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.

iPad angioplasty app 521 (photo credit: Rabin Medical Center)
iPad angioplasty app 521
(photo credit: Rabin Medical Center)
‘You have a mass in your abdomen. It’s huge. Go to the hospital.”
“Now, Doctor?” “Now.”
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 it seriously.
So, other than that, what have I discovered?
Discovery No. 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, ill-appreciated miasmas.
Discovery No. 2: In Israel, everything is negotiable.
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 souk.
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 again.
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...”
Discovery No. 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 one.
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.
Me: Could 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 precious.”
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.