Post Script: A painful story

If you don’t know by now, never, but never, wear Crocs when walking down stone stairs that have been washed.

New tower in Hadassah Hospital 370 (photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
New tower in Hadassah Hospital 370
(photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
If you don’t know by now, never, but never, wear Crocs when walking down stone stairs that have been washed. I was lucky to get away with two breaks in my left ankle and a couple of torn ligaments. I was less lucky when I entered what has become of the country’s hospital system.
Up front, we have much to be thankful for in terms of the health care we generally get as a nation. That every citizen is afforded access to some of the most advanced medical treatment in the world, and some of the best doctors, is not something to be sneezed at. Once you get to the doctor, things are for the most part fine. But getting there has now become a challenge and, without really noticing it, expensive.
An example: After a day of unbelievable agony, we realize the slip has caused more than a passing bruise. We get to the emergency department of a major hospital in Jerusalem, but are not allowed to drive to the door, even though it is Shabbat and the place is near deserted. No, there are no wheelchairs available.
We hobble to the emergency ward and then to the registration counter where we wait in line. We hobble back to the emergency ward, wait half an hour for a nurse, have our blood pressure taken and referred to an orthopedist.
We wait for almost an hour. See the doctor and are told get an X-ray. No wheel chairs. Hobble to the X-ray, wait half an hour, back to the doctor and another wait.
An hour later, see the doctor, get set in a cast, hobble back for another X-ray, wait a while, see the doctor and, finally, get released. No wheelchairs of course, but by then the doctor had taken pity and had the wife wheel me around on a massive and unwieldy hospital bed.
Eight days later, same hospital, and don’t even think of a wheel chair. This time, though, we have crutches and make it down the corridor, to the lift, to the fifth floor, down the longest corridor you can imagine, to the orthopedic department where, once a week, from nine to 12, they have an ankle clinic.
Two hours after your supposed appointment has passed, and after literally fighting off the third person who just has “one little question to ask,” you finally make it to the doctor.
Without lifting his eyes from the screen with an array of broken bones in front of him, he tells me I need an X-ray, handing me a slip and throwing me out of the door in less than 30 seconds.
The X-ray department, of course, is on the second floor. Why would anyone even think of having a unit next to the orthopedic department? So down the long corridor to the lift, to the second floor and down yet another long, long corridor to the Xray department, where you stand in line to register and then wait another hour before they see you.
Back on crutches to the fifth floor, another wait and finally, released and told to come back a month later, on April 18 to have another X-ray with the cast off. Things looked fine, the doctor said, and no operation was necessary. Elated, I rushed down the corridor as fast as my crutches could take me, feeling as if I had escaped Gulag 17 and survived.
Then, two weeks later the phone rings: “Mr. Goodman?”
“You have an appointment for the 18th of April right? Well, the doctor will be away so I have another date with another doctor on May 8.”
“But I have a cast on my leg. Are you telling me to wait for another 20 days because the doctor is away?"
Another three weeks of not getting to work, no mobility, muscle deterioration, weight gain, isolation because the doctor is away!
“Well, “she says.
“There is the ‘other way.’” The “other way,” it transpires, is going private, whereby you pay the same hospital and often the same doctor for the same treatment. For a mere NIS 800, and the hope of some help from the health insurance company, you get an appointment (in my case with another doctor) for the day the cast is supposed to come off, saving yourself three unnecessary weeks of having a huge weight from toe to knee on your left leg, making even a shower an Olympian feat, not to mention getting up or down stairs.
This is what is happening to Israeli medicine. Like with so many other fields, the “other way” has taken over, leaving those who cannot afford it behind. Slowly, slowly, the inequality has spread through the system. Health insurance cards have taken on the form of credit cards: gold, platinum and health plans that are now “preferred” and “superior.”
When I first came into the emergency ward, the orthopedist did everything he could to make me admit myself into the hospital, with blood tests and all, and then be released for vacation until the specialists decided what to do with me. He seemed as disappointed as a jilted bride when I refused.
Obviously, I was being turned into a commodity via which the hospital hoped to squeeze as much money out of the insurance companies as possible. When that failed, I was almost forced to go private. What normal person would not come up with NIS 800 if they could to obviate another three weeks of near idleness and deteriorating health? Incidentally, if anyone wants to make a killing, open a rent-a-wheelchair facility in the parking lot. At least you’ll be able to afford private health care if you need it.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, is the recipient of the National Jewish Book Award in the history category for 2011.