Growing up in Wichita in the sixties I always knew that there were two Israeli institutions that affiliated Jews supported. At just six-years-old I went to religious school week after week clutching a dime in my fist in order to save up to buy a tree. For twenty-five dimes I could have a Jewish National Fund tree planted in Israel in honor or in memory of whomever I chose.* The other organization I knew we supported was Hadassah Women. Throughout the year old clothes and other cast-offs would be put aside, saved for the annual summer Hadassah Rummage Sale. As a teenager my friends and I joined our mothers and the other “old” women to volunteer to sort, hang, mark, and sell the many items.
A decade and a half later, in the mid-eighties, I found myself living in Israel. Those trees I had planted were part of lovely nature preserves that my family and I enjoyed using for picnics. The Hadassah Women’s Organization has two hospitals in the Jerusalem area and both establishments made positive impacts on our lives.
We had not been living in Israel even a year when we realized that one of our children was reading our lips. A panicked visit to the ear specialist and a subsequent hearing test confirmed our worries. This child had a severe hearing loss due to fluid build-up in his ears. The specialist, reportedly the top in the Jerusalem area, recommended the simple surgery of placing tubes in our child’s ears. His older brother had had the same surgery while we were still living in America. It had been a quick, painless operation and afterwards the ear infections and hearing problems disappeared. With little concern we agreed to do the procedure. There was a problem, though. Whereas in America placement of tubes was an out-patient process that meant only a couple of hours in the hospital here in Israel it was then an overnight procedure. Although our specialist was highly recommended he practiced out of a backward, now thankfully obsolete, hospital.
That hospital had been built in the time of the Ottoman Empire and it seemed as if little inside the building had changed since then. My son was given a bed in a ward with about eleven other children. Large floor-to-ceiling windows lined one wall. Although they were open they did little to dispel the summer heat spell. I don’t want to describe the state of the bathrooms. Thankfully, there was running water.
Pre-op was done in that large room with everybody else. Each child received their anesthesia there and was then wheeled away on a gurney to the operating room. My husband and I sat waiting on our son’s bed for the duration of his short operation. To our shock he came straight back to us without being in wake-up. There was blood coming from one of his ears and we were given a piece of gauze to clean him up. We were the ones to administer to him as the nurses were too busy.
In the evening he was given a light supper and then we settled down for the night. My husband left to sleep by friends and I shared the narrow bed with my son. Neither of us slept very well but we slept better than the mother of the baby. She had only a hard chair and the rail of her baby’s crib to rest her head on. What a relief to finally be released the following morning. Thankfully, our son’s hearing was back to normal and all was okay, but it had been a distressing experience.
So, a few months later, when we were told another child would need a different minor surgery I balked. There was no way I was willing to go through the experience I had just had. The doctor was reassuring though and told me this time it would be different because we would be going to Hadassah Hospital at Mount Scopus. How right the doctor was!
This surgery could not be done outpatient. In fact, this child would have to spend two nights in the hospital. However, he was given a room with only one other child. There were two chairs in that room that made into beds, one for one parent of each child. A clean bathroom stood next to the room and it was meant to be shared with just one other room. The nurses were kind and sympathetic and we left the hospital not only thankful that our child was okay. We were also grateful for the positive hospital experience we had had.
Throughout the years we have continued to have positive experiences. One of our children spent two weeks in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem with the doctors trying to understand why he could not walk. It was not an easy two weeks but at the end he left the hospital skipping. In our appreciation we donated a wheelchair and eight years later he was able to serve in the infantry of the IDF.
One of our most poignant experiences was when our five-year-old grandson was finally medically able to have his brit milah. He was under anesthesia and the circumcision was done along with another surgery. The festive meal celebrating the milestone was held in a special room of the hospital.**
Our saddest experience was the five days my father spent in Hospice at Hadassah Mount Scopus. Obviously, it was not an easy time but the sensitivity of the nurses and doctors made it bearable. Sometimes, when I need to be in Hadassah Mount Scopus for doctor’s appointments or visits, I take a few minutes to stop by the Hospice. I don’t go into the ward. Rather I stand at the entrance and take a few minutes to remember my father. I am so thankful he had a peaceful end.
Of course, like all hospitals, Hadassah Medical Organization is not perfect. There are sometimes red tape, long waits, irritating employees, and incompetent staff. Still, the HMO is a professional institution that, only with Shaare Tzedek Hopsital, serves the entire Jerusalem and outlying areas. So I have been concerned past the few weeks as financial difficulties caused slow-downs and strikes in the Hadassah hospitals. It is not clear to me what the cause of these financial difficulties were, poor management, too quick of expansions, drop in donations, or some other reason. As this week winds down the strikes have ended and hopefully routine will return to the hospitals. I pray that it is so. Israel needs their Hadassah Hospitals.
*For more information see my article, Tu B’Shvat: The New Year of the Trees, 12-24-12