B ernadine’s nursing internship program had placed her in Shaare Zedek Medical Center. As had become routine by now, she and her classmates were assigned to the English-speaking patients. Her patient this time, an elderly woman from America, was sleeping soundly. From the corridor, Bernadine heard raised voices.

“No, you cannot go to the operating room with that filthy thing!” Sigal, the nurse, was insisting.

“But I told you, I have to keep it with me. It keeps me protected.”

“You don’t understand, Giveret. I could get fired if I send you down with that black cloak to the operating room!”

Bernadine went to the doorway and peeked out. The orderly was standing alongside an empty stretcher tapping his feet on the floor, waiting.

“We have certain protocols here in the hospital, and there are no exceptions,” Sigal said for the umpteenth time. “Patients go to the operating room dressed in sterile hospital gowns. No other clothes are allowed in.”

Betty, the head nurse, had apparently heard the argument. She entered the room and approached the patient. “You’re Rachel, right? Think about it, Rachel. That black cloak of yours is full of germs. You wore it in the street, it came in contact with the sidewalk. Who knows what kinds of infectious germs it could be carrying? Everything in the operating room has to be sterile. The staff works very hard to keep it absolutely clean and free of germs. It’s completely out of the question to allow that thing into the operating room with you. It could put your life in danger.”

They were adamant, but so was the patient. Her hands gripped the black redid and stroked it insistently. “No, it will protect me. It’s my zechus. It’s my shemirah.”

Only ten minutes ago, Bernadine had watched the nurses send this patient’s friends away, almost forcibly. The friends had been there since the moment she was hospitalized. Two had gone, and four others had come in their place, all of them swathed in the same gloomy black. “Please leave the ward,” Sigal had told them firmly. “Your friend is being treated now, and you cannot stay here.”

They’d tried to bargain with her, but Sigal had made it clear that if they didn’t leave on their own, she would call security to escort them out, and furthermore, she would have them blacklisted from entering the premises in the future. When they heard that, they left.

Now the woman was facing the nurses alone. Curious, Bernadine came closer, trying to understand what it was all about.

“Why does she wear a black bag like that?” she asked Betty, her clinical supervisor.

“Why indeed! That’s the million-dollar question,” Betty replied. “She believes that’s the way a woman is supposed to dress. She thinks G?d wants her to wear that thing, like the matriarchs from the Bible.”

“Betty,” Sigal interrupted irritably. “They just called from the OR asking why the patient hasn’t arrived. Professor Malik warned us to be sure to get her there on time. They already cleared an operating theater for her, and there are a few other procedures waiting in line, too.”

“So take me there already,” the patient murmured weakly. The orderly stood there silently.

She turned to him. “Take me to the operating room,” she pleaded.

“I can’t. Not until the nurses give the order,” he answered diplomatically. “And sign on the form,” he added.

“Let me try to talk to her,” said Bernadine. “Give me five minutes.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 683)