The women of Clalit

When you treat only seriously sick people, and have to deal with them and their not-always-gracious families, it’s easy to get tough.

Boy receiving injection (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Boy receiving injection (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
No, this is not the title of a photo spread in some slick-and-sleazy men’s magazine, the kind that distorted so many male perspectives back when I was young and distortable.
It’s about some excellent doctors and nurses I’ve encountered since 2010, in an organization that, despite occasional balagan, I’ve found to be eminently satisfactory – and more.
Still, it was a rather surrealistic moment with two Women of Clalit that inspired this column – a moment that also sent me mentally back to my youth, when I might indeed have said to them what came to mind when...
I was lying on my back, getting an abdominal ultrasound.
The woman administering the procedure kept frowning at the screen, repeating her passes over my middle, then frowning some more.
Finally, she said, “I must go get the doctor and show her something in your abdomen.”
A moment later, she returned with the doctor.
They stared intently, babbled in Hebrew, then burst into laughter. They then left, without letting me in on the joke.
So I lay there, not feeling particularly benign, and the thought flashed by: “OK, babes. You got the giggles, I got the parts.”
Forty years ago, I might well have said it, or something equally offensive and inane. Especially to that orthopedic rehab nurse, US Navy Lieutenant (I am not making this up) Hammer.
That woman lived up to her name. I was having a leg and ankle repaired, and I’d be sitting on some weight machine, trying to lift 10 pounds and sweating off five in the process. Groaning, also. And along would come Nurse Hammer with a cheerily vicious, “You’re not trying, Lieutenant.”
She inflicted upon me an aversion to nurses that lasted until I began having regular encounters with the profession at various Clalit facilities. They’ve redeemed my faith.
There was that lovely moment when I was due for another course of chemo (leukemia) but also had to get rabies shots at a public health clinic immediately.
Where? Somewhere. I also needed an immediate meningitis shot that the clinic said was available only out in the villages, so just go there. Where? Somewhere.
I finally decided to get Israeli. So I grabbed one nurse and screamed, “Look, I’m dealing with two life-threatening conditions and I’m not willing to be jerked around.” She smiled, responded in perfect English, then did some intense telephoning and walked me through everything.
Then there was the nurse in the chemo clinic: a cheerful, competent type who let you know that if you antagonized her, she could slow your drip and keep you there forever. She was also quite adept at pinning me down with one hand during bone marrow biopsies, stroking my brow with another, and as the local anesthesia wore off, assuring me that “It’ll only be a little while longer.”
“Another shot perhaps?” “Just a little while longer.”
How do you say, “Man up, American wimp” in Hebrew? At least, I hope that’s what she might have said.
One thing about Lieutenant Hammer – I never any problem understanding her.
Then there are the quarterly blood tests. I try to go to one nurse in particular; she always gets me splendid results. Another can be quite pleasant to banter with.
“Do you speak English?” “Ken [Yes].”
“My wife is next in the queue. Please tell her how much you like her hideous new hairstyle.”
Two months later: “You didn’t tell her, did you?” “Ken.”
Then there’s my cancer doc, to put it simply, the most gifted healer I’ve ever encountered, and one of the most genuinely charismatic human beings.
When you treat only seriously sick people, and have to deal with them and their not-always-gracious families, it’s easy to get tough. But when, after a decade or so on the job, you walk into the waiting room and your smile lights up your patients and their kin, there’s something very special going on.
Once, we put on rather a show. It came during the worst of the chemo, plus a couple of disintegrating vertebrae and some other nuisances. She’d sent me up for an abdominal ultrasound. I returned. She scanned the relevant paper in the waiting room, then shook her head and started laughing.
“You know, you’ve got gallstones.”
We then found ourselves laughing uncontrollably, while she quoted a proverb about how, sometimes, all you can do is laugh.
Which makes me wonder. The two women who found my latest ultrasound so amusing... had they been looking at my gallstones, maybe thinking they were something else, then deciding they were just your normal hysterically funny and endlessly humorous gallstones? Tell me, too, please. I like to laugh.
The writer is an American oleh.