at the same time). We were blessed with a yard so they could run around a bit, and I put other responsibilities aside to make “Mommy Camp” my focus. We did lots of arts and crafts, read hundreds of stories and played endless board games. They also created their own worlds: they were spies and parents, storekeepers and teachers. We did have a new device—a magical machine known as a VCR that could play movies. We acquired the tape of Mary Poppins, and for five days, the children watched a portion of the movie each evening while I relished making supper without help. When the twenty or thirty minutes of watching was over, no one nagged for more. They were overflowing with gratitude and excitement at what they had just experienced.

That scenario seems ludicrous today. But I would suggest that if your children constantly nag you to watch more videos and play more games online, then increasing the hours in which they do so will end up making them and you more miserable, not less. Technology, screens, TVs and other devices function in some ways like drugs do. What sufficed to give a high yesterday is no longer enough today. The more they (and we) watch, the less capable they (and we) are of keeping ourselves happy, of daydreaming, of being creative with the resources around us.

A few days ago, one of my daughters whose children have very limited screen time, received delivery of a new refrigerator. Four of her children, ranging from fourteen to four disappeared with the huge cardboard packing box. Hours later, they were still in the basement—or more accurately, they were in outer space. Just like children from a generation or two generations ago, one box and four imaginations served to provide a bonding experience that will give them happy childhood memories for years to come. I’m pretty sure those four are watching and playing online more than usual these difficult weeks. But their starting level was very low. For some children who were already spending too much time removed from the world of spontaneous creativity, perhaps this is a chance to reverse the trend rather than succumb and surrender.

Thinking of You

March 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

This has been a very strange week, certainly for many of you as well as for me. Somehow, a new normal is evolving. It includes not seeing children, grandchildren and friends in person but meeting them online. It means not going to the supermarket, and exercising via my computer rather than in the class that usually starts my day. It consists of a world that is at one and the same time slower yet more overwhelming. I am physically doing less, but my mind is running in a hundred different paths.

We, probably like you, know of people who are ill, in hospital and sadly, some who have lost their lives. We are living in times that the history books will describe. They will use the word plague, which previously for many of us privileged individuals was associated with the Exodus from Egypt or distant-sounding words like Bubonic or cholera. The financial stress is real and that will have long-reaching physical, psychological, emotional and political implications.

I recognize how fortunate we are to have technology that allows us to go beyond physical isolation. The library building is closed, but I can download books from there as well as other services. I am finding new choices as well as comfort-reading old favorites. Along with re-reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon series (I just finished Pigeon Post), this week, I read Lori Gottlieb’s new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It provided a fascinating look into the world of therapy. I am being incredibly moved by Abby Johnson’s book, Unplanned, and hope I have a chance to discuss it with you.

How are you doing? What is your new normal? What are you reading and how are you coping? We are thinking of and praying for you as we know that you are for us.

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How can (the world and) I cope with so much stress?

March 26th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Hi Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

I remember that you’ve talked about dealing with anxiety and stress in previous ‘Ask the Rabbi’ columns, but I’m wondering if you have any more advice for what we are going through in today’s COVID-19 crisis?

Thanks,

Pamela T.

Dear Pamela,

You are right that we have written about stress and anxiety previously and you are also correct that there are special circumstances now. 

A crisis grips the globe and reverberates in our own homes and in the homes of everyone else.  Our own work and that of others have been curtailed and the resulting financial stress casts its own pall.  People we know and love are suffering from health complications and health workers are stressed.  There is more than enough to keep us awake at night.

Ancient Jewish wisdom gifts us with three timeless truths for troubling times.

First, in normal times we train ourselves, and those we are privileged to raise, not to be focused on the present.  Some things, like giving away money to others with less than we have are uncomfortable to do, but we do them because our obligation to our past and the teachings of our parents compel us. Other things like exercising, eating wisely and saving money are burdensome but we do them because of our obligation to the future.  We do certain arduous things today so that you will be able to do other desirable things in five years’ time.

However, times are not normal and much of our thinking must focus on getting through today.  Asking oneself, “How will I possibly make it for another three weeks of this?” is a mistake. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless.  Instead, tell yourself, “I just have to get through today. Things are changing day by day and tomorrow I will deal with tomorrow.” We love this quote from Corrie ten Boom:  “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Upon being dispatched on his mission at the burning bush, Moses asked God what name shall he use for God when telling Israel of their forthcoming redemption.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God said, “Tell them I will be with them in future ordeals and oppressions as I am with them in this one in Egypt.”  Moses pleaded with God and explained that there is no benefit in telling them now of other trials and tribulations that lie ahead. In crisis times, it’s enough to deal with today. God accepted Moses’ request and replied, “Tell them just I will be who I will be.” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Right now, each day of making it is a triumph.  Pat yourself on the back, try and get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow will be tomorrow.

Second, it’s worth remembering that God created us for a reason. Just as we earthly parents love seeing our children follow in our footsteps, so does our Father in Heaven.  He loves seeing us, His children, mastering our emotions and behaving courageously and generously.  There is something deeply satisfying in accomplishing a challenging task.  Winning an athletic contest, even completing a jig-saw or crossword puzzle puts a glow on our souls. In crisis times we are in a brutal contest with our lower, more animal selves.  Acting with others in a Godly way will be strangely satisfying. There is strength in being able to give, even if it is something as simple as making a phone call to an older relative that reduces our feeling of helplessness.

Finally, start now to train yourself to become a generalist.  Understand that crisis times can seldom be fully comprehended by experts and specialists.  The infantry commander on the ground sends a message back to HQ, “The most important thing right now is more artillery.” Meanwhile, the naval commander communicates, “Nothing matters more than fuel for our ships.”  The bomber pilot radios back to base, “If we can’t overcome enemy anti-aircraft fire, all will be lost.”  It then falls to the commander-in-chief to determine how to allocate resources and where to focus effort.  Each of his warriors told him the truth, but it was the truth as he narrowly saw it.

In his book, The Psychology of Science, (Jewish) psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote: “…I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail…” 

Understandably, right now, doctors with a lifetime invested in their medical careers see one truth.  Economists see another truth.  Historians may see one more, and so on.  Newspapers, television, and other media are ravenous for content and will happily publish information be it from the infantry, the navy, or the air-force.  Your job, as commander in chief of yourself and your family, is to be a generalist and using data from experts and specialists try to integrate it and arrive at an accurate picture of the overall battlefield.  Then you are in a better position to determine strategy. For today.

Going through a difficult time with others focuses our attention on the fact that our lives are interconnected with others and we need to cry out to the Lord not only for our own needs but also for His other children.

In one of our previous answers to a question about stress and anxiety we wrote:

Have you ever tried to open a door using the wrong key? No matter how much you jiggle the key or how irritated you get, the door won’t open. You need to try another key.

Our culture suggests that life should be stress-free. We think in terms of entitlements. We expect life to be easy and enjoyable with a fillip of excitement added on demand through side activities we choose to indulge in. That is the wrong key for life.

Life is actually a challenge. While we are on this earth, we are challenged to constantly make choices, each one of which forms our character. One of the constant choices we have is whether to face life’s difficulties courageously or fearfully. Do we feel victimized and helpless every time something goes wrong or do we ask God’s help to meet our challenges? Is our default emotion dissatisfaction unless something makes us happy or is our default emotion happiness?

We aren’t ignoring that there are real and terrible trials in life…Our first suggestion would be to ‘get a new key.’

We also wrote: …one of the most powerful portals to happiness and optimism is gratitude.

Make the first words out of your mouth as you wake up, “I am grateful before you, Living and everlasting Lord, for returning my soul to me with graciousness; your faith (in me) is great.” This prayer from ancient Jewish wisdom, which in Hebrew starts with the words, “Modeh Ani,” opens the door to greet each day with gratitude and a recognition that God is on your side cheering you on to make correct choices throughout your day. Stress and anxiety have less room to roam when you have such a Partner at your side and you look forward to a day of responsibilities, challenges and commitments that you can fulfill rather than entitlements that you should receive.

We aren’t minimizing the health and economic concerns we are facing. These are compounded by not being able to get together with those we love and, for those dealing with children, with needing to be endlessly energetic, creative and loving. Yet, being grateful is still our primary advice.

Please limit your news-watching.  Don’t let yourself be seduced into the universe of the Cassandras out there telling you the world is coming to an end. Keep up an exercise regimen and healthy eating.  At one and the same time, there are tremendous technological opportunities for growth such as virtual museum tours, classes and lectures, but don’t spend your day looking at a screen. Keep your sense of humor front and center along with your Bible and your prayers.

May the Lord guard you from all harm; He will guard your life  (Ps 121:7)

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Corona Cascade of Calamities

March 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Most of us are feeling some sort of anxiety and stress these days. We are worried about our health and the health of those we love. We are anxious about our jobs and businesses surviving. We are coping with either more people in one space than we are used to and/or not seeing enough of other people. 

Anyone who has lived for a few years knows that stress can cause an overreaction to the normal ups and downs of everyday life.  Often, when we behave towards someone we love in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed, our reaction stems from being over-stressed. A dish left on the table or a toy left on the floor leads to nasty words rather than a reasonable response.

This plays out in the workplace as well. In analyzing medical mistakes, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that stress was a primary cause of errors. Whether you are providing health care, car rides or ketchup, poor decision making is often the result of an anxious mind.

What is stress?  Psychology texts offer dozens of definitions but it’s mostly feeling that important aspects of your life are outside your control.  You lack time to do what you think must be done.  Fate is flinging circumstances at you for which you lack the resources.  Costs are climbing faster than your ability to increase revenue. 

Stress overwhelms you when you feel that you’re not in control of consequential developments in your life. Paradoxically this makes you less capable of making smart decisions and executing them. It is not surprising that the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have most of us feeling unstable.

I Samuel chapter 20 accentuates the deep bond between David and Jonathan. After confirming that Jonathan’s father, King Saul, wanted to kill David, Jonathan enabled David to escape. It would be hard to overestimate the greatness of his actions as recognizing David as the heir to the throne meant relinquishing his own royal hopes and aspirations. Yet, the following chapters show that a great tragedy results from David’s hasty escape. King Saul wipes out Nov, the city of the priests that had provided food for David as he runs away. Ancient Jewish wisdom sadly reveals that Jonathan must accept some of the responsibility for that slaughter. Why? Because in the emotional turmoil surrounding his farewell to David, Jonathan neglected to provide David with food and drink. This does not negate Jonathan’s laudable actions—however, it provides a chilling example of how stress can cause even the best of us to make serious mistakes.

The current crisis means that we need to be aware of our vulnerability to stress and be proactive in acknowledging and regulating our emotions and actions. Thankfully, God is always present and available but human contact is essential for our mental health. Even if it needs to be by phone, letter or internet we must be vigilant in reaching out to others in this time of social-distancing.

As many of you know, we are big proponents of keeping a written record of daily activities and thoughts. Responding to inquiries about journaling, we determined that we would like to encourage and help our friends to do the same. To that end, a few months ago our team began putting together a new resource, Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. Each week provides a thought-provoking concept, a Biblical reference and a challenge. There is room to record your thoughts, attempts and successes (or setbacks) at meeting the challenge. Little did we know that by the time this journal was ready (it should begin shipping by mid-week), the world would be in upheaval. We have made the decision to go ahead with the release of this resource in the hope that it can serve as an outlet and a source of strength as we all work through these trying days. We close with prayers for you and yours. 

Psalm 130: A song of ascents: From the depths have I called you, Lord.
Lord, hear my voice, may Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.

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Are We In This Together?

March 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

“We’re all in this together,” is a rather contradictory phrase to use at a time when we are being exhorted to stay apart from each other. Nonetheless, the more widespread that sentiment, the more successfully we will weather this crisis.

I suspect that many of you, like me, vacillate between thinking that we, at community, state and country level, are dealing with this virus too leniently or alternatively in too draconian a fashion. I do not envy those making decisions. Nonetheless, I am concerned at social and governmental factors that belie the idea of one people pulling together in a tough time.

There have always been greedy, power-hungry and selfish people. Communities that could be loving and warm to those who fit in could also be indifferent or hostile to those who didn’t. However, I don’t think I am guilty of over-romanticizing the past in claiming that when doctors, storekeepers, teachers and mayors met the individuals they served in church, at Rotary and on the street, they actually saw them as individual human beings. When times were tough, those who had much helped those who had little. Those who had little helped those who had even less.

It concerns me that a chasm seems to exist between a large number of people whose paychecks come from money taken from taxpayers by the government and those who work in the private sector. I have sympathy for my local librarian as I do for my local shoe store owner. The private school teacher whose school shut down needs to feed her family just as much as the public school teacher who is also sitting at home. The business owner who is watching his sales plummet needs to pay his mortgage just as his state Senator does.

In other words, I have a sneaking suspicion that we are NOT all in this together. Some government workers are being paid while staying home. Others, like mail carriers and police and firemen are working under more difficult circumstances. Many of us in the private sector are reluctantly home while some industries will get a boost from this event. Doctors and nurses are seeing the exacerbation of problems they have known about for years yet been silenced from mentioning because they are politically incorrect.  If those making policies and decisions that affect all of us felt the nail-chewing, lie-in-bed-worrying anxiety of their constituents, their edicts and suggestions would be more helpful.

I don’t have the answers. I do worry that describing certain industries as too vital to fail or treating government workers differently than those in the private sector or trying to put band-aids on some areas but not others, or looking to cast blame on the wrong places, will slow our recovery. If this virus and its accompanying economic plight can turn us away from the “me” and “special-interest” and identity politics Balkanization virus that has overtaken our society, we can be healthier after it passes (as it assuredly will) than we were before.

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Panic Isn’t Personal

March 12th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

Like most of you, I do not know how to assess the actual health threat of the Coronavirus while recognizing that much of the panic, economic and social damage is media and politically driven. Panic hit my town today, with markets overflowing as customers stocked up in preparation either for being quarantined or for shortages. At the same time, friends and families co-ordinated, recognizing that we can share resources. Sharing a laugh—even a nervous one— and scheduling virtual activities for children sent home from closing schools makes it easier to deal with the unexpected.

Yet, today, many individuals around the world have few friends. A singular focus on career leaves little time for establishing families, building community on the local level, or for keeping up with relatives and childhood buddies. A few years back I wrote the following and it is as true or truer today.

What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in honor of our nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite a lot.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of studying a specific portion of God’s word. (For a deeper understanding of a siyum see chapter 50 in Thought Tools Volume 1.) In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known Yosef’s teacher since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books.  In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as government grows bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more government expands, the more the private sector must shrink.  The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support.  As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can transfer or redistribute money and services, but not heart. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker.  It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient while stopping you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is increasingly devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other.  The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives. 

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

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