Bedside coexistence in a Jerusalem hospital

Nariman and I discovered that we were being operated on for the same reason, on the same side of the body.

hospital bed 88 (photo credit: )
hospital bed 88
(photo credit: )
Recently scheduled for surgery at Hadassah Mount Scopus, I was told to arrive before 8 a.m. Convinced - in error - that the earlier I got there, the sooner I would be through with all the pre-surgery tests, I was more than punctual. On the advice of my doctor I had brought a book which I was reading in the waiting room when an Arab woman, accompanied by several other women, walked in and sat down. I smiled at her and kept reading. The Arab group was a very social one. The women kept up a non-stop flow of conversation, went to get cups of tea and sandwiches and did their utmost to bring cheer to the patient, who was to be operated on the following day. I had told hardly anyone that I was going to be hospitalized. Fiercely independent and unwilling to impose unnecessary duty visits on friends and acquaintances, I figured that the upside to the experience was that I'd get to finish the book. And indeed I did. We had our blood tests, blood pressure and EKG tests in the morning, but were then left to our own devices for hours until we were taken for our ultrasound tests and had our bodies marked for the surgical incisions. The Arab woman was assigned a bed before I was, but when I returned I discovered that we had temporarily been assigned the same room. She was staying overnight. I checked myself out because I had to go to a cocktail reception in Herzliya Pituah, in addition to which I still had to complete a column for one of my editors. However, in the few minutes that we spent together, Nariman and I discovered that we were being operated on for the same reason, on the same side of the body. "We're twins," I said. "Have a sandwich," she offered. "I notice that you didn't eat anything all day." Nariman's husband, Hassan, helped me to gather up my things. Nariman and I wished each other well and said we would pray for each other, and off I went on my merry way. WHEN I returned at 7 the following morning, Hassan told me that Nariman had already been operated on and that she was out of the recovery room and back in the ward. I wasn't that lucky. Although I'd been scheduled as my surgeon's second patient for the day, I wasn't wheeled into the operating theater until shortly after 11 a.m. I woke up in the recovery room at 4, and soon after was back in the ward in Surgery A, where doctors and nurses were truly angels of mercy. I don't know how many people cared for me while I was unconscious, but while conscious I had at least 20 people looking after me at different stages. All of them introduced themselves by their first names - no titles - and all called me by my first or my middle name. Some of them were fascinated by the origins of my first name and had difficulty in pronouncing it; but when I told them that it was the same as the Hebrew word for ambassador - shagreer - minus the first letter, they suddenly found it easy. During my first hour back in the ward I drifted in and out of sleep - and then suddenly came wide awake as three Arab women, dressed in their traditional garb, made their way through the door of my room. I had not been placed in the same room as Nariman the second time around, so I knew they hadn't come to see her. I thought perhaps they belonged to some sort of support group, and asked them if this was so. No, they were not. One was Nariman's sister; another was Nariman's sister-in-law, and a third was Nariman's niece. As the evening progressed, other members of her family showed up around my bedside - her mother, her husband, one of her sons, two more daughters - all concerned for my welfare. Did I need anything? Could they get me anything? Nariman was worried about me because I was on my own. That's not the way it is in Arab society, they told me. "With us," they said, "everyone cares for everyone else." One of Nariman's daughters slept over in her mother's room, but at 6.30 a.m. she was in my room to make sure that I was all right. Later, six members of her family showed up to invite me for breakfast. Nariman's condition was a little more serious than mine, so before taking a shower I went to see her, and returned to her bedside after I had been informed that I could go home. Meanwhile, her youngest child and one of her grandchildren had suffered second-degree burns at home when they were splashed with water from a boiling kettle. There was pandemonium all round as the little ones were rushed from one emergency clinic to another. Once I was home I called Nariman, who was still in hospital, to find out about the little girls, and was told that they were being treated and there was nothing to worry about. "My family and I wish you Shabbat Shalom," she said, and reiterated an invitation that she'd extended several times in hospital, as had other members of her family, that I visit them at their home in Wadi Joz. I DON'T use the phone on Shabbat and therefore missed her call the following day. But she left a message that she and her whole family were thinking of me. Such kindness from people of a different ethnic, religious and cultural background would be unusual at any time - but this was in the same week that the IDF shelled Beit Hanun. No one in Nariman's family referred to that. One of her daughters, who used to live in Jordan and is currently a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, seemed unaware of Israel's existence, and in talking about herself kept saying "When I came back to Palestine…." All I know is that Nariman's family is a wonderful example of outreach, and further proof that on a people-to-people level, peace, mutual respect and harmony are achievable.