A fter making aliyah, I had the “privilege” of doing a three-month Observership at a local hospital. The Observership is a period of time during which a doctor trained abroad joins a medical team to learn the way it works in their new country, and for me, this was part of the process of obtaining a new medical license in Israel.
It was a wonderful and humbling experience. Wonderful in that I got to work with amazing colleagues and help some incredible people reach their recovery goals. Humbling in that I had more than my share of déjà vu moments when I felt as if I’d returned to my intern year. Back then I once had to take the blood pressure of all of my patients (the medical assistants didn’t feel like doing it) and draw blood tests for all of the patients in the unit (there was no such thing as a hospital phlebotomist). Now, years later and in a new country, I was given the same job. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t drawn a blood test on a single patient in over seven years, it was all part of the experience.
“It’s like riding a bike,” said my new boss, Dr. P. “You’ve done it once, you can do it again.”
“Riding a bike is what I do for pleasure, Dr. P.,” I argued. “This is more like assault — because when I’m repeatedly unsuccessful, all I’ve accomplished is poking folks with syringes.”
Dr. P. smiled. “You’re such a nice guy, you’d never assault anyone.”
I opened by mouth in a last-ditch effort to protest but I was silenced.
“You’ll be great,” he laughed.
“I wasn’t great seven years ago and that’s why I became a psychiatrist. That way I’d never have to touch any patient again beyond a handshake!”
“Try it a few times and if you’re really not able to make it happen then call Dalia, she’ll help you.” Dr. P. said grinning and heading off to a meeting.
Now normally, I’m all for trying new things and being an optimist. I make a living out of positive psychology and encouraging my patients to be brave and empowering them to make bold choices. But history was against me. I was the intern that they asked to stop performing procedures because I was slow and not particularly successful. It wasn’t that I was a shirker; I just didn’t have the hands for it. More than once during my tour of duty in the ICU back in the States, my senior resident had told me, “I’ll tube him up and line him up (e.g., intubate the patient to assist with breathing and insert central venous catheters to aid with monitoring vital signs and delivering life-saving medicines). You just sit there and talk to him or pray for him or whatever.”
So here I was in a bit of a jam: out of practice and with a skill that I had never mastered. Because going solo was not an option, I had to summon some backup — and my sole support was the most fiery, sarcastic, and paradoxically dedicated nurse on the unit. Having enjoyed a relatively peaceful day, I had no desire to have my head bitten off and knew better than to approach Dalia for a favor without bringing tribute. I purchased my offering — a cup of espresso from the coffee shop upstairs — and found her in the nurses’ lounge.
“Dalia, can you help me with blood draws today on a few patients?”
“Can you use your eyes to see that I’m relaxing, Yaakov?” She was all growls and glares until she saw that I had a gift for her. “Did you remember two sugars with the espresso?”
I nodded and begged, “Please?”
“You’ve got yourself a deal, Yaakov.” And with that she jumped up and downed the steaming cup of espresso (without a brachah or even a thank-you) and grabbed a pair of gloves and a handful of syringes in one fell swoop as she zoomed through the door.
Dalia was a stereotypically intense psychiatric nurse, made infinitely more rough-around-the-edges by her sabra persona. While I ran through the list of patients, she decided to assault me with a heap of unsolicited questions about why I’d come to Israel.
“Don’t you know that you can’t make any money here as a doctor? You probably used to make about three times as much back in America.” She was close with her estimate, but certainly the cost of living here was cheaper and I had the merit of raising my family in Eretz Hakodesh.
“Don’t you think it’s stupid that doctors here have to draw blood on their patients when you probably had a specialized nurse in the hospital for this kind of thing back at home?” She was correct and had read my mind pretty well on this one.
“And if I were you, I’d be pretty annoyed that nobody respects doctors here in Israel at all.” I didn’t need the kavod, but the cavalier attitude toward authority was certainly an adjustment for me.
“I tell you Yaakov, making aliyah isn’t easy and it’s probably been tough on your wife and family.” She was right about this one, but baruch Hashem things were getting better.
“And new olim are always getting sick with colds for the first year or so… Oleh chadash, choleh chadash is what they say.” I hadn’t heard the saying before but it definitely made sense as I found myself recovering from my fifth cold over the past few months.
“Plus you must be so scared walking down the streets and wondering if someone is waiting to blow you up, chas v’chalilah… new olim are always dealing with that thing.” She was correct; it was definitely a new experience.
“Also, your Hebrew is terrible and you’ll never speak like an Israeli, and that definitely isn’t something to be proud of.” I was getting tired of her insightful comments and was about to interrupt her when she said something absolutely beautiful.
“But I’d never leave this place even for one moment. Israel is the Jewish Homeland. Hashem gave it to our ancestors and there’s nothing like being a Jew in Israel. So even though I have a cousin who works as a nurse in Miami and makes four times more than I do, I wouldn’t leave this country for all of the money in the world.”
I smiled and was about to ask her a fundamental question: What’s the point of living in Hashem’s land if you aren’t living according to Hashem’s laws? And then she surprised me again.
“That’s why I send my children to religious schools. You see, I might not be the most religious-looking woman — but that’s because I was brought up that way and I can only change so much. But it’s different for my kids — they learn Torah every single day and I make them teach it to me when they get home. My oldest son learns in a real yeshivah and is going to be a rabbi when he gets older!”
“Kol hakavod, Dalia!” I exclaimed. “That’s really amazing!”
“Were you going to judge me unfavorably, as if it were not the case, Yaakov?”
I thought for a minute and then tried to answer affirmatively. “I guess I always need to work on judging people favorably.”
She shot me a fiery look and snapped, “Good then, now get these patients in here already! I’m supposed to go out for my cigarette break in ten minutes and you’ll owe me another cup of coffee if you make me late!” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 655)
Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Jerusalem. He serves as the medical director of services for English-speakers at Bayit Cham, a national leader providing mental health treatment and outreach within the religious community.