By Hannah Berman

Three weeks ago I noticed what I assumed was an infection in my pinky finger. In spite of my assumption, I saw no evidence of an infection as the finger was not red, hot, or swollen, but it was painful. I decided not to call the doctor but to treat this problem myself. It occurred to me that maybe I should take an antibiotic, but since most of those things wreak havoc on my digestive system, I did not want to go that route. And I knew from past experiences that my doctor would never prescribe antibiotics over the phone without seeing the finger. But as it was not red or swollen, I decided there was nothing much to see, so I did not make an appointment.

Despite chatting with my three daughters on a daily basis, for some reason I told only one of them about my painful pinky. I decided not to tell her how long it had been going on. Nevertheless, she did not like what she was hearing and right away started with commentary. (Her commentary often reminds me of my study of Rashi.) Her first words were, “Because you’re a diabetic, you have to be extremely careful with infections.”

After her comments came the questions: Are you still getting manicures, did the manicurist cut your cuticles, when was your last manicure, how soon after the manicure did the pain start, etc.? My thought was that this kid of mine could be a great asset to the FBI. When she finished with the comments and the questions she decided that I should see a dermatologist, but I told her I would go the self- treatment route by soaking the finger. My daughter was not pleased but agreed to give me a few more days before schlepping me to a doctor.

When I was growing up, whenever there was this type of a problem, my mother always reached for Epsom salt. Inevitably, it worked, so I decided that it was the best course of action here too. I did not have any in the house and my car has been on loan to a friend who is having a problem. She has seven drivers in her family but only four cars, and one of those cars was in an accident and is being repaired. Due to the difficulty in getting parts, the repairs are taking a long time. She did rent a car but she is still one car short. So I have let her keep my car, and thanks to my daughters and my friends, I have managed to survive without it.

I asked my daughter to buy the Epsom salt for me. She was happy to comply and said she would bring it to me within the hour. An hour passed, and then two, and there was no daughter at my door bearing Epsom salt. I wondered what was taking her so long since she was so concerned about my finger. I found out soon enough when my phone rang and, without so much as a “hello,” my daughter plunged right in with the following: “Mom I’ve been to two stores and there was no Epsom salt to be found in either of them.”

Surprised, I asked her if she was sure she was looking in the right section of the store. It didn’t occur to me to ask which pharmacy she had gone to. It wasn’t long before I knew.

“Mom, I saw iodized salt, table salt, and kosher salt but absolutely no Epsom salt.”

Suppressing the urge to laugh, I asked her which stores she had gone to. After I got her response I decided that maybe the FBI isn’t the right place for her after all. Possibly Epsom salt can be found in a supermarket but only in the health and beauty aisle, not in the spices, salt, and sugar section. I gently directed her to a pharmacy.

But in the end it didn’t matter. The soaking and the topical ointment I was applying were of no help. The pain persisted, so three days later I let her take me to the dermatologist. It was a wise choice because the doctor disagreed with my assessment of the situation. She found that the finger was indeed slightly swollen and also slightly red. According to the doctor, an antibiotic was necessary and I would just have to deal with the consequences of taking it. She suggested that I take a probiotic along with the antibiotic.

So now I wait to see if the infection clears up and if my digestive system will tolerate the antibiotic. I am not a big believer in the effectiveness of probiotics. But time will tell, because that’s just the way it is. n

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and can be reached at or 516-295-4435. Read more of Hannah Berman’s articles on


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here