I dread getting sick in Israel. In America, getting sick wasn’t my favorite thing, but as one of the few people who had access to really good, really cheap care, at least I could bask in being the center of attention, and the feeling that people would pretend to feel sorry for you, even if they thought you should just suck it up. In Israel, people will tell you to your face that you are being a baby. In fact, your doctor will probably tell you in detail about the last patient he had, who just needed a sick note in order to take an hour to go find some duct tape to strap his leg back on, so that he could go back to work.
The worst thing about getting sick in Israel is that I already know what the doctor is going to say. Unless I am actively coughing up blood, I will be told that I need to drink lots of water, rest for a couple of days, and inevitably, that whatever malady I am experiencing is “going around.” I don’t know how the doctor knows that it is going around, since I never get an exact diagnosis, or in most cases, even tests. Once, I sprained my ankle, and the response was that it’s been a nasty season for ankles, and that I should try to avoid people while I was contagious.
With so many of my friends in America complaining about the upcoming changes in medical care there, I’ve been thinking about which system I like better. On the one hand, I do feel good that people in Israel have access to inexpensive care, regardless of their income level. For the vast majority of people who only see the doctor for the occasional cold or ankle flu, this is fantastic. In America, I spent several years working for one of the largest health insurance companies in the country, which I will not identify, except to say that it was what you get if you mix a Christian, a Roman, and a Smurf. As a customer service representative, a large portion of my day was spent telling people who thought they had medical care all the things we were not going to help them pay for. And then there were all the people who couldn’t afford health care at all, and so they put off seeing someone for that disturbing extra arm that suddenly appeared, until they needed to go bankrupt to get it removed. Frankly, that is a poor way to run things.
But, on the other hand, I am uncomfortable with having so little guidance from the person who went to medical school to study what could possibly wrong with me. There have been a few times when I have been asked what medication I felt I should be on, and once, I was even asked which dose I thought would be best. Unfortunately, this did not happen the one time I ever received morphine. That’s a lot of responsibility. While the Internet has allowed me to pour over my test results, so as to better tell that I am either about to expire, or I that am perfectly healthy, with 50-50 odds of either possibility, if I should happen to keel over, I want someone else to blame. And if you want to see a specialist, which seems to mean anyone who would actually have to touch you during an examination, the wait times far exceed anything I experienced in the United States.
This is why I propose a major shift in how Israel handles treating patients. We need to train a team of people to handle the low level things, where everybody knows that you really just need some rest, but you go to the doctor anyway for validation. This team would be authorized to give out sick notes once or twice a year, but would also be trained to speak to you like a comforting grandmother, and would say things like, “Now you need to get your jammies on, and go right back to bed!” Meanwhile, they would be doling out a nice big bowl of chicken soup into a travel mug, and loading up a romance novel onto your iPad Mini. Then all of the primary care doctors would have more free time to study epidemiology, so they could finally become experts at telling us what’s going around.