These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

What I’ve Learned About Myself Thanks to the Israeli Health System

Posted on January 23, 2014 by Jessica Baverman

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From my blog:

Jessica BavermanAs a resident of a country whose primary language isn’t my own and where the health system is very different, I often have challenges when needing to get things done.

Seeing a doctor that speaks English is so amazing, you have no idea. We completely take it for granted in the US when our doctor speaks the same language as us. Not only that, but having to listen to phone systems in a different language and understanding what number to press can be very difficult. I love that I don’t have to pay for things (taxes do) but it is so frustrating having to take one paper from the doctor to the central health insurance office and then getting another paper to bring to a lab to get a test. At all of these offices, you take a number and sit and wait for a while. Keep your patience but be assertive. It’s ok to be pushy but not enough to frustrate the person who will serve you. Also, you have to be patient while the clerk chats with a coworker, looks at someone else’s chart, makes a phone call, ANSWERS THEIR OWN PERSONAL CELL PHONE, or just is going pretty slowly. You, as a customer, are obviously second to their own priorities. Offices aren’t open every day, all day, and it’s your own fault if you don’t know which days they are open. It’s not the problem of the clerk if you can’t come on the day that they are open.

It is nothing like that in the US. I will gladly wait a little longer or pay a little more to have GOOD customer service, to have to go to only ONE office to get something done, where things actually arrive in the post when they are supposed to, and you don’t have to worry about figuring out which office you have to go to next, what words you need to know in order to get your point across, and if you will be helped.

Even so, I have learned to pay attention here. If you for just one minute walk away or get on the cell phone, you will lose your turn (or anger everyone else while you “cut” in line since you missed when your number was called). I have learned to be aggressive when I need to, even if I can’t speak the language. I have learned to ask questions and explain things that you would be asked in the US, though it isn’t always part of the standard things to discuss here – allergies for example when you are prescribed medication. I have also learned that doctors here openly acknowledge that they don’t know everything and THAT’S A GOOD THING.

Today, I went to a doctor for a routine checkup and to ask some questions. I am dressed religiously today – a shell that covers my elbows, a long that reaches my knees, and leggings. I’m wearing a wedding band, but my hair isn’t covered. The doctor mentioned my “husband” and I notice him glance down at my hand to make sure that he is using the “correct” terminology. Obviously, since I’m not covering my hair but I look religious otherwise, it might seem strange to use “husband,” but he doesn’t use fiancĂ©.

I’ve always chosen female doctors, but you don’t get a choice here. I am not shomeret neggiah. I don’t have a problem touching men or other women. I shake hands, I give hugs. But one thing has come to my attention while I’ve been here in Israel. Because I’m in a religious society, and I know (mainly) the rules about touching in the religious community, I avoid sitting next to men on buses or touching men (shaking hands, etc). I am hyper aware of when I give/receive hugs or shake hands, even with my male friends who I know are not shomer neggiah. It has just become so apparent to me every time I touch a man. That being said, I felt strange having this male doctor take my blood pressure and listen to my heart – and that was all the touching he did. But it was still weird to me. I’m not accustomed to having men touch me, and I already knew that I preferred female doctors. I don’t know if I will feel the same when I am in the US – maybe I will shake more hands with men, and eventually, it won’t be something that I notice every time. I do know how being in Israel has changed me, and this is definitely one of the ways.