The Hospital Room
My sixteen-year-old son bounded too energetically down a flight of stairs and twisted his ankle. No big deal, he thought. He went to the doctor on his own, and the first I became aware of his injury was a phone call from the clinic.
"Listen, I can’t treat a minor without parental approval. I need your permission to x-ray your son’s ankle." I stammered my approval and the phone was unceremoniously slammed down. I spent the next 45 minutes anxiously awaiting a progress report from my son.
"Uh, could you or Abba come down here? My ankle is broken and the doctor says I need to go to the hospital to have it set." My husband rushed him to the emergency room at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. Since it was a complicated fracture in the joint of the bone, the medical staff was uncertain if surgery was necessary or not. My son spent almost 24 hours on a cot in the middle of the emergency room until the decision was made to admit him for further observation. He was given a bed in Orthopedics, on the second floor of the main building. The room was fairly large, containing four beds. Two others were occupied when we arrived, while the one across from my son was empty. An elderly Moroccan gentleman had just had back surgery, and was surrounded by a large crowd of family members. Over the days we spent in that room, we observed that he was never left alone. His wife, daughters, grandchildren, sisters, sons-in-law and nephews literally poured in, a flowing river of family cascading into the curtained off section of the room. Visiting hours were largely ignored, as enormous bowls of rice and vegetables were consumed, followed by cups of steaming tea from thermos flasks. Heated discussions about the best recipe for kubeh, a traditional food, could rage for hours. I actually enjoyed the distraction it provided me, on the other side of the flowery curtain. "Cooking is so much easier during the 9 days,” confided one elderly aunt. “I don’t have to worry about chicken or meat." The family was not overtly religious; the men did not wear kippot, yet the traditional custom of only eating dairy during the nine days was adhered to strictly.
The other patient in the room was a young Arab boy, possibly 19 or 20 years old. His father sat at his bedside, a large mustache obscuring the lower half of his face. He smiled at the other occupants of the room as he entered, dipping his hand in a kind of friendly salute. The boy’s table was overflowing with chocolates and cookies, which he insisted on sharing with the other patients in the room. My son found it difficult to keep refusing their offers of non-kosher snacks. They neatly solved that dilemma by simply placing the wafers or candies on his table and walking away! They managed to transform their corner of the room into a cozy replica of home, complete with fat, fluffy cushions adorning the hospital chairs, and a small coffee nook, complete with a collection of mugs.
The dynamics of the room subtly changed when a new patient was admitted, an Israeli soldier just returned from Lebanon. He was amongst the wounded in the fierce battle that had cost the lives of eight of his fellow fighters. His arm was bandaged, a cast reaching from his wrist until his upper arm. His obviously pregnant wife hovered over him, trying to make him comfortable. The soldier’s mother, a tall woman in a large hat, sat near his bedside. It was only several hours after he had changed into the typical hospital pajamas that we noticed a whirl of activity from behind the closed curtain. The wounded soldier was dressing for the funerals, taking place that afternoon. His wife made not the slightest protest to his leaving the hospital so soon after his injury and subsequent surgery. It was poignantly touching to watch as she laced up his army boots, kneeling on the linoleum of the sterile hospital floor. She understood his deep need to be there, at Har Herzl, with his comrades. The horrific war in Lebanon against Hezbollah was taking a bloody toll in young soldiers’ lives. A good Jewish mother, instead of feeding her injured son chicken soup, was helping him dress for two friends’ funerals. What strength these women possess.
It struck me that the hospital room was a microcosm of Israeli society today. An elderly Moroccan patriarch, a young American Israeli teenager, an Arab youth, and an Israeli soldier. All sharing one hospital room, all united by suffering.
The soldier, dressed in his military uniform, leaned on his wife for support. In obvious pain, he winced as he struggled to his feet. We all watched somberly. The Arab father rose, and stretched out his hand.
“I’m sorry about your friends. You should have a complete recovery,” he said. We all nodded and murmured our own condolences.
The Almighty should heal the pain and suffering of his Nation and send a refuah sheleima (a speedy recovery) to all of the wounded.
Sheila Segal teaches in a women's seminary in Israel, where she has been living for the past 23 years. She enjoys writing in her spare time.