Renowned psychoanalyst Philip Bromberg coined the phrase “standing in the spaces.” It is a reference to how we can experience something that feels like a contradiction. How we can stand in one place but feel like we are standing, at the same time, in two very different spaces.
There is no better place to understand this dichotomy than visiting a hospital pediatric oncology ward, a place where my family and I have been spending a lot of our time lately.
On the one hand, it is a space that seems damned. You walk the halls, look at the pale, frail and weak children who have lost their hair with IVs shadowing their every move, and wonder how such misery could exist. What could these innocent children have done to suffer such agony and pain?
But then you remember that if this place did not exist and if this ward had not been built, these children would not stand a chance. They, and their families, would not have hope to cling to, a future to look forward to, or the possibility – even if impossible to imagine right now – of a healthy and fulfilling life.
It is, literally, a place that stands between the spaces.
I write this because a few weeks ago, on January 1, my family’s lives were turned upside down. That morning, our 10-year-old daughter Miki (her full name is Miriam bat Chaya) had an MRI. For weeks she had been complaining about a pain in her hip and leg, and after going to her pediatrician as well as an orthopedist, we were finally supposed to get some answers.
We weren’t overly concerned. As parents of young children know, kids get bruises and complain all the time, especially the physically active ones like Miki, who goes to gymnastics and hip-hop classes four nights a week. One doctor told us that it might be a type of inflammation in one of her joints, something that seemed, at the time, relatively easy to treat.
The MRI was early in the morning, but already that night we received the news that would change our lives. Miki had a tumor growing on her pelvis. Within 24 hours she underwent a biopsy, and after a few more days we received the diagnosis: Miki suffers from a rare malignant bone tumor called Ewing sarcoma.
The news was devastating, and we understood we were in a race against time. As more tests and procedures followed, we worked with family and friends to find the best treatment available. This past Sunday, Miki was admitted to the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, just outside of Tel Aviv, where she spent the past week getting her first round of chemotherapy.
I’ve learned a lot over these past few weeks, watching my daughter cope with the news that cancer is growing inside her. I have learned how resilient children can be, how they can fight pain, suffering and even care about others when it is they who need the care. I have watched my wife, Chaya, turn into a real-life Wonder Woman, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet earthly angels, the nurses, doctors and volunteers in the ward going above and beyond to care for our child as well as countless others. I’ve seen how family, friends and colleagues come together in times of need.
I’ve also witnessed first-hand the coexistence that exists in Israeli hospitals. Anyone who claims that this country promotes apartheid needs to simply spend a day in a hospital and any of its wards. We’ve had Jewish and Arab doctors, nurses and volunteers. We shared a room with a Haredi family from Bnei Brak, and met a Palestinian family from Nablus in the room next door and another from the Gaza Strip down the hall.
Everyone receives the same treatment, everyone gets the same care. Your race, ethnicity or where you come from mean nothing. All are equal. So much for the BDS lies about apartheid.
DESPITE THE long journey ahead, we are optimistic. Miki’s prognosis is good, and watching her this week remain positive and cheerful gives us hope.
But I am also concerned. As the editor of this newspaper, I oversaw our coverage this past summer of the upheaval at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, where the top doctors of the pediatric oncology ward resigned en masse to protest the hospital management’s intention to merge the pediatric ward with other oncology wards.
At the time, the paper’s editorial board took a stand in favor of the children and their families, and urged the Health Ministry, the hospital and the doctors who resigned to find a compromise: either to return to Hadassah, or establish a new ward at the nearby Shaare Zedek Medical Center. The children, we said, had suffered enough.
I admit, it was just another story – one of pain and suffering that broke my heart, but one that seemed distant from me. This week my small family became part of the bigger story.
We live in Jerusalem, and Hadassah should have been the hospital where Miki was treated. The problem is that despite the months that have passed, Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and most-populated city, apparently still does not have a pediatric oncology ward on par with other hospitals around the country. How do I know? I don’t. I asked dozens of people, including doctors and employees at Hadassah, almost all of whom warned me to stay away.
This is absurd. Jerusalem needs to have at least one functioning pediatric oncology ward. That Dr. Michael Weintraub, the former head of the ward, is working in a job not related to his field speaks volumes about the problems that still afflict that hospital.
I am not complaining. Wasting hours in a car sitting in traffic on the way to Tel Hashomer is the least of my troubles. But what are families that don’t have cars supposed to do? I know of one that had to raise money to transport its sick son to Sheba by cab and not by public transportation, which could be dangerous for a cancer patient with a weak immune system.
This can easily be fixed if Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to. Jerusalem does not just need a US embassy. It needs comprehensive and proper medical care for all of its residents. It is not too late.
Finding out that your child is sick injects a sense of unprecedented vulnerability into your life. It naturally makes you reevaluate priorities, decisions and plans. Chaya and I decided to share Miki’s story with the world – Chaya posting regularly on Facebook, and I writing here. We believe in the power of prayer and optimism. All we ask is that you keep her in your hearts.
This week’s Torah portion, Beshalah, tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the song and dance led by Miriam the Prophetess beating her drum and followed by all of the people.
Today we are following our little Miriam as she sings and plays her drum to a brand new beat.