Monday, March 31, 2003


Don’t worry. I’m going to be OK. But I had to get a CT Scan the other day.

It started out simply enough. In the middle of this past winter, I caught a nasty bug. It turned into pneumonia. And then it wouldn’t go away.

For two and a half months I coughed and ached. I had three x-rays and visited a pulmonary specialist. Finally he said I ought to get a CT to see what’s really going on.

The very term filled me with anxiety. "CT" - what does it stand for? "Cancer Trauma?" "Cat's Tongue?" "Chronic Twitch?" All good rock band names, but very bad diseases. In truth, I associate anything beyond a regular x-ray with serious problems. Even an x-ray marks an escalation. I am a card carrying hypochondriac. My episode with the dishwasher soap confirms that.

Getting to the clinic at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood was an ordeal in itself. Two wrong turns and I finally made it, huffing and puffing, 15 minutes late and hoping I hadn’t lost my turn at the machine.

“Please sit down and they will call you,” the perfunctory clerk informed me. “It will be at least an hour’s wait.”

Before I could even express my exasperation, she continued. “We’ve just had two shooting victims brought in.”

Guess I couldn’t argue with that, I thought, as my mind began to probe what I’d heard on the news earlier. This was the day that two Israelis had been accidentally shot by IDF forces while stopped on the side of the road to make coffee. But that was hours ago. And they were dead. The dead don’t need CT Scans.

Do they?

Hospitals are probably the truest melting pots of a society. Wherever you are in the world, if you want to get a feel for a foreign country, just visit the emergency room.

My waiting room companions consisted a nattily-dressed black hatted and black bearded man passing the time by playing games on his Palm Pilot; a pushy woman in very high heels who kept asking when it would be her turn (it was clear from her questions that she was looking for an opening to cut in front of someone else); a hi-tech yuppie-type in a leather bomber jacket who spent most of the wait snoozing, a soldier in fatigues, hugging his gun, who answered to the name “Igor;” a young woman in a frumpy wig and tight sweater who made frequent trips to the restroom.

After about 15 minutes of just sitting, they wheeled in the guy with the bullets. He was all tubed up, lying completely still. I would hear on the news later that night that he was in serious condition. So this is what it looks like, "serious condition." I fought back an urge to move in closer.

In truth, despite all the violence and our own personal tragedy with Marla, Jody, the kids and I have still been relatively shielded by the graphic horrors of terror. We don’t dwell on the TV images; we’ve never been at the scene of an attack.

The only time I’ve ever even seen a dead body was when I once filled in on the volunteer “Chevra Kadisha” (the burial society) in Berkeley. I remember being surprised at how heavy a head is and appreciating my own neck muscles just a bit more that night.

When they finally called my name, I checked my watch: 90 minutes had gone by. The nurse motioned to me to lie down on a table that moved by itself into a large white orifice. The device reminded of a large powdered donut (I had been fasting before the test). A prerecorded voice told me what to do while a sign above warned: “Danger: Do Not Look into the Beam.” I tried to avert my eyes and I wondered what it felt like to be sterile.

“Take a deep breath. Hold it. Breathe.”

The whole procedure took all of five, maybe seven minutes at most.

And then it was over. I walked back down the long corridor, out into the cold Jerusalem air, the city unfolding before me from the stunning mountainside where the hospital is perched.

I arrived in the car just in time to listen to the news that punctuates the top of every hour in Israel. The shooting victims were a father and son. They were sitting in their car in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara. But the police weren’t sure if the shooting was motivated by criminal or nationalistic motives.

A few weeks later, I got the results of my CT: everything was perfectly normal. The scan showed nothing. Just a particularly long and lingering case of pneumonia. As I write this, I’ve already made a full recovery.

I only hope the two shooting victims will be so lucky.

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