I always wondered when my ‘luck’ would run out. Here I was, a month shy of my seventy-eighth birthday, and I had never been in a hospital. I don’t mean to visit someone, nor do I mean for the kind of diagnostic testing (where they stick a tube up or down somewhere in your anatomy) that is now routinely done in a doctor’s office. I mean when you’re sick, really sick – as in they’ve come to haul you away in an ambulance. In my case, I did manage to get there on my own two feet. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Shabbat afternoon, and I was feeling, shall we say, not so ay-yay ipsy-pipsy. Being an optimist, I attributed the pains in my abdomen to the confluence of several days of semi-riotous living: the whisky tasting Thursday night at Mordechai’s apartment, the usual amount of wine and whisky over Shabbat, and one of my staggeringly good cholents for lunch. Had the pain gone away, my diagnosis might have proven correct, but, sad to say, I was in as much agony on Sunday as I was before. By the evening, my medical advisor suggested, no insisted, that we go to Terem (which is like an Urgent Care Center in The States). The fact that I did not object or make excuses is ample evidence of the pain I was in.
Anyone with any experience in this matter would know that if you’re on your way to a facility like Terem because you’re more than just under the weather, there’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to give you a little pink pill and send you home. They can’t tell for sure what’s wrong with you, and anyway they are not equipped to make you right.
What they can do is give you a referral to the emergency room and tell you to get there on the double. Can this wait until the morning (it was now 10:30 at night)? NOW! And so the same taxi that took us to Terem took us down the road to the cheder miyun (emergency room) at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.
The clothes you are wearing were the clothes you wore. Anyone with any experience in these matters would have known to pack a few essentials to bring with you just in case: a pair of pajamas, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, etc., let alone a siddur and some davening paraphernalia. All I had with me were the clothes I was wearing and the book I was reading (if you’re curious, Ford Madox Ford’s superb novel, The Good Soldier). Not quite all; I did have with me my medical advisor (who doubles as my wife) for invaluable assistance and emotional support.
If you’re going to go to an emergency room, you could do a lot worse than Hadassah Hospital. I’ve heard enough horror stories about E.R.s both here and in The States, where they leave you in a chair and let you suffer for six hours before anyone notices that you’re there. We showed the young lady at the admissions desk my referral from Terem, signed something, and were ushered into the E.R. Within a few minutes, someone was talking to us, and in no time flat, fluids and pain-killers were coursing through my veins via an I.V. connection. At one point I looked up and assessed the amount of liquid involved and exclaimed to no one in particular, “I know where I’ll be heading shortly!” Sure enough, with alarming regularity, that’s where I kept returning, tugging the I.V. stand along with me like a reluctant dance partner, for the next day and a half.
As it was obvious that we would be there for the remainder of the night, they gave me a cot to lie on (Barbara put together two chairs and made do with that), in a curtained-off space. Not that I could get any real rest; one never can in a hospital – especially as the young Arab man on the next cot was snoring loudly enough to wake the proverbial dead. At some point in the middle of the night, they sent us (me, Barbara, and my I.V. stand) around and about to where they do C.T. scans. Sometime in the morning, probably when the next shift arrived, someone qualified to read the scan would show up.
Being an unrepentant cockeyed optimist, I was hoping against hope that, when the morning came and my scan would be read, I would be on my way home – no doubt with some medication to remedy whatever was ailing me. Silly me! At about 8:30 AM, two stern-looking doctors approached my cot with the following unpleasant diagnosis: you, our fine-feathered friend, are suffering from pancreatitis. You are not going home; you are going upstairs, where we have a bed waiting for you. Oh no!
(OK. I understand what the word means: an inflammation of said organ. But how do you get it and what do you do about it? There are several possible causes, the most interesting one being stones that have left the security of one’s gallbladder and are strolling through the pancreas, a nearby organ. More prosaic possibilities are quality-of-life issues such as obesity, diabetes, or alcoholism. Then there is the catch-all diagnosis – one that seems to fit me – known in medical jargon as ‘kacha,’ or translated into layman-ese, ‘just because,’ or more tellingly, ‘we haven’t got the foggiest.’ Whatever the cause, the immediate treatment is the same: no food except intravenous fluids and painkillers.)
We decided to split up. Barbara would go home for some much-needed rest and would return much later with some supplies. I and my I.V. stand would be wheeled upstairs where there actually was a bed waiting for me – my home-away-from-home for the next two days.
There’s not much to do in a hospital. If you’re all hooked up, you can’t go very far; you can’t take a stroll around the floor to pass the time of day. Even if you had something to do, a hospital ward is not conducive to getting it done. There was no mealtime to interrupt the tedium. I could read (Kate Chopin’s short novel The Awakening, which Barbara brought me along with some clothing, replacing the Ford Madox Ford novel I had finished), and I could drift off to sleep, which would be interrupted by the goings-on around me and the nurses coming to take my blood pressure and my temperature.
Tuesday morning, I was getting a little antsy. When are the doctors making their rounds? At least I could find out how I was doing. Then I heard that dreaded word, ‘shvita.’ Oh no. The doctors were on strike. They would show up later, but I would have to wait. (If I had access to a newspaper, I would have read about the labor dispute. Management was reneging on some contractual obligation, which they were later forced to accede to.)
And then I was free! At least from the fluids dripping into my veins. I could walk around unimpeded, which also meant that I could eat. They disconnected me Tuesday morning and by lunchtime, I had my very own tray of……….. apple sauce, something that looked like jello, and some less-than-tasty pudding. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you haven’t eaten for a day and a half, a lot of things look mighty good. But at least I could walk into the patients’ kitchen area like a mensch and make myself a cup of tea. And Barbara and I could spend a little quality time in the small patients’ lounge at the end of the hall.
We even were able to take a walk around the floor and try to figure out how one could get to the rooftop garden that was right outside my room. (We never did.) However, we did see a sign indicating that there was a beit knesset on the floor below. That evening, after another amazing dinner, I decided to try and find it. So, siddur in hand, I walked around the corridor, down the staircase to the second floor. There was a sign pointing in one direction, but where was the shul? Off to the left were some administrative offices; off to the right was a cafeteria; straight ahead was the staircase leading to the main lobby; but where was the shul? Nowhere to be found. (Just so you know: the beit knesset is there, after all; you have to go through the cafeteria to get to it, assuming the cafeteria is open.)
As I retraced my steps back to my room, I came upon five teenagers with guitars ‘warming up’ on the staircase. Sure enough, they came up to the third floor and started singing and playing in the patients’ rooms down the hall. And wouldn’t you know it, there they were at the foot of my bed. One of them spoke enough English to ask me what I wanted to hear. The problem, as you might have expected, was that we were dealing with a cultural divide. They were playing ‘Jewish music,’ the kind that I’m guessing is de rigueur on a Friday night down in The Gush, and what I know is music written by very different Jews—like Rodgers and Hart. Any chance they would know ‘Where or When’:
The clothes you are wearing are the clothes you wore
The smile you are smiling you were smiling then
But I can’t remember where or when.
My funny valentine…
Sweet, comic valentine…
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
yet you’re my favorite work of art
Probably not. How about if you guys play something you like? (I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was clueless as to their music.) And so three of them played, and the other two sang and danced at the foot of my bed. After two songs, they went over to the young Arab guy in the next bed and asked if they could play for him? This being a hospital where people get along, he agreed and was serenaded with some Jewish music.
Unfortunately, this young fellow managed to serenade me in the middle of the night; his phone kept ringing, but he kept sleeping through it. His phone and the phone at the nurses’ station and who knows whoever else’s phone kept ringing. And then they needed to wake me at 4AM to check my vitals and hook me up again to give me my stomach medication.
By the morning, I had one over-riding concern. Get me out of here so I can get some rest and something normal to eat. Finally, the doctors on duty did come around with an entourage of every staff person on duty. I WANT TO GO HOME! So go home, replied the doctor, with a straight face. They checked my latest test results, verified that my symptoms had abated and that I was not in any pain. They would do the necessary paper work to release me and, meanwhile, a dietician came around, a young Arab woman who spoke a little English, to explain to me all the foods I couldn’t eat, a very long list – at least for the time being. And then one of the nurses on duty came around with a student nurse in tow to function as an interpreter, because they had to make certain I understood exactly what I had to do next: get all kinds of blood tests and an Ultrasound and return to their clinic with the results of the ultrasound. And stick to the restricted diet. Here are your discharge papers; you’re free to go. I’M OUTTA HERE! Into the daylight; down the road past the construction for the Light Rail extension; wait for the #174 bus and head back to my real home-sweet home.
What next? The following morning, we walked down to our health clinic and saw our new doctor (our previous one retired the end of December). The way things work here, she had to sign off on all the test the hospital wanted, which she did. And then I was off for my usual Thurs.-morning-at-the-shuk routine. Well, not so ‘usual.’ I wouldn’t be stopping at my cheese shop because most of what I normally would buy was off limits. No point stopping at Mesameyach, the wine and whiskey purveyors. No alcohol for me. I certainly wasn’t going to top off my morning with a slice from Craft Pizza – unless I wanted a refresher course back at the hospital. But coffee? That I could have (at least the few cups a week I can handle). There I was on the Light Rail heading to the shuk about 10:30 in the morning. First stop, Power CoffeeWorks; I could already taste the latte with soy milk, consolation for my several days of agony. And then, my phone rang. My medical advisor was inquiring, ‘Fred, have you had anything to eat recently?’
‘Nothing since the little bit of oatmeal I had before we went to see the doctor. Why?’
‘I’m making you an appointment at 4PM for your Ultrasound. It’s either then or you’d have to wait until the middle of March. You’re not to eat or drink anything except water for six hours before.’
‘You mean I can’t have my coffee? Then I might as well just go home. I can get the green beans and herring this afternoon when I go back for my Ultrasound’. And that’s what I did.
It’s now two weeks later, I’ve had the Ultrasound and lots of blood tests, and I’m still in the ‘kacha’ category. Nobody can figure out why I had pancreatitis. So there will be more tests, more procedures, more doctor’s appointments on the way. I can hardly wait.
But, dear readers, there is some good news. As long as I don’t go hog-wild, I can return to a ‘normal’ diet. I don’t have to make kiddush on grape juice again (a crime against humanity akin to putting sugar in coffee). Speaking of which, I did get my latte, just a week later – proving once again that good things come to those who wait. And one of these days, I’ll indulge in a smidgeon of chocolate, and life will be good again.
But the best news: there may not be anything seriously wrong with me, thank G-d. And, as Barbara commented when I was first admitted to the hospital, ‘You know how much this would cost us, even with insurance, if we were back in The States?’ Not only do I seem reasonably healthy, but I don’t have to pawn my iMac to find that out. Yes, life is good here in The Land.