A few weeks ago, as I stood in the kitchen frying schnitzel a sudden wave of fever sweep over my body and when I could no longer ignore the sharp stabbing pains that worked their way up from my calves to my lower back, I took two painkillers and went to bed. By evening my head was throbbing and the flue-like aches had started up again. I awoke the next morning to find a mild rash had spread from my ankles up to my torso. By the third feverish morning I was dehydrated and unable to keep painkillers down, and when I started speaking in tongues my daughter insisted it was time to go to hospital. The closest hospital to where we live is the charming but somewhat unsophisticated Hillel-Yaffa in Hadera, which is where I arrived, a few hours later, shivering and delirious.
Being admitted into hospital is much like checking into a hotel. The usual formalities are required; Identification, payment methods and insurance details. No one is terribly interested in why you are there; at least not until your details have been entered into the system. But I was in no state to deal with paperwork so I lay myself down across the chairs in the waiting room, oblivious to the due process that my boyfriend graciously handled before escorting me in to the ER where I was stabbed, jabbed, poked at and pricked in at least four different languages, none of which I understood. Finally the pain and nausea subsided as medication seeped in through a bag of fluid filling me with a sense of relief and a new found admiration for the medical establishment and all things pharmaceutical.
By the late afternoon I had been moved upstairs into a room with three elderly ladies, two of whom spoke only Russian, literally over my head. The other, an elderly Persian woman with a loud bossy voice and grown teenage granddaughter’s who literally climbed into bed with her on their daily afternoon visits. Her husband’s affections were not so forthcoming. He arrived promptly at eight am every morning, sat dutifully at the foot of her bed and read the daily newspaper cover to cover without saying a word to her until the rest of the family arrived, which he took as his cue to leave. She didn’t seem to care until I put my big fat Ashkenazi foot in my mouth and commented on his strange behaviour. The next morning I realised what a mistake I had made when she berated him in public for his being more interested in the daily news than in her. Note to self: Do not become a relationship councellor.
One of the darling Russian women who thought she had Pneumonia (we all knew better),coughed all night bringing up lumps of fluid which she spat out into little pieces of tissue which I tore off for her from the disposable dispenser unit next to the sink. She folded them up and tucked them under her pillow and placed the fluid filled ones into a plastic bag that sat next to her bed on a chair. Every movement came with excruciating difficulty which she expressed in moans and groans with a few ‘Elokim’s’ thrown in from the depths of her pain. The nurses ignored her cries for help and the doctors talked about her as if she wasn’t there. On the morning I left she fed me a paste of crushed hazelnuts mixed with honey and margarine spread with a heavy hand on a sweet coffee biscuit to fatten me up along with a melodic string of blessings.
Spending a week in Hillel-Yaffa hospital is no picnic, unless of course you are the Taliban celebrating Ramadan on the hospital lawns directly below my window every night, in which case that’s exactly what it is; a picnic. But my roommates had come to some kind of agreement about both the air conditioning remaining on and the window staying open, so any attempt at sleep on my part was futile as the noise from below drifted up into our room till well after midnight each night.
By my third sleepless night I had gathered enough steam to get myself out of bed, dressed and down stairs to the lawns where, in my most gracious Hebrew I yelled “this is a hospital, there are sick and old people here who want to sleep. The noise does an aliyah up to the windows, what’s with you (though I think I actually said ‘what’s with them?’) You are Muslim, right, where is your respect for the sick?” As I turned to walk away one of the young men defiantly played his mobile ring tone on full volume. I turned around and shouted, in my less gracious English “Seriously? Are you fucking with me? I’m a sick fucking woman, don’t fuck with me!” and it was then, in that moment that I knew the diagnosis of ‘tick bite fever’ was accurate. I was delirious, out of my mind; sleep deprived and sweating, screaming at a bunch of Arab men on the lawns of a hospital at one thirty in the morning. So I did what any crazed, Rikketsia infected woman would do, I left the hospital grounds and caught a cab to my boyfriend’s house where I slept through the night for the first time in a week.
I returned to my hospital room in the early hours of the morning and walked straight into my doctor who flicked his hands up to me as if to ask “where have you been?’. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl caught by her headmaster for bunking class, but really I just needed a good night sleep, and let’s face it no one really cared that I was MIA for one night, and anyway had they asked, they would have been sorry.
I had so many things to complain about, starting with the appalling bedside manner or lack thereof of the nursing staff. If you don’t like people and you don’t like helping, perhaps nursing is not the profession for you, but the doctors are not much better. Despite their impressive ability to memorise and deduce, they march around the wards like a pack of cowboys, patronising anyone who dares to ask questions of personal medical significance like “what are you treating me for?” Patients, who are granted a mere twenty second window to voice all symptoms, concerns and medical theories of their own (courtesy of Google), are left feeling ill informed, patronised and dismissed. Though my doctor did take compassion on me and admitted, upon my persistently annoying questioning, that they were treating me for the Mediterranean strand of what us commoners call ‘spotted or rocky mountain fever’, a micro-organism who’s presence can only be confirmed once the infected patient either creates antibodies, which can take weeks, or dies.
And so it is in Hillel Yaffa hospital. Regarding compassion, communication and respect for the sick, in my opinion this hospital falls far short of its obligations. Regarding midnight picnics on the lawn and the blessings of the old and holy, there is no better place to be.
On the day I left, the nurses threw a party, and I gave up smoking.