Five precious cans of formula — and two babies who desperately needed them
an you imagine looking into the eyes of a father who doesn’t have anything to feed his child? Sounds like something out of a tzedakah ad… not what I expected to see on a regular Tuesday morning at the pharmacy. But let me backtrack a bit.
A few months ago, my pediatrician told us that our baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. Since we had a family history of dairy allergies, we were advised to switch her to Neocate LCP, a hypoallergenic non-dairy, non-soy, non-anything formula. It’s much more expensive than the usual stuff, but it’s worth the extra money and the time it takes to obtain it — even if it’s only a precaution. Chava is now ten months old and we give her 24 ounces of formula daily, accompanied by a variety of solid foods that she enjoys.
Lately we’d heard about the terrifying formula shortage happening 6,000 miles away. It couldn’t affect us. Or so we thought.
The supply chain crisis, or some other crisis, has clearly reached Eretz Yisrael, because Neocate is suddenly in dangerously short supply. When we renewed our prescription, the pharmacist didn’t give us the full amount. We’ve had to go from store to store in search of Neocate, and when they’re all out, we ask fellow Neocate-users to lend a precious container. Yet we’ve remained calm, knowing that, baruch Hashem, at least our daughter can safely eat other foods.
That was until a week ago, when she contracted a stomach virus that caused her to vomit several times a day. Aside from the laundry piling up and the sleepless nights, this meant that she wasn’t able to keep down much food. She was basically on a liquid-only diet, and we tried to get some formula bottles into her each day to ensure she was getting enough nutrients. Unfortunately, our Neocate stash was running out. The pharmacist kept telling us they would be back in stock… soon. But that wasn’t soon enough.
One morning, when we were down to the last scoop, I decided to drive to a neighboring community’s pharmacy that, I’d been told, still had five canisters of our powdered gold. Waze said it would take about ten minutes, and I headed out.
In my haste, I made a few wrong turns and the estimated time of arrival was rising minute by minute. No worries, trusty Waze was redirecting me, wasn’t it? But the roads seemed unfamiliar, and the nearby buildings were stark and dark. I felt like I was driving into another universe, and when I checked the map, my heart began pounding harder and faster.
Had I accidentally steered into Arab territory? Isn’t Waze supposed to prevent that?! Quick. Think. Maybe the settings were wrong. I was driving too fast on the highway to focus on the small text on the screen.
All I knew was that if this device was taking me into a danger zone, I would do the opposite of whatever it said. When it told me to turn left, toward what appeared to be a dangerous area, I went straight instead. I pulled over and reset Waze to take me home.
A few U-turns later, I was back in a familiar — and safer — place. But I still needed to get to the pharmacy so my baby would have food that day. I felt the formula slipping through my fingers. My detour might have cost me a month’s worth of food for my baby if someone else had gotten there first.
I was still shaking, recovering from the fear of being swallowed into an Arab village, but my brain was telling me to just keep driving. I lifted the phone and set the destination once again to Rechov Chazon Ish.
Winding up the road to Ramat Shlomo, I davened that the formula would still be there. But why was I so nervous? Most families don’t even use Neocate.
“Shalom,” I greeted the pharmacist. “Do you have NEE-Oh-Kate?”
“Neocate LCP. For babies.”
“Yes, sure, how many do you want?”
That was the right response. “As many as you have!”
The owner told his assistant to bring their last five containers out of the storage room in the back. Phew, they were still here. Mission accomplished.
Just as I was about to swipe my card, a soft voice behind me said, “You’re buying Neocate too?”
I swiveled to see before me a young man who looked as tired and out of breath as I did.
“How many do you need?” I asked him.
“I came here because they told me this place had five. I was going to buy whatever they had left.”
I began a quick mental calculation. How many could I let him take? How long would one or two or three last? Who knew when and where I would find more?
“How old is your baby?” I asked.
“She’s five months old.”
My precious Chava was at home, possibly even vomiting on her father again. She would be okay, even without this precious formula; she could eat other foods. We were only using Neocate as a precaution. Maybe she could even manage to digest dairy at this point. How could I say no to this man?
But how could I say no to Chava? My own child. Who’s to say whose blood is redder?
“Let’s split it,” I said.
As we stood staring silently at the containers, it was clear to all of us that five doesn’t divide evenly by two.
The pharmacist broke the silence. “You were here first. You take three. He can have two.”
“My daughter has nothing to eat,” he said.
His eyes were kind. He was not protesting the lesser amount he was given; rather, he was thanking me for giving up what was “rightfully” mine.
I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. Could I have given him one more? Would my baby be okay? Would Hashem send Neocate to me from somewhere else? And what would happen to the next parent who entered looking for formula for their child? How could I live knowing that maybe I had taken more than my share?
Just half an hour before, I was racing down the highway to grab these Neocates. And in a flash, my precious five canisters became three. My perspective had shifted as well.
I don’t know what the right answer was on that Tuesday morning in Ramat Shlomo, only that for some reason I was meant to see a father worried about how he would feed his child. To learn that winning the race isn’t about getting there first or getting the most. It’s about getting there in time — to give.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 799)
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