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When Illness is a Constant Companion

Azriela Jaffe

For Rochele, being sick for six months out of a year with some sort of virus or infection is normal. If her kids come home with a stomach bug, she’s almost guaranteed to get it. Being hospitalized during pregnancy is par for the course. What it’s like to live with chronic illness.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“I always joke that I went to medical school to save my own life,” says Rochele, a physician with six children under bar mitzvah. After her third pregnancy, she developed a case of mastitis (a breast infection) when nursing her newborn. Shortly after starting an antibiotic for the condition, she began to suffer from a severe headache, stiff neck, and high fever. She knew right away from her medical training that she had meningitis. A few hours later in the emergency room, a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis.“The broad-spectrum antibiotic I was on for the mastitis likely saved my life when I acquired bacterial meningitis,” Rochele says. “Chas v’shalom, I could have succumbed to a fatal infection of the brain. This experience verified for me that whatever Hashem gives you is for the best. If I hadn’t gotten a breast infection, and hadn’t started an antibiotic, I might not have survived the meningitis.”Lying in the hospital bed that day, Rochele knew something wasn’t right — no healthy woman in her 20s should be getting bacterial meningitis. Moreover, no healthy young woman should be getting sick as often as she had over the previous ten years. If it wasn’t mastitis or bacterial meningitis, it was a sinus problem, gastric infection, or pneumonia. While some expectant mothers are sick during certain stages of pregnancy, Rochele suffers for all nine months; for her, it’s normal to be hospitalized for one infection after another. She would watch her husband,Barry, recover from a cold after a few short days while hers lingered on for weeks and turned into a sinus infection requiring antibiotics.She stopped telling friends and family when she wasn’t feeling well because she couldn’t stand hearing their reflexive responses: “Rochele, if you took better care of yourself, slept more, and didn’t work so hard, you wouldn’t be sick all the time.” Intuitively, Rochele knew that it wasn’t normal to be sick for up to six months of a year. Still, she hoped that maybe it really was just a case of over-exhaustion. While she was in medical school and raising two little ones, she always tried to convince herself: “It must be all the germs I’ve been exposed to, and the crazy schedule I’m keeping.”

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