Life Lessons: Not what the doctor ordered
Not everyone appreciates Anglos the way they should. Except, I’ve learned, the Clalit Health Fund people Sometimes doctors need cheering up, too.
Doctors explain procedure with iPad Photo: Rabin Medical Center
‘You have a mass in your abdomen. It’s huge. Go to the hospital.”
So I went. And now it’s two years later, and I’ve
learned, via sustained and intimate contact with the Israeli medical system, a
great deal about the way things are in Israel. Before the cancer diagnosis, I
was merely an oleh, or immigrant, who’d recently discovered that while he might
have been a Jew in America, here he was classed as an Anglo... and that not
everybody appreciates Anglos the way they should.
Except, I’ve learned,
the Clalit Health Fund people.
An Anglo oleh determined to deal with his
condition via manic good cheer, benign behavior and surrealistic humor provides
a refreshing alternative to the hypertrophic, sociopathic mordancies that
inundate the clinics and the hospitals. That’s a polite Anglo way of saying that
the docs and nurses appreciate a break from the rantings of too many of the
other patients. Also, I’ve learned, when a rant becomes necessary, they’ll take
So, other than that, what have I discovered?
1: Israeli medicine is world-class.
Emergency care is world-class.
Routine care is world-class. Care for chronic conditions, once you’re diagnosed
and in the system, is world-class. And when they decide to screw something up,
their mistakes are also world-class.
Make sure you keep track of what
they’re doing as they rush around in their overworked, underpaid,
Discovery No. 2: In Israel, everything is
After 30-some hours shuttling between the Carmel Hospital
emergency room and various other departments, they made their initial offer:
late-stage acute leukemia. I countered that I had no desire to be sick at all,
and please come back with something more acceptable. Within a day, we’d agreed
on chronic lymphoma, although a year later I got a free upgrade to chronic
lymphocytic leukemia. Who can turn down a free upgrade? Sadly, my second
six-month batch of chemo sessions had to wait a couple of months, as I was only
halfway through my rabies shots. Two things I did learn from that experience:
When you stop at the Clalit Clinic in Acre and ask for directions to the Public
Health office where you get the shots, and they tell you there’s a government
building right down the street, it’s true. And a very fine post office it is.
Don’t ask for directions at the post office, though. They’ll send you to the
Discovery No. 3: Chemo is boring.
Four to six hours hooked
up to an IV – there’s a limit to how much you can read, and when your Hebrew’s
barely adequate to order felafel, conversation with your fellow sufferers is
awkward. In truth, few of them responded favorably to my request that they bring
me felafel. I did learn, however, that the Hebrew phrase sof haderech, “end of
the road,” apparently means “fantastic,” as in “far out.” In American English it
means, among other things, “You’re dead.”
I’ll not confuse them
Nor will I repeat my suggestion that we organize races through the
halls, contestants to be classed by age and condition, while tethered to our
wheeled IV stands.
“Gentlemen, start your drips...”
4: The Israeli government...
Has a special department dedicated to
aggravating people with chronic conditions. It’s called the Ministry of Tsurism.
I’ve heard that it’s headquartered at the National Insurance Institute, although
I confess I’ve had nothing but good experiences with those folks (perhaps
because I let my wife take care of it). My only questionable moment came when I
signed a form certifying, among other things, that I was not currently doing my
obligatory military service. I wrote: “I’m 62 and diagnosed with cancer, so I’m
not sure I have any obligated service. However, I got fightin’ spirit. You want
maybe I should volunteer?” Still waiting to hear back on that
Discovery No. 5: Doctors need to laugh, too.
Dr: Philip, your
spleen is 10 times its proper volume.
Me: Is that a record? You know,
like Guinness Book of...
Dr: I don’t know. Probably not.
we get a journal article out of it? I’ve always wanted to appear in a medical
journal, but until now, my only chance was in psychiatry.
Dr: I believe.
We may want to remove your spleen surgically.
Me: OK. Can we do it at
Rambam? Dr: Why there? Me: Because I’ve already stolen the Clalit pajamas and
want to add to my collection.
Discovery No. 6: Time.
As I told the
social worker who refused to believe that I wasn’t all that upset: “We all get
the same number of hours per day. We don’t all get the same number of days. If
the days turn out to be fewer than expected, that only makes the hours more
The writer, an American oleh, is author of Yom Kippur Party
Goods (John Hunt/O Books, 2011). His first novel, Ha’Kodem, is in the works.