Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Cake Effect

Our daughter Merav has been sick for the last three plus weeks with an undiagnosed illness. Today's story - as well as the one I'm planning to run next week - reflect particular moments during this long process which also included a week of hospitalization.

For those of you who have been in touch, Jody and I cannot express how meaningful your concern and help has been. Merav would certainly love to hear from you. You can send messages to her at

Merav is still sick, but she is slowly but surely feeling better and we are hopeful that by this time next week we will have gotten to the bottom of what's been causing her all of her distress

-- Brian


It’s been a tough three weeks. Eleven-year-old Merav came down with terrible stomach cramps...then developed a rash and proceeded to turn yellow.

A series of blood tests, ultrasounds and even a liver scan had the mostly baffled doctors ruling out appendicitis, hepatitis, and a score of other itis’s, but to date they still have no diagnosis. There seems to be something going on with her liver or gall bladder which may explain the jaundice, among other possible explanations.

In the midst of all of the poking and prodding and note-taking by diligent interns at three different hospital emergency rooms, little Aviv turned seven.

Any birthday is a big deal in our house, turning seven all the more so...particularly for the birthday boy. We had planned a party for Aviv and his school chums with games like pin-the-nose-on-the-clown, but given Merav’s suffering, we decided to put the celebration off.

Aviv seemed OK with this.

But on the morning of his birthday, just 15 minutes before school started, Aviv announced somewhat nonchalantly, “And you’ll be coming with a cake for hafsakat eser, right?” He was referring to the morning snack break.

“Cake?” Jody and I both looked at the clock and then at each other.

Picking up on our hesitation, Aviv commanded: “You have to bring a cake. That’s what you do for birthdays in my school!”

Jody had one foot out the door already; she was taking Merav back to the doctor for yet another test and it was raining, meaning traffic would be nasty.

“There’s no time,” I whined. “And I’ve got a meeting this morning…I’ll have to cancel...can’t we do it a different day, Aviv?”

Aviv looked panicky. His cancelled after-school party was finally hitting home.

“Just follow the instructions,” Jody said, thrusting a box of Pillsbury cake mix at me and measuring out some oil into a bowl. “And let Aviv crack the eggs.”

Aviv’s face lit up. As Jody and Merav ran out, I whipped up the oil and eggs and flour, then popped the pan in the oven and Aviv out the door.

At exactly 9:45 AM, I arrived at Aviv’s classroom bearing our creation. I even remembered the frosting. The 36 kids in Aviv’s class were delighted to see me. Who wouldn’t be? I was a man bearing a cake.

I sliced and Aviv distributed the pieces. He was beaming and proud, the center of attention on his big day.

As I was leaving the school, I ran into a group of Merav’s friends by chance on their way in from recess. I hadn’t intended to visit her class, but this seemed like an opportunity. In my broken Hebrew, I updated them on Merav’s condition.

“How do you say gall bladder in Hebrew?” I asked one of the kids I knew was from an English-speaking home.

“What’s a gall bladder?” she asked.


“You know,” I added, “Merav’s a bit lonely. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if some of you came to visit for a bit.

Her classmates all began talking among themselves, and I could see that the sixth grade planning wheels had been set in motion.

Jody and Merav arrived back from the doctor about the same time as I walked in from my visit to school. Merav flopped into her familiar sick position, clutching her hot water bottle on the couch and looking dour and distressed.

As I headed back out the door for my meeting, she confided to me: “You know, I thought it would be fun to stay home and watch TV all day. But now all I want to do is go back to school. I wonder if my friends even care about me?”

“Of course they do,” I said. I wanted to tell her about my conversation with the kids in her class, but I was already late.

When I returned home, something was different. Merav’s mood had brightened considerably.

A big poster was taped to the door with well wishes from her classmates and the entire Scouts troop. Someone had brought over a candy bar – white chocolate, Merav’s favorite (not that she had any appetite for it). Merav was flipping through a hand written book with pages after page of heartfelt blessings. Several board games, a video, and a pair of new socks lay stacked neatly in the corner.

“My friends,” Merav said weakly but with as big a smile as she could muster. “They really do care.”

A few minutes later, Aviv came bounding in the door, oblivious to the transformation taking place around him.

“Is there any more cake left?” he demanded.

“Absolutely,” I said. “On a day like today, it appears that there’s more than enough sweetness to go around.”

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