After weeks of illness that had baffled pediatricians, surgeons and specialists across the city, our family doctor said, with no small amount of resignation, we had no option left other than to check eleven-year-old Merav into the hospital.
Hospitalization is a big deal, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It means that you essentially have a new place to live – however brief – with new rules, new food and new people to meet, most of them not necessarily the same individuals you’d choose as your immediate neighbors.
And although the pediatric ward at Sha’arei Tzedek Medical Center has a nicely appointed kids’ club and even a computer room, the drab hallways and pockmarked beige rooms don’t appear to have been touched since the institution moved to its current location in Bayit Vegan some 25 years ago.
With three to a room (six, including parents sleeping next to their kids), the place reminded me of being stuck on a crowded airplane. While the beds may have been fully reclining, we were decidedly stuck in coach, experiencing prolonged jet lag...without the benefit of actually getting anywhere.
With Merav’s condition such a puzzle, we became the “interesting case” on the department floor. A torrent of residents paraded by, each asking the same questions and intently studying her chart.
An IV was inserted right away and blood taken regularly. She had visits from so many heads of department, it’s hard for me to count: pediatric immunology, neurology, rheumatology.
In between visits and tests, we managed to snag the floor’s sole portable TV with DVD player. Jody and I split our time in the hospital and I made sure to pick up a couple of new movies a day that I thought Merav would like.
Flicks like 50 First Dates, The Princess Diaries II: Royal Engagement, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Mean Girls. You know, the kind of girl films I secretly enjoy but don’t readily admit to publicly.
Which I just did, didn’t I...
We checked in on a Wednesday. Our goal was to get a diagnosis as soon as possible and to get out of there. In particular before Shabbat. There was nothing I could imagine more depressing than being stuck in the hospital over the weekend.
No real tests are run on Saturday, I quickly understood, and there’s no TV to take your mind of the dreary sameness of the room (even if we wanted to watch TV, Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital – which is officially religious – wouldn’t permit it).
In charge of Merav’s case was Dr. F., the head of pediatric gastroenterology in the hospital and the most senior pediatric GI in Jerusalem. We felt in good hands with Dr. F. Until, at one point, while making conversation, he asked what I do for a living.
Explaining that I write a blog about life in Israel is always the beginning of a long story, and Dr. F. seemed in a perpetual rush. So I answered with my back-up response, something straightforward I figure most people can understand.
“I’m a journalist,” I said.
“Oh…with the media,” he said.
That appeared to be a mistake, because the next day when I tried to speculate with him about what might be going on with Merav, he cut me off. “You reporters do too much research,” he said. “I’ll tell you when I know something.”
“But...” I started.
“I’m not talking to you,” he said and walked away in a dramatic huff.
Now if you’re thinking about now “dude, it’s not about you, it’s about Merav, get over it,” you’d be right. Except that the week was quickly drawing to an end and I needed to work with this guy to get Merav out of there by Shabbat. Her condition was stable, not worsening. There was no reason for her stay through Shabbat hospital hell.
I had to figure out Dr. F.’s number...fast. I’d worry about patient rights and ongoing bedside manner later.
I tried being obsequious.
“She really seems to be doing better, don’t you think? Maybe we could treat her as an outpatient?”
“Not yet,” Dr. F. replied curtly.
I tried being direct.
“Really, what’s the point of her staying here on Shabbat? It’s not like you’re going to do anything. Just let her out.”
“We have to wait,” Dr. F. said.
A group of 20 yeshiva boys came on Friday morning and sang us Shabbat songs in the hallways. Girls doing sherut leumi – national service rather than regular army - handed out Shabbat treats: chocolate and toffees. We received similar goody bags from the Israel Electric Company and the National Lottery. Not sure about the significance of that one. A light lunch was served early in preparation for a heavier Shabbat meal.
Just when I had despaired that she would be stuck in the hospital for Shabbat, Dr. F. returned.
“She can go home,” he said. “But...”
I waited in worried anticipation for the other shoe to drop.
“...just for Shabbat. She’ll still be a patient in the hospital. Kupat Cholim cannot know about this.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. Was our doctor ordering some uniquely Israeli subterfuge of our local HMO, our kupat cholim?
“The kupah won’t pay for her unless she’s here,” he explained. “Now go. Come back Sunday morning. Same bed, same room. You can leave your stuff.”
Not wanting to tempt fate...or what I saw as Dr. F. taking a temporary liking to me, we just picked up and headed out the door, pillow in hand, hospital tag still on Merav’s wrist. We were feeling pretty blessed that we’d been granted what we were sure was a rare privilege.
That is until we saw the rest of the ward. Except for a few beds, it looked as though everyone had been sprung for Shabbat in what we surmised is apparently pretty much standard procedure in Israel, at least in Jerusalem.
Another in the many ways that life in Israel runs according to a very different clock and calendar, where Shabbat is not just another day of the week but one deserving special dispensation.
On Sunday, Merav and I made our way back into Room 37 on the sixth floor of Sha’arei Tzedek to begin another week of tests in the long search for a diagnosis. But at least we were refreshed from our weekend furlough.
Postscript: After six days in the hospital Merav is now back at home. I’ll update you again next week.