By Hannah Reich Berman
About two years ago I shared with my family, friends, and readers of this column my experience with the drug known as Ambien. Those who know me personally believed my tale of woe, but there is a fair chance that people who do not know me were skeptical. For those who never read that piece, and for the skeptics, I offer the following refresher:
Ambien is a sleeping pill. And I took it because I have a serious sleeping problem. (That might be considered a misnomer, as my problem is not sleeping; it’s being awake all night.)
I took the drug for six nights in a row, and it worked like a charm. I got more sleep that week than I had gotten in six years. The trouble came on night number seven. It might have been coincidence or maybe it was something more. We all know that Hashem commanded us to rest on the seventh day and to keep it holy. Apparently only part of it had sunk in. On the seventh day I woke up—yes, by coincidence, it happened to be a Saturday, Shabbos. My mind did as I have done all my life. It rested. But it forgot about the “keep it holy” part. Totally confused and thinking that it was Sunday, I jumped out of bed, looked at the clock, and realized I was late for my early-morning Weight Watchers meeting.
I washed and dressed in a hurry, grabbed my handbag and car keys, and made a mad dash for the front door. I spotted my laichter (candelabra) sitting on the table, but instead of realizing that it might not be Sunday, I thought I had forgotten to put it away the night before after Shabbos ended. Chances are I didn’t just think it, I probably said it out loud! In spite of being in a rush, I grabbed the laichter, put it back on the shelf where it stands when not in use, and continued out the front door to my car.
My first thought was that the weather forecasters had been wrong. They had predicted heavy rain for Sunday morning, but instead it was a hot and sunny July morning. “Oh, well,” I thought, “they can’t always be right!” I hopped in my car and drove off. I headed right down Peninsula Boulevard, past the synagogue where Hubby and I, along with our children, have davened (prayed) for close to half a century. As I drove past the building, I noticed that every parking spot on the street was occupied and, as I drove further, I spotted dozens of people walking though the front door. In a heartbeat, because fashion interests me, I realized that not one of them was casually dressed. Everyone was dressed beautifully. Look at that; there must be a big b’ris today. That was my thought and I continued driving.
I parked my car in a town some 15 minutes from my house and walked into my Weight Watchers meeting. Immediately I sensed that something was off. I just didn’t know that the something that was off was me. The meeting, which normally attracts between 50 and 60 people, was packed. There were close to 200 people in that room, and there was standing room only. I looked around and did not recognize a single person. My lecturer, Eileen, was nowhere to be seen. In her place, standing in front of the heavy hitters (as I refer to myself and my Weight Watchers buddies) was a man I had never seen before. He was lecturing to the crowd. I knew something was wrong but I did not know what. I stood on the long line of people who were waiting for their weekly weigh-in and I decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. So I tapped a total stranger on the shoulder and casually asked, “Excuse me. But is this the 8:30 Sunday meeting or is it the 9:30 meeting?” She smiled sweetly and said, “It’s the 8:30 meeting, but this is Saturday, not Sunday.”
There is no way to describe how I felt. I raced out the door, ran across a busy street without looking, and got into my car. Hashem, realizing that I was in a fog, must have protected me in spite of my transgression. A few motorists, however, weren’t so kindly disposed. They were leaning on their horns and shaking their fists at me in anger because I had run right out in front of them. The temperature was close to 90 that morning, I was wearing shoes that were clearly not made for walking and I was several miles from home. I didn’t know a soul in the area and Shabbos wouldn’t be over until very late. So, despite the fact that I knew (sort of) that it was Shabbos, I drove home! My prayer at the time was that nobody I knew was outside and would see me driving. I wasn’t worried about Hashem, because He already knew I was driving. And besides that, he is more forgiving than the neighbors!
Once I was safely inside my house, I sat on my couch, wide eyed, and did nothing for more than three hours. I knew I was safely home, and I now knew it was Shabbos. It was close to noon before I came out of my reverie, but I didn’t do what I usually do on Shabbos. I didn’t walk to a friend’s house for lunch and to socialize. I just rested for the remainder of the day. It was several days before I recovered from the experience, but even today, years later, I clearly remember how I felt. I was confused, disoriented, and didn’t feel that I was in my own body. (But, given the fact that my body is nothing to write home about, that wasn’t the worst thing.)
This week, I learned from a news report that, in 2010, more than 19,000 people had adverse reactions to it and ended up in hospital emergency rooms suffering from confusion as well as paranoia. Sixty percent of those people had combined the Ambien with alcohol. I stand with the other forty percent, as I did no such thing. The drug’s manufacturer continues to claim that the drug is perfectly safe. No surprise there! But I am here to tell you that it is not safe. Now that I know what could have happened to me, I realize that, while ending up in my car on Shabbos wasn’t in my game plan, it beats a hospital emergency room.
To the best of my knowledge, there was no paranoia involved—but then again, maybe there was. As I drove back into my driveway that morning, I thought that my friend and neighbor was staring at me through her window. Sure that she had seen me, and feeling the need to explain what had happened, I told her the story a few days later. She told me she had been away that Shabbos! Hmmm . . . there may be something to this paranoia thing after all. That’s just the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.