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They Tried To Kill Us, We Survived, Let’s Overdose on Opioids

December 17, 2009 – 2:00 am6 Comments

 Overdose on these and you will fulfil the mitzvah of being unable to tell Haman from Mordechai*

Overdose on these and you will fulfil the mitzvah of being unable to tell Haman from Mordechai*

By Liz Paratz

Liz continues her series on whether Judaism and Jewish practice are in fact good for the Jews. Previous posts in the series can be found here, here, and here. This week she puts chagim under the microscope.

Pesach : The Israel Poison Information Centre analysed over 5000 paediatric cases of poison exposure in the 12 weeks around Pesach. A highly significant 38% increase in the average weekly poison exposure rate was observed at the time when houses were being cleaned to remove all traces of chametz, compared to the 10 weeks after Pesach. This increase in poison exposure was attributed to children taste-testing chemicals and medicines from suddenly-unlocked cupboards.

But Pesach gets even more problematic. For apparently the rush to make matzah in under 18 minutes causes a spike in hand trauma cases among bakers. According to the article ‘Passover hand injuries’, typical injuries are amputations at different levels, crush injuries and burns. Oy.

So, while a certain matzah brand promises us its product has ‘NO….fat, cholesterol, salt, water, calories, air etc’, who knows what undeclared blood, sweat, tears and tendons did go into it?

But the Seder gets it right in some ways. Unlike what ClipArt might have you believe, the bronchi of the lungs are not at a protractor-perfect 90 degrees to each other. Instead, the right main bronchus is shorter, wider and more vertically-oriented than the left, meaning that food going down the wrong way is much more likely to head to the right lung and cause an aspiration pneumonia. In fact, one study quantified the difference ; more than 75% of inhaled foreign bodies fall to the right lung rather than the left.

Obviously, if we were to lean to the right, the risk would be even greater. So when ingesting large quantities of food, and particularly if 4 cups of wine are involved, it makes perfect anatomic sense to lean to our left.

And here’s some more happy news too. An article published in The Lancet in 1988 suggests that people in a terminal phase of illness are less likely to die at Pesach, but rather somehow manage to hold off death for a week to enjoy one last Seder.

In a somewhat farcical ‘Methods’ section, the researchers describe how, due to Constitutional reasons, religion does not appear on American death certificates and consequently they weren’t sure which deceased people were Jewish.

They therefore consulted the Dictionary Of Jewish Names And Their History, cross-referencing with the Los Angeles telephone directory in order to work out which Ashkenazi names could be considered ‘common’. By this super-scientific modus operandi they compiled a definitive list of ‘Common Jewish Names’ ranging all the way from Adler to Zaks, and taking in Weinberg, Weiner, Weinstein and Weintraub along the way.

The results? Unequivocally pro-Pesach. Examining the deathdates of almost 2000 recently-deceased Jews demonstrated that the number of deaths was significantly lower than expected in the week before Pesach, and then higher in the week after. This dip-peak pattern was not mirrored in the control groups, cringeworthily described as ‘Blacks, Orientals and Jewish infants’ (the article was written 21 years ago, but still….)

Interestingly, in years when Pesach fell on a weekend, the death rate dropped even more. The researchers postulate that this is because when Pesach is on a weekend it is easier for the entire family to come visit from interstate and overseas, making the Seders even more of a family/social event, thus providing an even greater incentive to postpone dying. Obviously, this depends on the family.

Purim : Purim is the festival of firecrackers, alcohol and drug overdose. It makes Pesach look as bland as matzah. First off, the firecrackers. The emergency department of the Western Galilee Hospital has compiled all their data from 1999-2003 of the Jewish, Druze and Arab patients who presented to the hospital with injuries secondary to fire-crackers, crackers, skyrockets and homemade explosive devices. Not so surprisingly, the Jewish patients’ presentation spiked during Purim.

The risks of alcohol intoxication are well-documented, and the link between Purim and alcohol abuse is hardly new. What is more intriguing is the possibility that even the quietest little cookie-monster may end up admitted to hospital under the Drug + Alcohol team.

In a case report in JAMA, an 8-year-old previously healthy boy was hospitalized with vomiting, abdominal pain, and pallor followed by hallucinations, sweating, and pinpoint pupils. These are classic signs of an overdose on an opioid such as heroin or morphine.

But the 8-year-old was no heroin addict, just a kid with a serious hamantashen habit who had devoured about 1.4kg of poppyseed in the last day. Poppies are the natural source of opium, with the drug located in the seed’s capsule.

Standard supermarket poppy-seeds are processed to remove the capsule, but unfortunately these hamantashen were proper homemade ones. Luckily the boy made an uneventful recovery over a 12-hour period.


High Holidays : For the intrepid shofar-blowers of any congregation, Rosh Hashanah is much more than honey and apples – it’s truly risky business. Again, JAMA has the details.

A 17-year-old boy was admitted with ‘notable pain in the midline of the neck anteriorly and difficulty swallowing after his blowing of the Shofar’.  A work-up in the emergency department resulted in a diagnosis of interstitial emphysema. In other words, the lungs had been subjected to such extreme pressure that air was forced out from the lungs into the surrounding tissues.

So, that rounds up chagim for now – next up, the medical considerations of going to shul, and other manifestations of ‘a religious lifestyle’.

* Image source: MelindaLewin.com

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  • frosh says:

    Mon kichel is my favourite dessert – now I know why :-)

  • Chaim says:

    what about the constipation…  small bowel obstructions… oh love that matzah..

  • Liz says:

    Matzah-induced constipation was definitely something I thought of too! But I couldn’t find any review articles or emergency case studies on it unfortunately – everyone’s self-prescribed prune juice therapies must be too efficacious :)

  • On the subject of Purim skyrockets (well, maybe diverging just a little), is there any research on where all those bullets that we see Palestinians firing into the air in celebration go? Surely what comes up must come down!

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Hi David,

    I do believe that irrespective of who fires guns in the air, the bullets do indeed come down with pretty tragic consequences. But Purim skyrockets, I wouldn’t trust them in the hands of some people, particular emerging from celebrations on Purim.

  • ilona@israel says:

    its not just pesach or purim- yom kipur is one of the most problematic days a year-coz there is no cars on roads and all children go out to the streets on bikes… afterwards we have thousands of broken hand legs and so on…

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