A dose of Israeli health care

I feel pretty fortunate that it took us nine weeks of living in Israel before we had to make our first visit to “kupat holim,” the health clinic here in Israel. For those of you who don’t know, Israelis can choose from one of four national health care plans. New olim, from the moment they land in Israel, are covered by a health plan of their choosing. Take that, United HealthCare!
No kidding. It’s a bit unsettling to realize you could trip, fall, and break an ankle on your way into the airport and the government would fix you (by way of well-trained doctors). Sure, we needed to sign some waiver in which we promised the State of Israel that we were healthy and mentally sound before they agreed to accept us as new immigrants. But other than that, we could have come here with a flaming case of scabies or a goiter or a belly full of sextuplets and Israel still would cover our health care needs. It’s like, I don’t know, the law. Imagine that.
When we arrived at Ben Gurion airport, however, we were a bit unprepared. We didn’t realize that almost minutes after we walked through the doors, we would be shuffled into a large room labeled Ministry of Immigration and asked by a very stern looking woman, “Aizeh Kupat Holim?” (“Which health plan?”) My husband and I looked at each other in bewilderment: We had to choose now? Here? Without time to research? Without a chance to weigh the pros and cons? To poll our friends and family which plan had the better doctors? Which covered chiropractic?
Could we at least phone a friend? Ask the audience?
In the end, the nice lady (and I use the adjective “nice” loosely, which you must when referring to government workers in Israel) allowed us one phone call. We quickly dialed my husband’s mother, who hemmed and hawed and then shouted, “Maccabi!”
Ding, ding, ding. Maccabi it was. We only found out later that most of the residents of our kibbutz were members of a different plan (Clalit) because doctors in that plan were more accessible in our region. Despite the warning on the Nefesh B’Nefesh web site that we would not be able to switch healthcare plans for six months once we chose one, we managed to switch with little inconvenience (and I use the adjective “little” loosely, which you must when dealing with government agencies in Israel). When our membership cards finally arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, we gave our kids permission to do pop-a-wheelies on their bikes and jump off the highest rung of the playground ladder.
Despite the overabundance of snotty-nosed kids sharing food, sand, and toys with my kids at Gan; despite the change in climate and diet; and despite the emotional and physical exhaustion that is an international move, none of us has really been sick enough for the doctor until now.
Last week, our daughter’s Ganenet suggested we take her in for a urine test because she was frequently asking to use the bathroom, but then not going. “It could be a social thing,” the Ganenet said, “But it would be best to know for sure.” We called the following Sunday morning for an appointment at the nearest clinic and were scheduled to come in soon after.
Concerned that my lack of adequate Hebrew would finally become a major roadblock, I begged my husband to come along to do the heavy lifting with the receptionist and doctor. I was also worried about what I would find in a “health care clinic.” After all, 36 years of conditioning informs me that clinics are for pregnant teenagers and drug addicts, not nice new immigrants from civilized Democratic nations.
But I was more than pleasantly surprised. Not only was the clinic clean (and being cleaned even cleaner by a cleaning lady when we arrived), but the receptionist was kind and welcoming. She took her time with us and explained procedures. What I appreciated most while we waited to be seen was that, despite the fact that the doctor was running behind, the receptionist made sure to tell each of us the order in which we would be seen so that none of us need hold our breath each time the door was opened. “Ruben, Cohen, then Maidenberg,” she said, pointing each of us out to the other. Clear expectations make for a much less bitter waiting room experience.
The overall visit was easy and painless, save for the part where I had to hold a cup under my two-and-a-half year old’s privates waiting for pee to drop; and realizing only after there was no hand soap inside the bathroom with me. I suppose there are worse things than being peed on by your daughter. Like worms, for instance, which is apparently a quite common diagnosis here for Gan-aged children.
“Worms?!?” I asked the doctor, incredulously. “You want me to be on the lookout for WORMS? Exactly how do I look out for worms.”
Trust me, you don’t want to know. But, if I end up finding any, you’ll be the first to hear about it.