Home February 2014 Medical Chit Chat

Medical Chit Chat

I’m not certain how conversations about health are conducted amongst non-Jews, but suffice it to say that I never met another tribe member whose doctor wasn’t “The Best.”  “He graduated at the top of his class, you know. . . .” is muttered in a bored, nasal tone as though the speaker is mildly peeved at having to explain to lowborn me that, when it comes to health, one only wants “The Best.”  Since no one in my immediate (or distant) family ever had the temerity to entertain dreams of a career in medicine, I’ve always been a sucker for lines like these.  Still, I occasionally wonder who, exactly, is getting a yearly check-up by the plebeian who failed Lobotomy Lab and finished with a 1.0 average at a combination Medical/Dance Academy in the Caribbean.  After all, someone is going to the person who graduated at the bottom of the class and is still called “Doctor”.
While much of my previous life in America feels far away and blurry, I remember “feeling” awestruck by people wearing white coats with stethoscopes tossed casually around their necks.  When asked to describe my symptoms in the Old Country, I spoke rapidly and to the point, so daunted by the preciousness of time, erudition and the terrifying “unknown.”  Consequently, it was sometimes difficult to express a physical ailment or emotional trepidation because of the clamoring tick-tock of a fictitious grandfather clock beating in my head.
Before we married two-and-a-half years ago, my husband and I tiptoed around discussing our medical histories; after all, chit-chat about angioplasties or Plantar’s Warts can put a damper on a blossoming romance.  Without going into extra detail, there is something to be said in favor of low-light tea candles when lovers are peppered with surgical scars.  As the relationship grew more serious and marriage was discussed, we shared “the biggies,” which, thank God, were few.  We promised to look after ourselves and one another and learned to ignore the nagging knee aches and hourly trips to the bathroom throughout the night.  Today, however, his dressing table is littered with pillboxes that I never saw before the chuppah, and I’ve begun taking a nightly statin for elevated cholesterol.  Let’s not even discuss the joint pain…
In my opinion, the Israeli medical experience feels a little more relaxed.  This isn’t to say that every doctor here isn’t “The Best” according to his or her mother, but the system itself is designed to knock a little humility into every intern as part of his training, lest s/he becomes delusional and actually believes s/he is better than the next slob.  Feelings of “superiority” seem relative, and I’ve yet to meet a car mechanic or souk merchant who doesn’t feel eminently qualified to issue medical diagnoses or serve as acting prime minister when Bibi is overseas.
Thus said, I had run out of excuses and scheduled some overdue-and-dreaded checkups in one day, namely the internist and the gynecologist.  Hating a gynecological exam is a no-brainer, but the GP imbues me with a different kind of dread.  This guy actually cares, and his office calls me every six months if I haven’t checked in.  He will not refill certain prescriptions without an exam and insists on addressing issues of weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.  He stays in touch with my breast surgeon and they compare notes!  He doggedly goads me into either maintaining my health or, minimally, feeling agonizing guilt when I disregard it.   In summary, he’s a pain in the proverbial derriere.
“Get on the scale,” he said.  In preparation for stepping onto the heinous device, I’ve cleverly thwarted him by skipping breakfast and eschewing an under-wire brassiere in favor of a lightweight sports model.  My plan obviously worked, because he exclaimed, “You’ve lost a lot of weight since your last visit!”  Feeling both smug and a little lightheaded, I crowed, “Fifteen pounds, right?”  He replied, “Fifteen and a half.  You’ve also lost two centimeters and are still too fat.  Go to Weight Watchers.”  Rudely grabbing my prescriptions, I stomped out,  vowing for the umpteenth time to find another doctor, one who is morbidly obese, smokes like a chimney, thinks that exercise is for suckers and prescribes Ben & Jerry’s for calcium.
Sitting across from the gynecologist, I begged him to make his diagnosis based on my face.  He refused, and I was forced to do that whole paper sheet/stirrup thing.  Waiting for him, I recalled a previous visit several years back when he had a few fingers in metal splints after a bicycle accident.  Most of the memory of that exam has been blacked out, but I stay vigilant.  This visit will also go down in history, however, as the time he wanted “to chat.”  No joke: I’m lying on a bed of crinkly paper with the soles of my feet parallel to the ceiling, and he actually asked me to talk about the entrance requirements for a television program where I recently appeared.   Call me priggish, but if I’m going to have a conversation, I’d prefer that someone talk directly into my eyes.  Expressing this preference (“Can this wait until I’m upright?”), he guffawed and threw me a roll of paper towels.  Talk about class…
The term “bedside manner” is an oxymoron in Hebrew, and future immigrants should take this into the equation when researching Israeli mortgage rates and school districts.  The medical care I’ve both received and witnessed has been superior, and I feel confident that my health is of the utmost importance to the medical practitioners who call Israel “home.”  But I’d strongly suggest that if one needs his hand held or a pat on the back for maintaining his health, fuhgeddaboutit.  Just drink eight glasses of water a day, get plenty of sleep, dress warm and call me in the morning!

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