I, however, prefer to be in touch with the living. Often I think of my mother calling on a sick person to inquire. She would regularly call upon even those who may not have been very good friends at all. For my mother, sickness or a major illness seems to put all differences aside -- the person must be supported.
One of the most important feelings is that someone cares for you. Everyone is so busy with their daily lives they rarely take time to call, visit or just add the sick person to their prayers. Most do not even pray. [In Judaism, there is a special prayer for sick men followed immediately by another for sick women.] Until you are the person in bed, feeling helpless and down, it is difficult to imagine the strength of a visit or a phone call to inquire about your progress.
Doctors in the USA have a tendency to call patients the evening following a surgery, a small gesture that goes a long way. It is almost protocol. Few go beyond what is today perceived as the call of duty. A certain Orthodox Jewish doctor at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles would walk from his Beverly Hills home to the Hospital to visit patients on Friday night, even after Shabbat had arrived.
I remember bumping into Dr. Wolin during one of his visits, a very religious person doing good deeds, almost unrecognizable to any but his patients. "He who saves one soul," it is said, "as if he saved the world." Here the doctor's occupation is saving many, but his individual care and attention, taking away from his private life and adding the special light of Shabbat, truly bless everyone with whom he comes in contact.
Once there were caring doctors. One, Paul Geller, our family doctor for many years, was both an excellent doctor and a grandfather figure, a "Good Neshama" (Good Soul). My mother just found a card he sent years ago with a special greeting for the whole family.
It is regrettable that what should be commonplace becomes the rare exception. Nowadays, there are very few truly exceptional doctors, flowers blossoming in a very harsh desert of today's health care environment. The profession needs their direction to teach the incoming classes of doctors-to-be that treatment is composed not only of medicine, science and technology but also of personal touch, a good word, being a human being.
From Children's Hospital Los Angeles to Kaiser
Every two months I go on an excursion to Children's Hospital. It is 45 minutes each way, for a fifteen-minute visit to the donor's lab. There I donate a pint of blood, not for a specific patient, but for anyone in need. I have a common type of blood, B+, and it gets distributed to many tiny recipients whose names, genders and family histories I do not know. It is fed into a system that utilizes it as needed.
After some nine years every two months, I am now a regular. I immediately go in to help myself to a bottle of juice, I no longer like the cookies, but my real treat is a shake on the way home. The act of donating blood, including the preceding questionnaire, the review by the nurse and the basic formalities (body temperature, blood pressure and Hemoglobin level), is automatic and usually done in a breeze.
This past Friday, temperatures exceeded one hundred. The skies were covered with clouds of smoke from the fires raging in the Greater Los Angeles area just north of us. It was surreal and reminiscent of the cloud cover over New York City on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001.
I ended my visit with a promise next time, on the last day of October, to bring everyone milkshakes. I left but rather than go straight to the car, I ventured outside, crossed the street a block over to Kaiser on Sunset, part of a HMO chain of hospitals (in California we are either part of a system, like Kaiser, or have insurance that entitles us to select our own doctors). The hospital is new and was just recently opened. There are clean corridors, new pictures on the walls and a sterile atmosphere. Missing are the liquid evaporating cleansers one can see at every other hospital. At Kaiser for some reason, they are nowhere to be found.
Harry Dunn, 91, was brought here ten days ago. My first visit was to the intensive care unit, but he had been transferred to another floor. The sterile, huge private room contained a tray of food and can of Ensure, typically given to the elderly. The food is there, but who will take the few minutes to feed the patient?
Harry was alert, and a big smile appeared on his face when he recognized me. I stood there on behalf of all his fellow residents of the elderly "hotel," like a soldier appearing before his superior, representing the whole brigade. Harry is the Chief of Staff of our Synagogue. When we were missing men for Minyan (the ten Jewish men required for reciting the full prayer), he would go with his cane and urge others to get out of bed and show up. "It is a great Mitzva" (Good Deed), he would say, and shake his cane in the air in a semi-threatening manner.
I dialed his great nephew who had returned to Chicago. I wanted Joey to hear "Uncle Kalev." Twice the reward -- not only Harry's reception of me, but Joey's encouraging voice on the phone. "You know I wish I could be there with you," he said to his great uncle and proceeded to urge him to sit in a chair. Movement and getting out of bed are already half the ingredients required for recovery.
Suddenly, I knew something was wrong. I needed to steady myself. Holding the phone close to Harry in one hand, I held tightly to the raised bedside. A feeling of nausea overwhelmed me, so I ended the conversation and went toward the restroom. I remember looking at the red string -- "pull in case of emergency" -- and then ... I awoke into blackness. No other sense, until slowly, I thought I heard voices, or possibly not, and saw the images of two women emerging through the darkness.