If you don’t know by now, never, but never, wear Crocs when walking down stone
stairs that have been washed. I was lucky to get away with two breaks in my left
ankle and a couple of torn ligaments. I was less lucky when I entered what has
become of the country’s hospital system.
Up front, we have much to be
thankful for in terms of the health care we generally get as a
nation. That every citizen is afforded access to some of the most
advanced medical treatment in the world, and some of the best doctors, is not
something to be sneezed at. Once you get to the doctor, things are for the most
part fine. But getting there has now become a challenge and, without really
noticing it, expensive.
An example: After a day of unbelievable agony, we
realize the slip has caused more than a passing bruise. We get to the
emergency department of a major hospital in Jerusalem, but are not allowed to
drive to the door, even though it is Shabbat and the place is near deserted. No,
there are no wheelchairs available.
We hobble to the emergency ward and
then to the registration counter where we wait in line. We hobble back to the
emergency ward, wait half an hour for a nurse, have our blood pressure taken and
referred to an orthopedist.
We wait for almost an hour. See the doctor
and are told get an X-ray. No wheel chairs. Hobble to the X-ray, wait half an
hour, back to the doctor and another wait.
An hour later, see the doctor,
get set in a cast, hobble back for another X-ray, wait a while, see the doctor
and, finally, get released. No wheelchairs of course, but by then the doctor had
taken pity and had the wife wheel me around on a massive and unwieldy hospital
Eight days later, same hospital, and don’t even think of a wheel
chair. This time, though, we have crutches and make it down the corridor,
to the lift, to the fifth floor, down the longest corridor you can imagine, to
the orthopedic department where, once a week, from nine to 12, they have an
Two hours after your supposed appointment has passed, and
after literally fighting off the third person who just has “one little question
to ask,” you finally make it to the doctor.
Without lifting his eyes from
the screen with an array of broken bones in front of him, he tells me I need an
X-ray, handing me a slip and throwing me out of the door in less than 30
The X-ray department, of course, is on the second floor. Why
would anyone even think of having a unit next to the orthopedic department? So
down the long corridor to the lift, to the second floor and down yet another
long, long corridor to the Xray department, where you stand in line to register
and then wait another hour before they see you.
Back on crutches to the
fifth floor, another wait and finally, released and told to come back a month
later, on April 18 to have another X-ray with the cast off. Things looked fine,
the doctor said, and no operation was necessary. Elated, I rushed down the
corridor as fast as my crutches could take me, feeling as if I had escaped Gulag
17 and survived.
Then, two weeks later the phone rings: “Mr. Goodman?”
“You have an appointment for the 18th of April right? Well, the
doctor will be away so I have another date with another doctor on May
“But I have a cast on my leg. Are you telling me to wait for another
20 days because the doctor is away?"
Another three weeks of not getting to
work, no mobility, muscle deterioration, weight gain, isolation because the
doctor is away!
“Well, “she says.
“There is the ‘other way.’” The “other way,”
it transpires, is going private, whereby you pay the same hospital and often the
same doctor for the same treatment. For a mere NIS 800, and the hope of some
help from the health insurance company, you get an appointment (in my case with
another doctor) for the day the cast is supposed to come off, saving yourself
three unnecessary weeks of having a huge weight from toe to knee on your left
leg, making even a shower an Olympian feat, not to mention getting up or down
This is what is happening to Israeli medicine. Like with so many
other fields, the “other way” has taken over, leaving those who cannot afford it
behind. Slowly, slowly, the inequality has spread through the system. Health
insurance cards have taken on the form of credit cards: gold, platinum and
health plans that are now “preferred” and “superior.”
When I first came
into the emergency ward, the orthopedist did everything he could to make me
admit myself into the hospital, with blood tests and all, and then be released
for vacation until the specialists decided what to do with me. He seemed
as disappointed as a jilted bride when I refused.
Obviously, I was being
turned into a commodity via which the hospital hoped to squeeze as much money
out of the insurance companies as possible. When that failed, I was almost
forced to go private. What normal person would not come up with NIS 800 if they
could to obviate another three weeks of near idleness and deteriorating health?
Incidentally, if anyone wants to make a killing, open a rent-a-wheelchair
facility in the parking lot. At least you’ll be able to afford private health
care if you need it.The writer is a senior research associate at the
Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His latest book,
The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, is the recipient of the National Jewish Book
Award in the history category for 2011.