Love in the Cancer Ward

Dr. Hava Peri, of the hematology department at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, has 3-year-old twins. On Purim they dressed up as a lion and a clown; the lion was to scare her and the clown was to make her laugh. As I sit in the ward of the cancer-stricken every week, I feel like a paper lion and like a sad clown. Most of the people sitting there, old people like me, who still have living spouses, come with their spouses in heartwarming comradeship. This is a love I did not know; it may be the last love. The children left home long ago, the grandchildren, like a contribution to the Jewish National Fund, call from time to time as if they really care. What they really have left is each other.

Now they are alone and sitting in this big room to heal themselves, and are being cared for by their partners with something that is even deeper than compassion; a kind of biological imperative to find a replacement for the love they once had. After all, did not human beings rise up from the gorillas they were in order to see each other as they made their children and then cared for them, and in their old age they again look at each other because they have no one else to see. If they do not have a husband or a wife, their son or daughter comes, and for some reason, the sons always have two cell phones hanging from their belts and I have no idea why, and we are all members of one club, receiving a blood transfusion or chemotherapy.

The room has four wise nurses, who work like laughing clockwork and are still smiling after eight hours of fervors within a cage of pain. For four years now I have been attacked by cancers with which I cannot even be angry, because after all, they came from me, and I read the defamatory statements of journalists denigrating the Israeli health-care system and I am sorry I am not Dudu Topaz and teach these journalists a thing or two. One of them even claimed recently that the sick are being confused by pills of different colors than what they're used to and it's terrible. Why? Generic drugs are no less good than originals, and any person can be taught what color their new pills are.

I see a doctor running, he will now save someone around whom a curtain is being closed, and Dr. Peri comes to do a biopsy on his collarbone as she did to me, and they close the curtain, the poor woman is crying. It hurts, and what if the doctor makes a mistake? Journalists have invented an expression, "medical malpractice," and mistakes any human can make become lawlessness. A heartless judge even sends a doctor who fell asleep during her work and indeed erred - since in Israel doctors are lacking and those that we do have work hard, and there is no doctor in the world who has not made a mistake, that's the way it is - to prison for eight years as if she killed someone on purpose, which is like establishing a political party against lightening strikes.

The last love in the room of the cancer-stricken is wondrous in my mind. Last week I saw a man whose hand had been amputated lovingly wiping the sweat from his wife's brow, and bringing her water, and she, the poor woman, is dying. A woman walking with a cane brings her partner a cup of coffee with a trembling hand. The looks they exchange are sexier than any performance by Madonna and cost a good deal less. That is love until death, because in their eyes one sees the pain that one of them will probably die before the other and they shall also no longer be to one another.

A few years ago I was hospitalized in intensive care and I underwent three operations and I saw only hallucinations, while in this room of blood and chemotherapy, I sit with patients and see them and they look forward but there is no real surrender, because many of them have a kind of humor that knows how to fight despair. The nurses dance among the patients and drag bags, smile in the face of a man's suffering, inject, connect and do everything so quickly that it seems like a ballet, and one of them, Miri, among 200 injections a day even got married to a piano-tuner, which is the most beautiful profession in the world. I think about what would happen if I were to get better - medical miracles and rescue from death have already happened to me twice in recent years - how I would live without the human delicacy to which I am witness? Without seeing the last love?

A few days ago, a young, sad, pretty woman, self-secluded, came in. She tried to smile at Ella the beautiful nurse. I considered what I get in the hospital. At the attitude. And it occurred to me that I must help medicine, and I donated my body to science so that I will continue to exist a few years after I die and the young doctors will learn about me what doctors know these days about what they do. In my mind for a moment, I gained a few more years, and like Moses, no one knew my burial place because I made sure there would not be one and from this, my descendents will benefit.

One day I was waiting for a blood count, and a young man sat down next to me who said he was 24 years old and had melanoma, which is skin cancer, because he had not worn a hat in the murderous sun of the Land of Israel. I wrote an article about the preening of young men in this country with no hats on their baldnesses, and there were almost no talk-backs. No one was interested. I also waited to be approached by dermatologists who could take advantage of what I wrote to warn against those going without hats in the Israeli summer. But perhaps dermatologists are not the doctors I meet. Apparently, they don't care how many people suffer melanoma in Israel because of the burning sun. For the first time in my writing about the good medicine in Israel, I became angry with doctors, more precisely with dermatologists. Apparently I have not yet gotten this cancer and have never seen them in my life.

Novelist and journalist Yoram Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv in 1930. In 1960 he published the first of his 17 novels, "The Acrophile," which was translated into English the following year. The hallmark of Kaniuk's writing has been described as his experimentalism and his ability to write from different places each time. One of his best-known novels is "Adam Resurrected," published in English in 1969, which explored the Holocaust.