Unintended Consequences // A Cautionary Medical Tale

By Esther Leah Avner

Last summer I was incapacitated for several months by a strange illness.

Everything was fine as I set about cleaning my home for Pesach. On Erev Pesach, however, I was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming weakness, compelling me to sink into my chair, from which I discovered that I could rise only with immense difficulty. I could not walk; I had to hobble to another room with the support of a walker, my entire body folded over.


Strangely, my temperature was normal and remained so throughout my prolonged ordeal. Nevertheless, I was stricken by profound nausea. I couldn’t eat at all, certainly not matzah and maror at the Seder. In fact, I couldn’t eat throughout the long weeks of my indisposition. Not surprisingly, I soon lost 17 pounds despite the efforts of kindly family members to tempt me with delicacies. Eating solids was nearly impossible, but I could force myself to swallow small sips of water.

In addition to the nausea, I was beset with unbearable abdominal pain and other intestinal problems. Sometimes I was even unable to change my position in bed. It occurred to me that perhaps these pains were the throes of death, and I implored Hashem to allow me to depart from this world with less agony.

Naturally, all this time I remained in contact with my doctor. When I first became ill on Erev Pesach, I thought it was because of all the unaccustomed physical work I was doing at my rather advanced age. But when my malaise continued over Pesach, I became alarmed. Several family members were fighting a stomach virus, so I figured that maybe I had caught it. I also took more than one test for COVID, but the results were all negative.

On the last day of Chol Hamoed, I decided that I really had to contact my doctor. I made the phone call knowing that he might not reply as he was supposed to be taking a well-deserved vacation. But he did get back to me, and since many of my symptoms were connected to the digestive tract, he prescribed some strong stomach pills.

“Do you think it might be a virus?” I asked him.

“Well, you don’t have the typical symptoms,” he replied. “But one never knows.” 

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