“Is there bleeding?” asked the doctor in the hospital emergency room as he perused the referral from the health maintenance organization. She just shook her head. “Good,” he said and continued to enter details on a stack of forms. “I will examine you now. Then you have to go to the patients’ reception desk at the entrance to get stickers. You stick one of them on this form” − he waved a rectangular note − “and then go to ultrasound in the building opposite. Please,” the doctor said and gestured with his hand toward the examination bed. I managed to make a funny face at her before the physician pulled the curtain shut, but it didn’t make her laugh.
The whole thing is my fault. I know. “It’s all because of you,” she cried and hit me with trembling hands after the last routine checkup.
“You’re right,” I replied, hoping the blows would become stronger and hurt me. “I’m really sorry.”
“I told you not to write anything about it.”
“You’re right. I’m really very sorry. I was a bit of an idiot.”
“It’s all your fault,” I could hear her say, even though she didn’t say it.
The clerk at the reception desk requested an ID, asked questions and fingered the keyboard nonstop. Then she paused briefly, stretched out a hand to a bag on the floor, took out a headache pill from a metal container and swallowed. “Fine,” she said and pushed a document into the fax machine. “Wait over there, please” − she pointed − “and I’ll call you when they fax the confirmation of coverage.”
“You don’t have to wait with me,” my wife said. “You can go out for a smoke.”
Patients, visitors, hospital staff are taking refuge from the sun, crowding onto the benches or huddling under a square lean-to, and puffing on cigarettes at an insane pace. I tried to remember if I was a smoker back then, when we first met, but couldn’t. If I was, it would have been the beginning and I smoked only one or two cigarettes a day. I will have to stop, I thought to myself in the Hadassah smoking area.
We spoke for the first time at Hadassah. She approached me politely on the first morning of her studies at the university, as I stood at the bus stop by the dorms on the Givat Ram campus. She asked if I happened to know which bus went to Hadassah Hospital. She was enrolled in nursing, but very quickly realized it wasn’t for her. On that day I decided that it wasn’t enough to give directions to a young female student who had just arrived in the big city from the village. I decided to skip my classes, which were on the Mount Scopus campus, and escort her to Hadassah. When we got there she thanked me wholeheartedly for the sacrifice and went her way. But I, concerned that she would not find her way back to the dorms, decided to wait for her until after her classes, in order to show her how to get back. The hell with philosophy classes, I thought then, and still think so today.
“I need a green authorization from the blood bank,” the hospital reception clerk said. “Then I will give you stickers for ultrasound. Turn right, all the way to the end,” she explained with tired motions of her hands.
“You have to get this stamped at reception,” the courteous ultrasound technician at the mother and child health center said. “We can’t wait such a long time in line,” I said, ripping off a numbered piece of paper. Never had I bypassed a line; I also usually try to swallow my anger and say nothing when people bypass me. But now the situation was different. There was a long line of families, and I knew from experience that they were here to fill out lengthy forms for birth grants.
“Excuse me,” we said to the clerk who was sitting behind glass that was perforated with holes for communication. “It’s a bit urgent,” we said, offering an apologetic look at the waiting families, who seemed to be an understanding, non-resentful lot. The clerk immediately took the rectangular form, stuck it in a machine and handed it back to me in a second. “Thank you,” we said and ran to the ultrasound technician.
“Sorry,” I heard the technician say from behind the closed curtain. “You know, in cases like this I am always excited, waiting maybe to surprise people and in contrast to the previous person, shout, ‘Wow, there’s a pulse, there’s a pulse.’”
“Has that ever happened to you?” I heard my wife ask the technician as she dressed.
“To me, no,” the technician, a religiously observant woman, said, “but it’s happened to others who work here.”
With the results of the ultrasound and a stack of forms, we followed instructions and went up to the gynecology unit in the main building of the hospital. A nurse greeted us and we followed her into a tiny examination room. She wrapped my wife’s arm with the cuff of a blood pressure monitor and started to ask questions and write down details: “How many children do you have? Do you know of any sensitivity to medicines? Are you generally a healthy woman? Do you smoke? Is there bleeding? Regular menstruation? How many pregnancies have you had?” Then she undid the cuff and took my wife’s temperature with an electronic thermometer that gives an accurate reading in a second.
“Are you fasting? How long have you been fasting? Can you read Hebrew? Please read this page. Now I need you to sign here on a consent form. Excellent,” the nurse said at last and tied a bracelet with details and a magnetic code to my wife’s wrist. “Wait outside. I will call you when a room becomes available.”
“Do you know?” my wife asked as a cleaning woman wearing a kerchief pushed a floor-cleaning machine, “you once wrote in one of your columns that for political reasons the Central Bureau of Statistics fakes the data and does not tell the truth about the existence of a decisive Arab majority in the country.”
“That’s right,” I laughed. “What brought that to mind now?”
“Look how many Arabs there are here,” she said. “The patients, the cleaning people, some of the staff, the people who push the beds with the patients on them, the people who sell coffee, the visitors. Look how many Arabs there are here, and we aren’t even talking about Hadassah on Mount Scopus.”
“Kashua,” the nurse in the waiting room called out and told us to follow her. “A room downstairs is now available, you are going into surgery immediately,” the nurse said, and my wife slowed her steps for a moment. “I’m sorry,” the nurse said with embarrassment as she handed my wife the special robe. “It’s the last one left in the department. It has no buttons. I’ll close you up from behind,” she said, pulling a strip of tape out of a white tube.