I’ll Be Right Down….

I’m going upstairs for a minute, Barbara; I’ll be right down.

The last day of the festival, Shemini Adzeret, was over Saturday night, and by 10 or 11AM Sunday, our sukkah was taken down, the first on the block to be dismantled. (I take all the credit. After all, it was I who got on the phone and called Brian, our handyman, to come over and do the work. I’m not getting back on that ladder.) Wouldn’t you know it, once the holiday was over, and we no longer needed to sit in our sukkah, the weather started to take a turn for the better. We now gladly had our dinners out on our balcony, watching the sun slowly set over the hills between us and Jerusalem and witnessing the nightly routine of the crows.

There are lots of them in our neck of the woods, and during the daytime, they hop around, mooching food wherever they can find it. But as it starts to get dark, they take to the wing, hundreds of them, and fly mostly right to left (or better still, north to south), circling around until it’s time for them to settle into their preferred tree to spend the night. Crows are just big enough to make an impression when they are flying above us. You can see them use their wings to go places, flapping and turning, often in loose formations. I never tire of watching them.

The week went by, it was now Friday night, and we were sitting down to dinner. Just when I was about to make kiddush, I said, I’m going upstairs for a minute, Barbara; I’ll be right down. What was so urgent? It was starting to get chilly, and I was going to rummage through my aron to find a long-sleeved shirt to wear. Yes; maybe what passes for autumn was belatedly arriving. I’d better be careful what I would wear next Tuesday. We both had appointments in Jerusalem with our chiropractor, and I would inevitably stop at Power CoffeeWorks before then. I had given simple, unambiguous instructions to the staff there. If I’m wearing a short-sleeve shirt, I want a cold coffee; if I’m wearing a long-sleeve shirt, I want a hot coffee. I’d better be careful what I take out of my closet; my choice of coffee depends on it!

People are often asking me, Fred, how do you spend your day?, or something like that. As you can see, some of my time is spent laboring over a keyboard, preparing my deathless prose. (Forget the photography during a pandemic. I can’t fit a mask over a camera lens.) Then there are a myriad of things to do around the house, including keeping us well fed and, of course, time for davening and learning. But one thing I share with many in my age bracket and lots of much younger folks is the time spent for medical appointments.

Now that the holiday season was over, it was time to get back to ‘work,’ meaning making and keeping these appointments. No use wasting any time. Over the holidays, I had developed a stye in my other eye (the one without any blood in the optic nerve). While our sukkah was being dismantled, Barbara went on-line and made me an appointment for that very same day with the very same ophthalmologist, Tamar Harel, in Maale Adumim, who checked me out again and sent a prescription to our pharmacy three minute away for me to pick up. Monday, I was off to Jerusalem to a high-end eye clinic to demonstrate that I could perceive if and when a blinking light flashed on a white screen.

Tuesday, we were shopping at our mall, and I suggested that we take the elevator to the third floor and ask Martin, our contact person at our health clinic, when flu shots would be available. They’re available right now; would you like to make an appointment? What a question! Later that afternoon, we were back, getting our once-a-year flu shots. (Which meant we wouldn’t be able to take Shekhi for his follow-up shots until Wed., when our vet noticed that our new kitten had ringworm and ear mites – both of which are easily treatable – and had gained 400 grams (about one pound) in the last month, not surprising, considering how much he eats.)

The following week, I had only two appointments: Tuesday for our monthly visit to the chiropractor, and Wed. in the same building on Agrippas St. for a Carotid Doppler test. What is that about, you ask. No idea. But that’s been true of all the tests I’ve taken recently. I just show up with my referral at the right time in the right place and do whatever they tell me. Last Monday at the eye clinic in Jerusalem, I finished with the test I described above and started heading back to the bus stop. As I was leaving the lobby, I got a frantic call from Barbara. Go back upstairs; you’re not done! One of the women at the desk had called her. I was supposed to be having another test as well. I got back on the elevator up to the eighth floor. What’s wrong with you; you’re not done; why did you leave before you were finished? The assumption was that I had some notion of why I was there and what was going to happen. Not.

There’s one thing in common, whether it’s a test, a procedure, an inoculation, or a prescription. Somewhere along the line, I will need to produce my plastic Maccabi card. That’s our guarantee of no out-of-pocket expense or at least a very respectable discount. Take Barbara’s situation as an example. Did you know that she now has a pair of hearing aids, which will make it possible for her to hear a little better? It’s setting us back about 2,500 New Israel Shekels instead of 5,000NIS if, somehow, we didn’t have health care. The real kicker is that, if she were to lose one of them – which is easy to do, given its small size, its precarious perch in one’s ear, and its mistakability for an intriguing new cat toy – it would cost us about 15,000NIS to get a new one. Get on the phone to our insurance company right this minute! It will cost us a hefty sum to insure them, but better safe than sorry.

Considering how much time we’re spending maneuvering our way through the Israeli health care system, it’s not surprising that I think back to my former life in The States and what we did there for medical coverage. One of the benefits of my long career as a civil servant in NYC was the very generous health care package we received as part of our union contract. I was getting my top-of-the-line GHI-Blue Cross, Blue Shield coverage for my family for the staggering low cost of, at the most, $15 every two weeks (and even then, some overly militant members were complaining that we were paying too much). Plus our union had a prescription drug plan; I sent in my receipts and got most of my money back. Even when I retired, we had all the same benefits.

There was only one time when we had a problem with our coverage. Barbara had left Morristown Hospital in Sept. 1987, having just delivered a beautiful baby girl. To my astonishment, the folks who were supposed to cover the costs were saying no, I had not notified them in advance to get permission for the hospitalization. What? Perhaps there was a choice: the hospital or a park bench, waiting for a friendly policeman to come along and deliver the baby. Bureaucracy gone mad!

There was only one thing to do. When in doubt, bullshit your way out. It works in politics; why not for me? I called them up and said, in my most indignant tone, but I did speak with someone and they said it was OK. The voice on the other end asked no questions, and fortunately just accepted my statement. Don’t mess with me!

It didn’t sink in what a bargain we were getting with our plan from NYC until I began working for the always unnamed Jewish non-profit I worked for once I retired the first time. Those poor shlemiels were paying several hundred dollars a month for their coverage. AND, because no healthcare provider could afford the cost of covering employees with lots and lots of kids, every two years there would be a change in the provider, meaning that everyone would have to scramble to find a new set of doctors who were part of the new network. Not so easy.

When we were in our pre-aliyah stage, there was always talk about the ‘free’ healthcare in The Land. Now, while the best things in life are free, health care never is. Someone is paying the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, the operating expenses. It’s probably you to some degree when you purchase your milk and cookies. The Value Added Tax here does, as it implies, add up. But, no matter, health care here is highly subsidized, so if you wind up in the emergency room you needn’t leave your children at the door as hostages, and there’s never a choice between buying your meds or paying your rent.

The health care system here is well thought out enough that the politicians haven’t figured out a way to mess it up. Underfund it, yes; sabotage it, no. (Remember, this is a place where the new transportation minister, dimly-lit at best, didn’t know that the windows on some modern buses don’t open or that if you decrease the frequency of bus service, the remaining vehicles will be more crowded, which you don’t want. Where some bureaucrat can and will decide at the beginning of the year the amount of milk and butter local dairy farmers may produce, which is why our refrigerator is stocked with Dutch butter.) However, decades ago, it was decided that the government would collect revenue for health care and parcel it out to what are now four kupot cholim, any one of which you may choose, as well as the level of care you want. The more you pay, the more you get. You can even go private, if you absolutely need to get in right away.

I’ve never heard anyone here in The Land complain about everyone having affordable health care. No one I know is saying, there should be a choice; you shouldn’t have to join if you don’t want to. No political party has ever campaigned on that premise.  Or repeal what we have, and we’ll think of something better – we just don’t know what it is yet. Kvetchers we are; freiers we’re not.  

(IMPORTANT NOTICE: Any similarity between the situation I’m describing and what’s happening anywhere else in the world is purely coincidental.)

And then Barbara got a phone call. Dr. Plotkin was ‘not feeling well,’ and our Tuesday appointments were cancelled. In pre-COVID days, if our monthly visit to the chiropractor didn’t happen, we were somewhat put out; we really do benefit by getting our monthly tune-up. But now? I hope he’s OK. Anytime we hear that someone is not feeling well, we start to worry. And if we don’t feel well…. If I start to sneeze or cough, if I feel a little tired, if Barbara has a headache, we (or at least I) start to panic. I begin calculating all the people I know with whom I have been within shouting distance in the last month and a half just in case…. Depending on how you figure, the current situation is either a heaven or a hell for those of us with advanced degrees in hypochondria.

Just so I shouldn’t have to go an entire week without a medical exam of some kind, I got a message the folks at the Ultrasound clinic were ready and waiting for me. If I’m going to be on Agrippas St. in Jerusalem, I’m certain to stop at Power CoffeeWorks, open now for takeout, before my appointment. (I’m wearing a short-sleeve shirt….) Sufficiently refreshed, I headed directly across the street to the shuk and purchased two large IKEA bags full of stuff, including a bottle of Israeli whiskey recommended by Mordechai Bendon, my spirits consultant.

My appointment – the real reason I was in Jerusalem – went off as scheduled. Dr. Greenberg (she took the trouble to identify herself), after administrating the test, ultrasounding both sides of my neck, described my condition as ‘almost normal.’ (And I say, that’s the story of my life: ‘almost normal.’) The good doctor hastened to add that what she meant was there is nothing wrong with me that she could detect. So, we’re back to square A. I have some kind of a problem, which may be serious, but is likely not to be, and nobody knows why.

There I was, with two large bags of comestibles to shlepp home, secure in the knowledge that my vital organs seemed to be working as they should and that, in the foreseeable future, I would at least be able to read the label on my newly purchased bottle of Israeli whiskey. Maybe by the following week, when I would think of an excuse to be back at Power CoffeeWorks, I would be wearing a long-sleeved shirt. It’s time to switch from some iced latte to something more appropriate for the beginning of November.

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