Lessons learned through an Israeli health-care debacle
When I made aliyah over a year ago, I was warned that it would be hard. With no family here, many people gave me their contact information and an open invitation for any assistance when needed. But for me, for the first year, it really wasn’t all that hard. Thanks to a great absorption experience, a steady job and an amazing support system, I felt great about my choice to make aliyah. I didn’t need much assistance and had nearly 100 percent positive experiences. That is, up until this week.
The pain in my back returned, but this time with a vengeance. Along with it came the healthcare debacle of the decade (at least I hope it only happens that rarely). After sitting in ulpan for five hours per day, the herniated disc in my back, which was healing so well in the U.S., revolted. It got to the point where I wasn’t able to sit, stand, or walk without pain. Walking down the street, I relied on my boyfriend to hold me up. Even the elderly people watching me shook their heads in pity as I hobbled with agony. Sadly, that is not an exaggeration in the slightest.
So I went back to the doctor I previously saw, the one who scolded me for not speaking Hebrew to him and suggested that I go swimming. Well guess what? He did the exact same routine again, but worse this time. As I limped into his office, this is how it began:
Me: Hi, Doctor.
Dr.: I didn’t call your number yet.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. It’s up on the screen.
Dr.: You need to wait until it beeps!
Me: Okay, well would you like me to step out?
Dr.: Yes! Go now!
[I walk outside and not a whole second passes before he “beeps” my number.]
Me: Was that the beep?
Dr.: Yes. Next time, wait ‘til you hear the beep before entering my office. How long have you been here in Israel?
Me: A year.
Dr.: And you don’t speak Hebrew?
Me: I do. But when it comes to urgent and important things like health care, I like to speak in my native language.
Dr.: Do you know how important it is to speak the language of the place you live?
Me: Doctor, as I told you before, I do speak Hebrew and I’m still learning. In fact, it was sitting in the Hebrew course that brought back this extreme pain I’m in.
Dr.: I told you, you need to go swimming. Here’s a painkiller.
Twelve hours later, I woke up feeling strange. As I stood up, I realized I couldn’t stand properly, the room was spinning, and I was very nauseous. Something felt wrong. As minutes passed, it only got worse. I began frantically calling the doctor for suggestions and to make an urgent appointment. But it was very difficult to even dial, and the receptionist seemed to be completely unhelpful and unconcerned that I was having a reaction to the medication. I called a friend who picked me up and brought me to a different doctor. When the second doctor found out how much painkiller the first doctor had prescribed, she was shocked, especially after taking my blood pressure. She told me I am very lucky that I didn’t pass out and hit my head, and then sent me to the ER.
After a very long day of IVs, tests and pain, I got home just before Shabbat began. One doctor I spoke with told me the drugs were eight times the strength I should have begun with. Another said that he takes half of what I took, and he is more than 200 pounds with three spine surgeries under his belt. Clearly, there was some serious malpractice going on.
This whole experience made me very skeptical of the governmental health care. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had a problem with a prescription, another doctor prescribed me something that was banned in the U.S. due to its adverse side effects. And that automated phone system when you call to make a doctor’s appointment? It’s 100 times worse when you are truly desperate for care. Why was the doctor’s bedside manner so terrible? But most important, how could this doctor have prescribed me such a crazy amount of painkillers? I felt emotionally and physically abused, and still with back pain. I wanted to be back in the U.S. where doctors were respectful, caring, and most of all, safe.
As an eternal seeker of silver linings, I’ve learned a lot through this experience. My friend took a whole day to help me get to the doctor and hospital, even paying for my cab rides. She literally held me up and advocated for me in every respect. Another friend called later in the week, recommending a doctor and specialist. I received great advice, even from strangers and professionals who could have easily charged for the time they spent helping me. I received an outpouring of support.
Even though the pain is still very much present, my heart has been warmed knowing that even without family here, friends will step in. I now understand the desperation and hardship many people experience when immigrating without family. And most important, I now understand how much it helps to know you are never alone.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.