Opinion

I’m a Doctor Working in an Israeli Hospital – Don't Hit Me

The hospital experience is frustrating for physicians as well as patients. We need patience for the surreal scenario facing us all, not threats of violence

Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

I’m a doctor in Israel. I went through a lot to get to this stage. When I get up in the morning, I know I’m going to face another challenging day at work. I know I will encounter people who are in a very complex situation, helpless and uncertain. People under tremendous pressure after hours of waiting, who only want to know everything’s going to be OK. I also know I will do my utmost to make things easier for them, to dispel the uncertainty, to heal.

Both I and my professional colleagues have been here – in the emergency room, in the delivery room, in the wards – with our child, our grandmother, with you. It’s clear to us that the pain and tension, together with the hours of waiting or not enough time with the doctor, increase the frustration and helplessness. We feel it, too. We’re also frustrated. We’d also like to spend a few more minutes with each and every one of you. Unfortunately, I know that this frustration can get on a person’s nerves. I know that, sometimes, this tension can end in an explosive outburst of rage.

I read the article by Tali Heruti-Sover in Hebrew Haaretz (“I’m a normative person, so how come I almost punched the doctor?” October 15), and admit that its message saddened me – because it hurts all of us. If the article had dealt solely with her difficult experience at a provincial hospital, I might try to respond to her, to explain that the state of medicine in the outlying areas is difficult: that there are too few doctors; that their emergency rooms are overcrowded; that there’s no justification for the attitude she encountered.

I would have explained to her that we, the doctors, are also struggling to correct this, to strengthen the periphery by increasing the manpower and budgets directed there.

But her article didn’t address this. She tried to explain that violence is the next step, and that if we, the doctors, don’t shape up, we shouldn’t be surprised if even the most normative person hits us over the head with a chair.

We all teach our children that violence is not justified, whether by a model, a criminal or “just” an angry father who waited hours in the emergency room with his child. You can’t excuse actions like that by saying, “OK, they’re criminals, they’re mentally disturbed, they have a complex disease – of course they’re violent.”

In a situation in which the medical staff is coming to work to heal and help, and everyone else is coming for treatment, no situation justifies violence. Ever.

And violence is not just physical blows. Violence includes yelling at a nurse when she’s busy treating another patient. It’s shouting at the secretary in the hallway, humiliating her in front of other patients. “Shaming” a member of the medical staff on Facebook is also violence. And writing that you so very nearly hit a doctor on the head with a chair is also violence. If a normative person decides to do such a thing, then he’s not a normative person. There is no place for writing, even by implication, about the use of violence in a hospital; there should only be patience with the surreal situation we all find ourselves in.

Today, the hospital experience is frustrating for all of us. Facing dozens of patients – each of whom is a world unto himself, deserving the best possible handling, the appropriate answers and the right medical treatment – are too few doctors and nurses in a collapsing system, doing long hours. They are tired, exhausted by the workload. This is a dangerous and explosive cauldron.

Instead of pouring gasoline on the fire that will flare up any second, both medical staff and patients must uncompromisingly condemn any manifestation of violence. There must be zero tolerance. We also need real solutions to the health system’s problems. We must demand more positions, so that doctors who are sitting at home collecting unemployment while waiting to get an internship can be brought into the public health system. This way, we can increase the amount of time each doctor has with a patient – one intern for every 10 sick people awaiting treatment is not the same as 10 interns for 10 patients. It’s a simple equation that contains within it a great deal of frustration, helplessness, anger and violence, and ultimately a lot of pain – for everyone.

Dr. Yonatan Gofer is a resident in pediatrics.