Because Israel has mandatory military service for all, I feel the need to evaluate army medical care and civilian medical care differently.
As I was 17 when I moved to Israel and 18 when I was drafted, my experience with health care in Israel started in the army. Allow me to summarize army healthcare with a hyperbole.
Head hurts? Take an Acamol.
Twisted your ankle? Take an Acamol.
Broke your foot? Take two Acamol.
Foot falling off? Here’s two extra-strength Acamol.
Once during a course, I was left for four days with an untreated UTI because my commander thought “it would sort itself out.” When I finally saw a doctor he gave me five days of antibiotics, instead of the minimum seven, so I ended up taking two full rounds of treatment and then the infection came back full strength.
When I broke my foot and it was too swollen to fit in my boot, I had to fight with the doctor to give me an exemption to wear blundstones. Not even to stay home, mind you – just to wear different shoes. He suggested I just bring a lighter bag to base.
Giving blood in the army has traumatized me for life. I now cry every time I go to Maccabi when the nurse comes at me with a needle – if you know, you know.
And don’t even get me started on the dentist. I have this theory that if the creator of the Addams family were to ever set an episode at the dentist, this would be the inspiration. Everyone who can goes private while they are in the army.
THIS ALL being said, the army introduced me to IV fluid infusions, which are, in my opinion, God’s gift to man. Imagine you’re in the middle of the desert, it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re overtired, overheated, dehydrated and basically on the brink of death and then someone comes and puts a cold blanket on you but the blanket is in you. It’s like a cold hug from inside on the hottest day of the year. Heaven.
Also with all those vitamins you wake up feeling like a million bucks. (Please note: I am not promoting getting dehydrated but when you have every minute of the day planned out from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and the bathroom is very far away, things happen).
Civilian health care
Now for civilian health care. I personally have a family doctor I adore. She’s extremely available, patient, and responsive. This being said she is very limited by the system. Meaning, if I come to her, showing every possible symptom of a B12 deficiency, even if she wanted to write me a referral to be tested, the system won’t allow for it; only every five years.
If you have a thyroid issue, in most of the world you would be treated with both T3 and T4. Here in public medicine, we only treat one of those. “Lama? Cacha.” (“Why? Because.”) However, if you would like to get a boob job, or laser hair removal – that will be partially subsidized. Lama? Cacha.
And then there is the health care that you get outside of your healthcare provider, at first aid clinics or hospitals.
Once, I had a cyst on an ovary that burst – one of the more painful experiences of my life. I went to a first aid clinic and told the doctor, I thought I had a cyst that burst. She laughed and told me that I couldn’t know what was going on in my own body and sent me home with Acamol and without checking me out. I later got tested privately and found that I did have a large cyst that burst, which could have threatened the blood supply to my ovary had things gone differently.
Now for my experience in an emergency room. I had done a wrong motion in the gym, injuring myself and it had gotten to the point where I couldn’t walk from knee and hip pain. I went to the ER hoping for an ultrasound. After waiting three hours to see the orthopedist on duty, she made me preform a series of motions to test me.
I WAS in obvious pain and in tears but she was adamant that I do everything. I did. She then called in an intern she was teaching and said, “now do it all again.” I protested saying, “but it hurts, can you see that you’re hurting me?” She said “Ein ma laasot” (there’s nothing to be done); this is a teaching hospital and I am teaching, do it again.” It was sadistic.
At the end of this torture, she said that she would not give me an ultrasound and instead she sent me home with a 30-day supply of prescription painkillers (opioids). I said no thank you but she insisted I take the prescription. I threw it out in front of her and walked away.
I went privately and found out that I had extreme inflammation, swelling and fluid buildup around my hips, which was also affecting my knees, and after anti-inflammatory treatment the pain went away.
This all being said, if God forbid you got cancer, you would not lose your house because of treatment. If you went to the ER after getting hit by a car you would not get turned away on the grounds that you don’t have insurance to pay for it.
If you need general blood tests they will not cost you $2,000 (NIS 7,000). A prescription that was costing me $500 (NIS 1,765) a month in the US, is $10 (NIS 35.27) here. If you call an ambulance you will not be left with a bill you can’t afford to pay. These are not small things by any measure.
All in all, there is room for improvement (a lot) but not having any socialized medicine is not an option. So in the meantime, I would suggest whether you’re 25 or 65, supplement it with private if you can and don’t be afraid to use it.
The writer is the founder of Soft Landing, a company dedicated to redefining what it means to move to Israel. YourSoftLanding.com