Oh, the Questions They Ask

Closer and Closer

I was confident it was absolutely, positively, with a cherry on the top, certainly going to happen. Nothing short of some cataclysmic occurrence would prevent my appointment for surgery at Hadassah-Ein Kerem from taking place. We took the long ride out there the week before for our pre-op meeting, and even though the young lady in the admissions office was utterly confused and sent us to the wrong place, causing us to start all over again, we did indeed meet with the hospital staff we needed to see: a nurse, the surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and, just when we thought we were done, another nurse.

The first nurse is there to make certain that you are in fact alive: height, weight, blood pressure.  That was easy. The anesthesiologist is there to scare you to death. Would you prefer general anesthesia or an epidural? Do you understand the risks involved? Do you understand that there is a statistical possibility that you might die?  He also left me with the following dilemma: Do you want general anesthesia or an epidural? You don’t have to decide now. Which was good because I had no idea. The surgeon, the Russian lady who had examined me two months before, I guess needed to review my case before wielding her scalpel. The second nurse was there to make certain we understood what to expect after my procedure.

No question, I would be out of commission for who-knows-how-long, leaving Barbara to do everything around the house. Maybe I should take that into consideration and get things done before hand, vacuuming and dusting so that our apartment would be spic-and-span, making sure that our freezer was packed with Shabbat victuals to be effortlessly removed and placed in our microwave to unchill when the time came. And that is what I did.

But there’s more. All work and no play…… Maybe it was time to break out from our self-imposed exile. We’ve done so little hanging out in Jerusalem and have a good time recently (except for my mandatory excursions to Power Coffeeworks) that it almost seemed like a new experience to join June and Jeff for lunch at Piccolino in Kikar Musica. But that was a perfect place to rendezvous: easy to get to from where we are and where they are in The Gush; plenty of outdoor seating with room to spread out; the usual good food; plus a young singer performing normal music on the open air stage. We can describe the whole package as ‘stress reduction at work,’ a valuable commodity these days.

And then Ezra suggested a boys’ morning out, taking in the latest James Bond movie, although I’m not sure whether “No Time to Die” is the right or wrong thing to watch before going under the knife. But there we were at Cinema City for a 10:30 AM screening on a Tues.—meaning it would set me back all of 10NIS to sit in a mostly empty theater for three hours, including more commercials and coming attractions than should be legal. And yes, they actually were checking everyone’s tav yarok as we entered, scanning them to a cell phone to make sure they were legit. Part of my entertainment was watching Ezra snarf down a tub of popcorn large enough to feed an impoverished family in Yemen and a imbibe a soft drink in a cup large enough for a bird to take bath. (He had left the house without having any breakfast.) Even so, he had left room for a full lunch at Café Gregg; I consumed half of my lunch and took the rest home. (One of the words in a basic 200-word vocabulary is la’aroz – to wrap up what’s left, or what we foreigners would call a doggy bag.)

Despite the chain’s rodomontade about the excellent quality of their coffee, discerning folks, even if they have eaten at any one of the branches, will head elsewhere for their after-meal jolt of caffeine. Ezra needed to get back to Ma’ale Adumim, but I had to stick around for a chiropractor appointment later in the afternoon. I walked back, past all the construction in that part of town and headed up Agrippas to Power Coffeeworks with one thing in mind: to find out for myself if it was true.


Sumatra, I just had a sip of Sumatra,

And suddenly I found

The best bean all around

To be…… Sumatra.

Roasted light it’s like music playing,

Roasted dark and it’s almost like praying,

I’ll never stop weighing Sumatra,

The most beautiful brew I’ve ever had……

The last I had heard from Brandon was that there was no quality Sumatran beans that he could get his hands on, and El Jaguar from Mexico was the closest he had to the real thing. But there in my email inbox was a post from him with a photo of what looked like a sack of coffee labeled ‘Sumatra.’ Could it be true???!!!! That would signal a brand-new day for Israeli specialty coffee devotees – especially someone like Barbara Levine. No more would she be dependent on Starbuckian burnt offerings from The States, brought back whenever possible by friends and family. She would have access to the real thing in her figurative backyard, expertly prepared by Brandon, the master roaster himself. I immediately forwarded the post to Barbara Levine, urging her to remain calm and await further instructions. Yes, said Stephanie when I arrived, we now have Sumatran coffee. The young man behind the counter measured out 250 grams for me to take home and evaluate.

Which I did the following day. Hmmmm. What Brandon had created was the equivalent of an Italian roast, dark and oily, fine and dandy for espresso or espresso-based concoctions, like latté or cappuccino, but a tad too strong for my Aeropress.

By the time I returned the next day, Thurs., for my last pre-procedure excursion to the shuk, my roasting friend had prepared another batch, a light to medium roast, with which he was much happier.

A while ago, Brandon shared with me some of his secret techniques for roasting coffee, the main one being PAY ATTENTION. Don’t pour the precious crop into the roaster, press a button, and walk away, letting the computer controls decide what to do. There’s a lot involved, but the long and the short of it is, there’s a certain flavor profile the expert roaster is aiming for, and it might take a few tries to do it perfectly. That means a coffee-savvy homo sapien standing by the roaster making educated decisions about time and temperature. I took it for granted that Brandon would keep at it until he arrived at as close to perfection as in humanly possible. This batch was a perfect light-medium roast, although not what I prefer. The solution? Throw both batches into one bag and shake, creating a chetzi-chetzi blend, and now? Let’s just say that this blend is probably what was on offer at CafÉden, the world’s very first specialty coffee shop.

 That wasn’t just my opinion. One of Barbara Levine’s mahjong buddies was headed down to Jerusalem for Shabbat. If Barbara could inveigle one and all to bring back burnt offerings from The States, she could certainly get her buddy to bring back a package of the real McCoy from the Holy City. Of course, she combined the two batches of Sumatra as I had with the same experience. That’s because great minds think alike.

Do you have trouble sleeping?

There was one more bit of pre-op preparation left to be done: find out when they wanted me to show up at the hospital. We were told at pre-op that the surgery would take place Thurs. morning, possibly as early at 8AM, meaning I would need to present myself at Admissions at the crack of dawn. Could I arrive sometime on Wednesday, instead? They would try to arrange it. Barbara called the hospital on Sunday and spoke with our contact to make sure. Come Wed. morning.

We thought we could show up in the evening.

That’s OK too.

We had in mind to arrive at EinKerem sometime Wed. eve (Oct. 13), possibly after an early dinner. However, on Tues. I received a text message from the hospital, to the effect that I was expected at 1PM, which I took to mean, Don’t show up before then. It’s hard to predict a realistic E.T.A. when one is starting out in Ma’ale Adumim, but when we were on our way, it looked like we would show up 1:30ish, which we didn’t foresee as a problem. We’d have lunch in the hospital mall and then wander over to Admissions. At exactly 1:10, when we were almost there, Barbara got a call. You’re late; where are you?

How could we be late? They weren’t scheduled to attack my body for eighteen hours or more, and they weren’t supposed to do anything until then. But, OK, we’ll hustle over to Admissions as soon as we arrive. Would it be alright if we had lunch before heading up to the Urology Department? Absolutely not; they need you up there NOW.

It became clear why once we arrived. Someone had to interview me, and she had a schedule. I was down for 1PM, and that was it; no changes, no alterations, no returns. What was her function? To make sure I was who I said I was. (As if there were other guys wanting to take my place!) To give me a bunch of instructions, one of which was to provide them with ‘specimens’ to be placed in a box over there on the counter, another being a reminder of the need to fast for at least eight hours before the procedure. Do I have any trouble sleeping?, She inquired. Only in hospitals, I might have said, but I let it pass.

Then and only then was I shown to my quarters, a room right by the nurses station. My roommate, a gentleman from Beitar Ilit, welcomed me with ‘open arms.’ I had passed his comprehensive entrance exam: I am not, never was, and probably never will be, an Arab, which was a definite no-no for someone to share his room. (How he dealt with the proportionately large number of ‘those folks’ staffing the wards I have no idea.) At any rate, Barbara and I were now free to head back to the mall for my last actual meal, which for me was cream cheese and lox – not on a bagel but a section of a baguette – plus the obligatory hafuk soya, acceptable if not Power quality.

It was about time for Barbara to head back to Ma’ale Adumim; someone has to take care of our three cats, after all. The plan was for her to return the next day, once my surgery was over, and stay with me until my discharge Fri. morning. It would be lonely, but I would manage.

Ophir, the head nurse on duty, came by to find out why I hadn’t provided them with the ‘samples’ they needed. OK, I’d get to it. Meanwhile, would it be possible to obtain some luxuries, like a blanket and the hospital gown I was supposed to wear? He took me over to the supply closet and handed me what I needed. Later, I button-holed a young nurse-in-training, and he was able to get me a towel. Can’t beat the service at EinKerem! Much later, Ophir reappeared. Where were my ‘samples,’ he demanded, the ones they absolutely had to have to make certain I had no infections?’ I walked over to the counter where I had left them hours before. Sure enough, they were still there; Ophir hadn’t bothered to look.

Figuring I would have lots of time on my hands with nothing much to do, I came to the hospital prepared: two books and that day’s NY Times crossword puzzle. Plus, I had a project to keep me busy. The previous week someone had told me about upgrading his wife’s phone and having to transfer all the stuff on it, including eight years’ worth of WhatsApp messages. I took the subtle suggestion to heart. In the next few months, I plan to replace my iPhone 6 with a newer model, and I too will have the same issue. Yes, I have WhatsApp on my phone; no, I never use it to send messages and rarely, if ever, look at what I receive. What better time to go through all my five years’ worth of messages? Maybe there are a few I don’t need to keep.

If three years ago someone posted that someone else had a baby or that their friends’ daughter got married, and seventy-nine people responded ‘mazel tov,’ do I need to keep all the well-wishes? Or messages whose literary quality is dubious – as in ‘eh,’ ‘duh,’ ‘LOL,’ ‘gotcha,’ or ‘whatsup’ – can I safely remove them without editor’s remorse days later? Will anyone notice and complain if I delete baby pictures of people I don’t know? What about posters of events from time long gone by that I had no interest in to begin with? Decisions, decisions….

And so I began the great purge, deleting by the tens and then the hundreds. I kept going, and going, and going. There seemed to be no end in sight: this group, then that group, then the next group. The more I did, the more tedious the task became. But I was on a mission: get all this #@&^%* off my phone, where it never should have been to start with. Finally, I was done; all that remains are the skeletons from the groups: an indelible list of all the people who have joined the group or left it in disgust. I could only hope that the surgery to be performed on me was as thorough as what I had done in WhatsApp.

As I suggested before, like most people, I have trouble sleeping in hospitals. In addition to the uncertainty of being there, what they give for your nightly rest makes a big difference. No Aeroflex bed with its state-of-the-art mattress, no memory foam pillow to place under my weary head. Plus, there’s the obligatory wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night for a blood pressure check. That I expected and was prepared for. But there was another gentle tap to rouse me from my fitful sleep. Are you fasting? I was stunned; I was speechless. The young nurse was sent around to ask me if I was having anything to eat while I was sleeping. If I were dreaming about eating, would that count? If anyone reading this can come up with a snappy answer to the young lady’s question, please let me know, because I couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Barbara and I had asked numerous times if they knew when I was scheduled for surgery. We were always told, not yet; we’ll know soon. ‘Soon’ became later and later, and I went to sleep not knowing. Surely by the morning somebody would know something. Not only did I want to know, but I needed to give Barbara a heads up so she could return more or less when I was in the recovery room. And so I spent the morning anxiously pacing in my room and standing forlornly outside in the corridor like a mendicant waiting for a morsel of information. I kept texting Barbara messages like, Soon, I hope and Not yet.

By the time I heard my name and teudat zehut number being bandied about at the nurses station, it was already into the afternoon and I was starting to get hungry. If when the inquisitive nurse had finished questioning me on my eating habits, I pulled out a sandwich from under the bed and chowed it down, I would still have been fasting for eight hours when they came to get me.

Which they finally did. Just as I was lying on a gurney, ready for what awaited me, Barbara arrived. Perfect timing! The three of us, the gurney pusher, the patient, and the noble wife, headed down the corridor to an elevator down to surgery on floor -4 (Just in case there was a nuclear attack.) where we waited some more. Barbara left to get some lunch, and an anesthesiologist – not the same one who had interviewed me the week before – arrived. The same question. Do I want general anesthesia or an epidural?  How should I know? I’m a stranger in town. After explaining all the pros and cons and getting nowhere with me, the anesthesiologist pulled out the ace up his sleeve. The surgeons prefer the general; it’s easier for them. SOLD!

Whereupon they wheeled me into the operating room. A young nurse took it upon herself to let me know that there would be eight members of the team working on me. I thought to myself, imagine if something were really wrong with me, like needing open heart surgery, what would they have to do? And that’s pretty close to the last thing I was able to think to myself. A tube down your throat, somethings inserted into your arm, and you’re waking up several hours later in the recovery room with noble wife by your side – whereupon they wheel you from -4 to +6, back to your room.

And that was that. Eight months after I decided to have the procure, after all the testing, rigamarole, and delays, I had graduated from pre-op to post-op, feeling no particular pain. Barbara stayed overnight, sleeping on the couch in my half of the room. Fairly early the next morning, a team of doctors came around to make certain I was good to go, which I was. I guess it was a good day, because they discharged the other guy in the room as well, back to his wife and seven kids in Beitar Ilit (where I guess there are no Arabs). Our friend Thelma insisted on coming from their apartment in Jerusalem to pick us up and drive back to Ma’ale Adumim.  I timed the journey: twenty-five minutes, as opposed to close to two hours by bus and light rail on a Friday morning – which, when you’re being discharged from the hospital, would have seemed like an eternity.

And that was two weeks ago. The Warden has been consistently on my case, making sure I don’t do too much or go too far. But we’re confident that soon this episode will be only a memory, and that I will again be running for buses that have arrived – out of spite – twenty seconds too soon. Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of a few merchants, I have been able to order much of the food we need via the internet, lessening our need to shlepp stuff home. One such vendor is Palais des Thés, from whom I get my other caffeinated beverages. I placed an order a week ago and got a phone call the following day from a nice young lady who somehow knew to converse with me in English. Something like this: Hello Fred? The oolong tea you ordered, we’re out of it; can we get you something else instead?

Then send some other kind of oolong; I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Would you prefer oxidized oolong or unoxidized?

(Very long pause) oxidized or unoxidized???? Maybe something under general anesthesia?

On that note, I will end. We’re scheduled for a follow-up appointment with my urologist tomorrow, and if all goes well….

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