Yes. Its been awhile since my last post. If you recall, in my last blog post a few weeks ago, I gave some delicious new recipes. Most of the recipes I post are ethnically Israeli for themost part and hopefully, not too complicated to prepare. Israel is unlike the States in many ways. In some areas like high tech, we are quite advanced and leading the world. In other areas, we lag behind – as in the area of healthy available convenience food options. Since we’ve lived here, there have been more products like (very expensive) pre-washed and cut salads, chopped carrots and cabbages, and pre-made dough, but that’s about it. While the center of the country caters more to the American immigrant, we live in the periphery where items like prepared salad dressings, soups, pre-cooked, sliced chicken, rotisserie chickens – are all hard to find items, and when I do find them, sky high in price. I did find liter/quart sized organic chicken broth in aseptic boxes a few years ago, and bought three at $9.00 a pop just to have as an emergency backup. So I make and freeze my own soups and stocks and make my own dressings, salsas and well – EVERYTHING. I have tried to keep my recipes as simple and tested as possible. I usually try out a recipe 3 times before doing a photo shoot or post. I try NOT to include extremely exotic ingredients, although most US grocery stores offer a wide variety of international products. So it is my wish the recipes will work for you.
The last time I’d written was right after we’d returned from our five week US state-hopping adventure. I had known something was physically wrong with me and had been trying to get an accurate diagnosis for seven years. Things were headed South, and I was just praying they would not worsen during our travels. And thank goodness they did not. I’d written that I thought I’d herniated a disc and, that after that last photo shoot and blog, I’d head for bed. I’ll try to spare the gory details, but I pretty much missed the Jewish holidays…. besides we were in our 14-day quarantine after an international flight. So either way we were grounded and I was relegated to teledoctor phone appointments. I took my NSAIDS, but the pain was excruciating; besides losing the feeling completely on my left side from the waist down, I could neither move my leg or foot. It was dead except for that constant lightening bolt jolting.
During that time, we had a friend from the US move back to Israel from Virginia. He is now staying in our guest bedroom. I wish I could have done more to help make his move more pleasant, but he was on his own. He did tell me I’d need to mask up before going to the ER and handed me a new N95 mask, coated with an anti-viral to make it super safe. Trying to find the humor or at least irony in everything, this is where the roller coaster begins to plummet. By the time I got to the emergency room in Haifa, 40 minutes away, not only my bottom portion, but my top was on absolute FIRE!!! As it turns out, whatever chemical in that mask made me highly allergic, and I started to develop a blistery red rash. It would last four days.
OK. We went to the right ER. Not the crowded one, but still a very good smaller one. I was seen immediately. Given X-rays, a CT. The top (and I mean #1!) spinal neurosurgeon in all Israel, the amazing Dr. Neta Raz, was called in from his vacation. And the roller coaster evens out. I have drop foot, at least two completely compressed/compacted vertebrae and no discs and a possible rupture of another disc. As I had suspected- MRI would be taken the next morning. And I’d need emergency surgery, but since it was the holiday of Simchat Torah and everything in Israel comes to a grinding halt… hospital staff is greatly reduced, the surgery would be rescheduled for two days hence. In the meantime, I’m taken up to the orthopoedic ward.
A typical Israeli hospital is nothing like the hospital rooms in the posh Tel Aviv area and it is absolutely nothing like the hospitals in California (at least before the pandemic). For one thing, you have a family member or really good (at least before your hospital stay) friend or even a paid helper stay with you. He/she gets a small, uncomfortable chair at your bedside. Your designated aide is there at bedside 24/7 to help you with whatever you need- calling for a nurse; asking for pain meds; helping you go to the bathroom (however that may be). That’s why it’s important to pick your friends wisely here. It’s all part of the bonding/friends for life/members of the same tribe/lack of adequate nursing staff culture. It’s part of the adventure.
In the hospital, you are given one of those too-small-no-matter-what-size-you-are, hospital gowns; you get a bed with a rubber mattress covered by a thin sheet and a very small blanket/cover and pillow. Reminder to new Olim: it’s not just BYO toothbrush, its BYO water pitcher and cup or disposable water bottle. It’s BYO towels, washcloth, soap, etc. Its BYO PJs, socks, slippers (hey! They don’t charge you $180 for a pair of those really nifty slipper socks with the non-skid soles). No television, no radio. Its a no-frills ride. BYO emesis basin or trash can – yup this can be a bit gross, especially with the food your neighbor’s visitors bring! So be forewarned.
Did I say visitors? Did I say food? Did I say noise? We’re not in America. We’re in the Mid East and it gets pretty darned loud. No, not from the howls of patients whose pain levels have soared to a nine on the Richter scale. It’s the MiddleEast! What would an ER be without a knock-down, drag-out fight, trays and IV poles flying before the ”gentleman” was escorted out. It’s a shame I didn’t understand more than ”I’ve already told you twice.” And ”What’s the problem? What happened here?” Hey! Free entertainment!
Yikes! It only gets better from here, Folks! The next day I was wheeled downstairs and outside to a portable MRI trailer unit. My husband, John, at my side. Trying to understand the questions in Hebrew as three people were trying to fill out forms, question me, translate, etc. was total chaos. I was told to remove all my jewelry. I took off my necklace, given to me by a dear friend, and my wedding ring of 37 years. I gave them to John, who pocketed them. So much was happening so fast, that he totally didn’t realize he was holding them for me. The MRI tech was Russian… the stereotypical large, rough woman with no patience, barking commands in Russian-accented Hebrew. She was extremely irritated that I didn’t fully understand. In English she commands, ”Surround yourself! Surround yourself! Surround belly!” I just wasn’t getting it. Finally she makes rolling motion with arms and shouts, ”Like salami! Like salami! You know! Do! Do NOW!” Aaaahhh, yes. Roll over on your tummy. I know, but find the whole process so hysterical. Salami!! I can’t stop laughing/crying. It took a while to do it and to stay still for long enough to complete the test.
I’m wheeled back to my room. Surgery was scheduled for the following evening. John went back home and would return with my bag of necessities the next day. Happening to notice my ring and necklace were gone, I called John to check his pockets. Nope. Not there. Double check. I search my bags. Nada. The roller coaster lurches forward and takes a deep, nauseating nosedive. It’s almost 5pm. I hobble down on crutches to the MRI trailer. Nothing. The one lady still there has nothing. I fine-tooth comb the ground, retrace our steps, and fill out a report at the security station. In tears. Hyperventilating. I call John. Nothing. He thinks it might have fallen out of his pocket in the paid parking lot down the street as he got out his wallet. More tears. He drives back to Haifa with a flashlight and tools. Finds the necklace in a gutter, but no wedding ring. So, if you’re ever in Haifa across and down the street from Bnei Tsion and find a gold ring with a one-carat diamond, let me know. It looks like this:
I spent much of the next day in tests and trying to find a mittapellet for hire, a sitter. I checked everywhere and came up empty-handed. John did not know enough Hebrew and physically was not up to spending the night at my side in a cramped, uncomfortable, little chair. Finally, right before I was wheeled into surgery, a friend steered me in the direction of a very nice, but incredibly expensive little Phillipino lady. She was available for hire. So I had the operation: a diskectomy with a bunch of other work, freeing the nerves, decompressing and creating room in my spine.
I guess I was pretty loaded up on drugs, feeling no pain, that night. All I remember is Virgie spooning a few teaspoons of warm water into my mouth explaining why ice, col water, or more than four drops was life-threatening. She was soon sleeping soundly in the chair next to my bed. Later in the week, I found out that night, all night long, I had FaceTimed all my children, crying and ranting about my lost wedding ring. 37 years! I called up a couple friends in the States – if you are reading this and I called you speaking out of my mind craziness, I sincerely apologize. Please gently let me know. I wrote and submitted two magazine articles. I wrote one of my editors. I wrote a lovely children’s story about a little girl and her pet black bear. And I answered some emails. Again, if I wrote you spouting craziness, forgive me. Where was Virgie???? For $200.00!?!??
So I was 10 days total, I think, in the hospital. You lose all track of time in a place like that. We had no TV, but there was always entertainment. With four people to a room, a sitter or two and several visitors for each person, there was no lack of entertainment. We had an Israeli woman to my left, a Muslim Arab lady to my right, and a Druze lady next to her. Each day, people would come bearing coolers and containing exotic smelling foods for the mittapellet, the patient and themselves. It’s a real social event and a cultural thing to go visit people in the hospital, I think. Nothing is private. Well, for them it was, because I don’t speak Arabic, and my Hebrew is still lacking. Pardon my complaining, please, but the noise and activity and lack of privacy were not very conducive to recovery.
I survived the noise, and the food. My foot is beginning to move more and I’m using my leg a bit as it regains feeling. I’ve been visited by the hospital physical therapist, who we fired after ten minutes for commanding me to stand up and walk without explaining how…. I was at a 9.5 pain level with still no feeling from the thigh down. As I write this, the recovery process is slow but sure. My old PT on the other hand, Saher, is wonderful. He’s made hospital and home visits. He reminds me of an Israeli version of Ben Stiller. Every morning in the hospital, we had the same breakfast: undressed salad, watery porridge; a hard-boiled egg and sour cream. This was the evening gourmet fare, which shows why people opt for home-brought food:
My last night/day was the great adventure. At 4:50 am, I was awakened by orderlies taking two of my roommates from the room. I was being swabbed down… from all angles and in crevices I didn’t even know existed! The nursing staff was being hustled out. I was alone in an empty room, and called my husband (cell phone, as there are no landlines) to come immediately. Something was not right! Shortly thereafter the men with ladders appeared as the curtains started being ripped down. ALL OF THEM! OK. Now this was definitely more than beyond usual. John appeared, but was hustled out of the room. OK. I was a bit freaked out.
Bathrooms were being disinfected with floods of green liquid. Floors and windows washed. No one would tell me what was happening. Corona? Ebola? Mersa? Worse??? I knew I had to document this for a blog, so I hobbled out to snap a few more photos.
After a complete shift change, a staff of industrial cleaners, and lots of drama, I found out what was going on. There had been a case of klebsiella (ah ha! I remembered that bacteria from my days of microbiology!) and all precautions were being taken to prevent a full outbreak across the entire wing. I was swabbed again from top to bottom and it felt like a scene from Monsters, Inc.. I was in a rush to just leave. My time was definitely up. My husband had asked for my discharge papers.
A nurse came in to inform me (I was finally alone in a very clean room) that they were going to make a nice reception for me before I leave. That’s why they were really cleaning! A surprise party just for me!! Well, that’s different. A grand, farewell shebang send-off! ”You’re throwing me a party??” I asked incredulously. ”What? What? I throw what? I am not throw anything!” I respond, ”No. No. A party. I’m getting a party?” She stared at me and said, ”No. You make party at home. I make you reception and you go home.” Obviously, there was some communication blockage. ”Reception??” I ask. ”You wait here. I give you reception from doctor to take to pharmacy. Then you go.”
I began to get it. No balloons for my going away. No cake and ice cream to make up for the swill. No champagne. No fizzy drinks. No compensation. After all, it’s socialized medicine and my stay was “free.” I did get exemplary medical care in my surgeon and surgery. The tests, surgery, and stay, would have cost cool tens to hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles. Sure, I would have had a nice room, TV and would have made-to-order food from a menu, but hey, I probably wouldn’t have had a rambling blog for your perusal.
I’m finally home, and had a home nurse come to do wound care and my physiotherapist visit to give me encouragement and exercises. I’m re-learning to walk and it’s slow, but I’m making progress. John has been a saint, stepping up to the bat taking over all the housework, shopping and cooking. Bless his big heart!!! Just so thankful this whole ordeal didn’t happen on our vacation! Hopefully, soon, I’ll be on more field trips, meeting more people, visiting new and exciting places and collecting new recipes. I need a long, straight stretch of rollercoaster at this point. And if there’s anyone up here in the North who finds a diamond ring or can provide a meal, please let me know….