Tygerpen | Hit me with your best shot

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

When you write a column, you often find yourself accosted by people who assume you’re supersmart and know a lot more than they do about everything. Of course, that’s true, but I do try to be helpful. For example, people always ask me what synagogue I belong to and why I chose it. That’s really no mystery, because I’ve always used the same criterion: If there’s more than one synagogue in the area, I’ll go to the one that’s farthest from my doctors’ offices.

My doctors can be found at Kaiser Permanente, Walnut Creek, except during vacations, holidays, conferences, seminars, their family activities, and whenever you need to schedule an immediate appointment. In simple measurements, my synagogue, Temple Isaiah of Lafayette (Reform) is 4.79 miles from Kaiser. Compare that to Temple B’nai Tikvah (Reform), a mere 1.75 miles from Kaiser, and Congregation Beth Shalom (Conservative) at 1.41 miles. Worst of all is Chabad (Contra Costa), a horrifying .40 miles or one minute from Kaiser!

This carefully calculated synagogue-to-doctors’ offices proximity grew out of my early childhood in Portland, Ore., when I routinely developed earaches. My mother would pack me off to the Children’s Clinic, a few blocks from my synagogue, to see my pediatrician, Dr. Benward, a ruddy-faced man with a sweet smile who betrayed me each time by leaving the examining room and sending in a nurse with a whopping hypodermic of thick penicillin serum aimed at my tuchus.

Let us stop for a moment here and consider penicillin: Although technically it was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, the actual doctor who purified penicillin and made it usable in medicine — or in my case, torture — was the German-born doctor (it figures) Ernst Chain, whose original name no doubt was “Schoen” or “Shane” or “Chainsaw.” For this concoction Chain had been awarded the Nobel Prize! Worse, he was Jewish.

What kind of Jewish doctor invents a burning serum? To hell with curing gangrene and syphilis! Jewish doctors were supposed to be like Maimonides, who, in addition to being one of the greatest figures in Jewish philosophy and religion, was a physician who fretted over the pain of his patients with hemorrhoids.

That giant of a doctor from San Francisco, the late Dr. Albert Abrams (1863-1924), whom the AMA has identified as “the dean of 20th-century charlatans,” even HE didn’t give penicillin shots. Not because penicillin wasn’t developed until the 1940s, but because Abrams, rather than giving painful tuchus shots, devoted his life to inventing two completely worthless but at least painless “miracle machines” he claimed could diagnose any disease and then cure it.

The frequency of shots at my doctor’s had one unforeseen byproduct: It helped me develop two outstanding “people” skills — cynicism and mistrust. This was unavoidable, because my grandfather lived across the street from my childhood synagogue and a few blocks from the Children’s Clinic. Too often my evil parents claimed we were driving “to Grandpa’s,” but they’d suddenly bypass his house and detour to the doctor’s for some overdue shot, like distemper.

In retrospect, penicillin might have slightly helped my childhood ear infections. But I disagree strongly with scientists who call its discovery a “miracle drug.” Incontrovertibly, the greatest miracle drug, certainly in pediatric medicine, was Bactine. Around 1950 it replaced the mysterious antiseptics Mercurochrome (the weird red tincture) and Merthiolate (the one that evoked the loudest, longest screaming). With an application of Bactine’s combination antiseptic and local anesthetic, kids could be virtually pain free even if they slipped, fell, scraped, cut or skinned themselves.

Except for puncture wounds, which still required a tetanus shot.

Except for earaches, which still required a penicillin shot.

Call it superstition, but eventually I surmised that I should never attend a synagogue within a short distance of my doctors’ offices. Otherwise, I am just tempting fate. If they’re close together, I’ll probably end up at the doctor getting some obscure shot and missing an oneg Shabbat when the sisterhood finally is serving real (non-Safeway) cookies. Or I’ll be stuck in an ER and fail to witness a miraculous occasion, such as a Rosh Hashanah where the shofar blower hits all the right notes.

Trudi York Gardner
lives in Benicia and can be reached at [email protected] or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.