On Remaining Youthful

A few weeks ago I was at the gym working out (which I do 1-2 times a week, for an hour).  One of the trainers came over to tell me how to use the machine I was using correctly.  I explained to him (in Hebrew) that I was not really interested, I only wanted to stay healthy at my age.  He asked me how old I was, and I asked him to guess.  He guessed “60.”  When I told him I was very nearly eighty, he was really surprised.  I have often encountered this kind of reaction when I tell people how old I am.  To look ca. 20 years younger than I am is somewhat unusual.

People ask me how I remain so youthful-looking.  I really don’t know, but I have some opinions that might be of interest.  The first reason I can give is that in my youth I suffered from palpitations, a medical condition called tachycardia.  When I first experienced this phenomenon as a young teen I thought I was having a heart attack and was about to die.  But, after medical consultation they told me it was not dangerous, was not uncommon in people my age and it would probably gradually cease as I grew older, and indeed it did.

But, having my pulse running at a rate of ca. 170 beats per minute instead of the usual ca. 70, was always a shock.  There was nothing to do except wait for it to pass.  Sometimes the attacks lasted five mins and sometimes for hours.  After an attack like that I would feel completely exhausted.  The doctor told me it was like my heart was running a marathon while I was sitting still.  I think this is one reason I have remained youthful, it’s as if I was running marathons at an early age, and my steady pulse now is around 56, equivalent to that of a dedicated athlete.

When I moved to Israel at the age of 55 for some mysterious reason the palpitations came back.  At first I did not take much notice of it, but one day we were visiting the Roman remains at Beit Shean, and I climbed the central acropolis in the heat and I started a palpitation.  I walked down slowly, walked all the way to the car and my wife drove me to the nearest hospital at Afula.  There they thought I was having a heart attack until I managed to explain to them what was happening.  They treated me and the palpitation stopped after a few hours.

I knew then that I had to do something about this, so I went to the Cardiology Dept. at Tel Hashomer Hospital, where I worked.  There they did a capillary intervention, passing two capillary tubes containing electrical wires up through the vein in my leg into the heart (I could see this on a screen from the X-ray) and then when they found the nerve node causing the palpitations, they could turn it on and off with one wire, and then they ablated (burnt) it with the other wire, and miraculously since then I have never had another palpitation.

The second reason I can suggest for why I remain youthful is that in 1990 I had an occurrence of selective blindness (part of my vision was lost).  This was diagnosed to be due to a benign growth on my optic nerve called a meningioma (from the meninges, the envelope that covers the brain).  This was removed in an operation (that took 7 hrs), that damaged the pituitary gland that is right next to the optic nerve as it enters the base of the skull.  As a result my glands do not produce the necessary hormones, and so I have to take a few tablets to substitute for them.  By taking these hormones I have avoided the usual decline in hormone production that occurs in most men (and women) as a result of aging.  I do not know if the two reasons I have cited are indeed anything to do with my supposed youthful appearance, but they might be.

PS. To all my readers, a Happy New Year (Shana Tovah), in peace and health.



Thoughts on Turning 80

It never occurred to me that I would actually reach such an advanced age.  Of course, no one can predict their future, what will happen, what illnesses and accidents may occur.  Suffice it to say that I have had my share of them, childhood diseases, an operation on my optic nerve, heart problems.  But, here I am in comparative good health.

I would give everything if my lovely, vivacious, loving wife, Naomi, could be with me as she was, before the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease caught her brain and started to destroy it.  She is now in a Home and we cannot take her out because we doubt we or she could deal with it.  But, I visit her almost every day, and my daughter Miriam and her husband Jeff visit her often.  My son Simon, who is currently visiting from California, also visits her every day while here.  I have been blessed by having wonderful, attentive and loyal children.  Of course, they are very ready to give me advice, which at the age of 80. I often don’t need or heed.

It is astonishing that having been born in 1938, I have survived WWII and the German bombing of London, I have lived through the time of the founding of the State of Israel, the various wars that Israel fought and won (1967, 1973, 1982 and so on). And I now live as a productive citizen of our own Jewish State.

If anyone had come and told me when I was growing up in poverty in the East End of London in the 1950’s that I would one day be a Professor (of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmacology), that I would live for 30 great years in the USA and that I would make aliyah (move to) Israel and live here with my family, I would have been in total disbelief.  Now that I have a great-grandchild, Ro’i, living here, I think I can say that we are rooted in our homeland, forever.

Likewise, if anyone had told me that we would have tiny computer-phones that could be used to communicate daily with anyone anywhere in the world, I would have laughed at them.  But, it has happened, it is reality, life has changed so much and is so wonderful and convenient, who would have thought it.

If I have any regret, it is that after continuing my life-long ambition to always be creative, in science, in art and in writing, that my modest contributions have largely  been over-looked.  I have no gift for marketing or interest in self-promotion.  Apart from my scientific work (ca. 185 research papers), and my painting (see  jackcohenart.com), I have self-published 10 books in 8 years.  These vary from personal memoirs of growing up in the East End of London and going to Cambridge University, to non-fiction regarding the Jewish predicament, including a book about the Bnei Anousim, the descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity in Spain and Portugal up to 500 years ago.  I like to think of myself as but a link in a golden chain.  I leave these works to posterity and hope they will be judged on their merit.

As I look back I marvel at the changes that I have seen and the incredible luck I have had in my career and life in general.



Personal tragedy

I admitted Naomi, my darling wife of 57 years, to the closed Alzheimer’s ward at the Orpaz Home in Beer Sheva, that is about 5 mins drive from our home.

Since we moved last Sept from Netanya we have seen a marked deterioration in Naomi’s cognitive ability.  It has become like living with an insane woman.  Everything she does, getting up in the morning, undressing, showering, drying herself, dressing, eating, has to be told to her, often against aggressive denial.  Finally I was spending at least half my time being with her. She would come into the study every 3-5 mins and check where I was, and then she would forget and check again.

Miriam and I had seen two Homes in Beer Sheva (one of the municipality) and we were not impressed with.  When we were getting the required forms prepared by our doctor (GP), we also had to see his nurse, and she told us that the Orpaz Home in Beer Sheva had a small closed Alzheimer’s ward and she highly recommended it and she had in fact put her father in there.
So we visited it and it was quite nice, although small (only 25 patients).  For Miriam it has a great advantage that she could walk there on Shabbat to visit her Ima.  We  were also impressed by the Manageress, who speaks English and was very responsive and they had a much brighter facility than the others in Beer Sheva.  Added to which it is really only 5 mins drive straight down the main road outside our house.   So we decided we wanted Naomi to go there and I gave them the required forms.
Last Monday (when Miriam was still here (before leaving for a trip to the USA and at our request) they sent their Admissions Committee to meet with Naomi, and they asked the usual questions etc. and made sure she can walk etc. and then told us she would be admitted.  On Tues I went there and signed the contract and Naomi was admitted on Weds morning.
It was of course very difficult.   At first she was very friendly and happy there and we sort of left her.  But, then a nurse tried to take her blood pressure and she got upset and shouted, so I had to go back in and tell the nurse to stop and calmed her.  Then  I had to leave her. I spent half an hour meeting with the chief nurse (a Beduin man named Wadiah) and an hour meeting with the social worker and the manageress and then the doctor (a Russian lady).  I gave them all copious details about Naomi and her pills etc. and it was all entered into their computer.
I felt guilty as if I were abandoning her, betraying her trust. I hope that they will treat her well. Finally, after many years it had to be done.

Last Inheritance, Part II

I posted a blog last Dec 13 about the last inheritance of my mother-in-law Millie Silverstein, who died at the age of 101 on Jan 21, 2017.  It is now over a year since her death and we are still waiting for her last bank account, held in the Netanya Branch of the First International (Benleumi) Bank Israel, to be paid to her heirs, her daughters Naomi, my wife, and Barbara, who lives in England.

Because the Bank would not release her money based on her will, we had to go to probate.  This took 8 months and cost NIS 7,000 for the court and the lawyer.  The Court ruled that her will was valid and appointed her elder daughter Naomi as the executor of the will.  Since Naomi has Alzheimer’s disease and I am her legal guardian (apotropus) in Israel, that in effect makes me the executor.  But, the new Bank manageress refused to release the money to me, because according to the will half the money has to go to Barbara.  Barbara then wrote to her and stated that she wanted me to receive all the money and she trusts me to pay all the expenses and then give her what is owed.  Even though she also sent a copy of her British Passport, the manageress refused to release the money.

I was naturally upset, but put her in touch with our lawyer to try to find a solution to this seemingly insuperable problem.  They came to the solution that if Barbara goes to the Israeli Embassy in London and gets someone there to witness her signature, with sufficient proof of her id and address, they will accept that.  So we had the lawyer draft a letter in Hebrew into which I inserted all the necessary data (bank a/c numbers and addresses) and that was approved by the bank manageress and then we had it translated into English, so that Barbara could know what she was signing.  Then I sent those letters to Barbara by e-mail.

She finally received an appointment to go to the Israel Embassy in London.  She was to take various documents and proof of her id, and she was to take copies of the letter in both languages to be stamped and witnessed by the official there that it was indeed Barbara who was signing it.  But, they informed her that they will not certify anything written in Hebrew!  I asked our lawyer if the Bank will accept this (i.e. English only) and they agreed (phew!)  But, when she went to the Embassy they would not give her the witnessed copies, but charged a fee to send them to her by hand delivery with a notary certification.

They promised delivery within four working days, but when they didn’t arrive after a week she called and the person who answered asked her for the locator number.  When she said she didn’t have one, she said “That’s strange, hold on,” and she went away for a few minutes and came back on-line and said “Oh, I found the envelope on my desk, they weren’t sent”!  When Barbara complained she said “You’re rude,” so Barbara replied “what about an apology for not doing your job!”  She promised to send them the next day, but they arrived a week later.  Then Barbara sent them to me by registered mail.

It arrived within a week and then I went to the Benleumi Branch in Beer Sheva to have the manager witness my signature on another copy of the same letter (the manager was retiring that day, but he found someone else to witness it) and then it was hand-delivered to our lawyer in Netanya, who took it to the Manageress of the Bank branch in Netanya.  It  took a few days and then their legal department approved the release of the funds.  Finally the funds  were transferred today and account was closed.

Note that half of the money went into Naomi’s account, and the other half Barbara  requested to go into my a/c.  So the whole process was in fact futile, since I will ultimately be the executor of all the money.  After all the expenses that were incurred by Millie are refunded, and her former carer (metapelet) is paid her severance fees, and the lawyer is paid, the total amount left for each daughter is relatively small.  Hardly worth the ridiculous, unfeeling, bureaucratic stupidity that was involved. If the Bank manager had released the money to me when I first presented him with the will in the first case, over a year of expensive legalistic nonsense would have been avoided, but with the same outcome.

PS. Chag Pesach sameach to all my loyal readers


Like pulling teeth

A few months ago I was shocked to find a large portion of a tooth in my wife’s side of the bed.  She has not complained of any pain, but since she has Alzheimer’s disease I knew it would be a problem.  I knew she would perhaps allow a dentist to look in her mouth but not do any dental work like drilling, etc.

Nevertheless we went off to the local Maccabi-dent, which we had used in Netanya.  There, since it was an emergency, a dentist looked at her immediately.  She allowed him to look in her mouth, but would not agree to having x-rays done.  He said he could not proceed without x-rays and anyway they were not equipped to deal with such patients, and since she was not in pain it was not really an emergency.

My daughter found that Yad Sarah, a voluntary organization for the disabled, has a home dental service. We contacted them and for a modest fee a dentist came.  She was very nice, she looked in Naomi’s mouth and said that to do the work would require both x-rays and probably sedation and she could not do that, so she wrote a letter to show to our doctor.  I took the letter to the doctor and he said the only place that could do dental work and x-rays under sedation was at the Soroka hospital and he wrote us a referral.

My daughter explained the situation to the Mouth Clinic at Soroka Hospital and arranged for an appointment that took several weeks.  Today we went there. and paid for the visit because Maccabi does not cover dental work other than routine procedures.  We had to wait several hours, but when we were asked to go to the nurse’s office we were met by a truly lovely lady who spoke English and told us that her mother had had AD and she knew the problem and she took Naomi’s information and by the time we left she hugged Naomi (only in Israel).

Then we went in to see the actual dentist.  He too was extremely nice and gentle and chatted with Naomi and charmed her into letting him take an x-ray, that I thought could never happen.  After seeing the x-ray he said that, as he thought, one tooth was broken off and the roots needed to be removed, requiring surgery, and a second tooth was broken and needed a filling.  They gave us an appointment in a month, since she has no pain, and under sedation a surgeon will remove the root and then he, the dentist, will do the filling.  The whole visit today took about 3 hours and was a bit like pulling teeth.  But, the real test is yet to come.

Filling the gaps

I had a cold, with running nose, cough and sore throat, for 4 days.  Tues was the first day I went to “work” (the university).  The temporary hiatus gave me a chance to think.  I decided that I would not write a blog just for the sake of it, and decided to have a rest.

I thought of writing something more personal than the usual political insights that I  send regarding Israel in the Middle East.  I have been attending a weekly group meeting for primary carers of people afflicted with both mental and physical illnesses.  This lasted for 15 sessions.  I also attended a similar group meeting in Netanya for several years.  My wife, of course, has Alzheimer’s Disease, and I found these meetings very helpful in coping with the problem and with my own feelings and reactions.  Of course, these meetings are confidential, so I won’t reveal anything about anyone else who attended.

I would just like to say that the wonderful social worker who led our group here asked us to draw several pictures of what we felt about our situation and our feelings. Some of the things I drew were quite revealing.  First, I drew what I envisaged as my problem, that I represented as a pile of stones/bricks with me looking on helplessly.  Then how we envisaged our situation, I was standing before the stones now built into a high impassable wall.  Finally, what we thought of the future, and I drew myself standing before a huge black hole, uncertain and afraid of the future.  Not very encouraging.  But, it was good to try to grapple with the situation, and also hearing the predicaments of the other participants meant that you do not feel so alone.  I was struck by the serious commitment of the other members of the group to their loved ones and I must say that engendered much hope.

Black pills

Lying on the table next to the white pills, the black pills look strange and somehow incongruous.  Yet they are therapeutic.  They are pure carbon, actually activated charcoal.  How did I come to be taking black pills?

I have suffered from digestive problems for many years, and have been on a limited diet (no milk products, no fat or oily food, no meat, no cabbage or waxy skinned vegetables).  A few months ago I had a chronic cough, that did not seem to be due to a cold.  I went to my GP and he diagnosed acid reflux as the cause and switched me from the antacid Ompradex to Lanton, which cured that problem.  However, a few months later I was again stricken with problems of acidity and went to my GP who sent me to a gastroenterologist.  He diagnosed hyper-acidity and switched me back to Ompradex.  That solved that problem.

But I still suffered from lower abdominal pain and occasional bouts (every three months or so) of throwing up, usually after a large rich meal.  The gastro had no cure for that.  At night I would often lie awake with pain, discomfort and bloating.  Should I go back to the gastroenterologist?  I decided to ask my friendly pharmacist (who happens to be an Arab).  He recommended carbon tablets as the best way to get rid of trapped gas (methane).  Carbon in the form of charcoal (not diamonds) is one of the best adsorbents.  It absorbs organic substances but also is excellent at adsorbing gas.  Previously I had used Maalox anti-gas tablets, but I had never before thought of taking carbon tablets.  Now I am taking them regularly, and they seem to be working.  The lesson is take the advice of a pharmacist before going to see a specialist.