Thursday, July 16, 2015

Times Have Changed

In the autumn of 1974 my cousin was living her dream. Learning Hebrew in a Haifa ulpan she met the man she would marry. Life was good and then she discovered a lump in her breast. A visit to the doctor confirmed her suspicion that the mass needed to be dealt with.

“We can do a biopsy in March,” he told her.

“March?” My cousin blanched. A nurse and daughter of a surgeon, she knew waiting that long to find out if the lump was benign was not only imprudent, it was dangerous. She and her fiancĂ© returned to America, she had immediate surgery, and, happily, all was well. Still, they never returned to Israel.

When the country was young stories like this one were not uncommon. Many left Israel due to unavailable medical services. Times have changed though. Recently I had several dizzy spells and my family doctor ordered some tests. Thankfully, the results were what we wanted but my doctor wasn’t satisfied to let it rest at that. She sent me to a heart specialist who decided I needed additional tests. I thought they were unnecessary.

“Doesn’t the health plan have more serious problems to spend their money on?” I grumbled to the doctor.

“You should be happy,” she rebuked me, “that now in Israel we understand the importance of preventative medicine.”

So I called for the test appointments and was told to come in the following week, quite a contrast to my cousin’s experience some forty years earlier.

Still, there’s an impression that the Israeli medical system is inferior. Perhaps, that’s because of the Israelis who travel to America or elsewhere for complicated care. However, few people know about all the affluent Europeans who come to Israel for good medical service. The fact that Israel is a world leader with medical innovations, including a drug cocktail that shrinks or eliminates cancerous tumors, is often not known. We must not overlook all the Israeli field hospitals which are sent out at times of  natural disasters.
Field Hospital in Nepal, courtesy of gettyimages

Although Israelis sometimes do opt to leave Israel for a medical reason, they usually do so because the top expert in the field they require isn’t here in Israel. My grandson was a case in point. He needed a complex operation and the surgeon who pioneered the procedure practiced in Cincinnati, Ohio. My daughter and son-in-law were advised to take him to Ohio. Since the surgery could have been done here, though, the health plan didn’t cover it. Therefore relatives and friends began raising money for the specialized care.

Once in America my grandson was given a private room with a hideaway sofa for his parents, a separate bathroom, his own television with DVD, a phone, and state of the art medical equipment.

“How much does all that cost?” My Israeli friend was shocked when I described his surroundings.

“A lot!” I answered.

It had been heartwarming to watch all the donations coming in. Some were from a cousin’s fraternity brothers; others were from friends of friends or relatives who never even met our grandson or his parents. What an outpouring of senseless love, the Jewish people at their best.

We are now entering the Nine Days before the Ninth of Av, the day we fast and mourn for both the first and second Holy Temples. Our sages teach that the second temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred and evil talk. Not only are we commanded not to talk badly about people, we must not even denigrate the land of Israel.       

More than forty years have passed since my cousin had her unfortunate experience with the Israeli medical system. Twenty years later I also found a lump. Of course, by then there’d been many innovations. I had a mammogram and FNA, both of which showed my mass was benign. Still, the doctors wanted it out so I had surgery.  Although, unlike my grandson, I had to share a room with several other women, I received good care and paid a pittance for it.

There are many more positive stories. When my father, z’l, lived here all his cancer treatment, including his compassionate stay in hospice, was paid for by the government. Medical care is available to every Israeli citizen, Jewish or not. These are the anecdotes to talk about.  Let’s remember them and not disparage our holy land.

No comments: