A Tale of Two Doctors

April 24, 2008
By Zane Pokorny, Amherst, NH

I was on a wonderful Baha’i pilgrimage in Haifa, Israel when disaster struck. Struck me in the bowels.

It began as a dull cramp in my abdomen. The trip being my first in a foreign land, my family and I attributed it to food poisoning, which would soon disappear and I’d be back to normal. However, as the days went by, my increased time spent sitting on the ‘throne’ and more bowel pain started to worry my family and me. We decided a call to the doctor couldn’t hurt. Haha.

Now, as travelers, we had of course signed up for health insurance. A quick side note – the majority of travelers to Israel speak English. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that the health insurance guys spoke English too, right? ...Right?

We placed the call around Nine on Saturday night. The man who answered the phone spoke limited English so communicating with him was a chore. After a long time speaking really loud and slowly at him he sent a doctor directly to the hotel. And so it began.

The doctor they sent spoke English in the sense that he knew about five words of it. The language he did speak happened to be Russian. Nobody spoke Russian in the hotel. He began his medical examination, which mostly involved prodding his meaty digits deep into my belly and, we think asking if it hurt. We were pretty sure that’s what he was saying. He prescribed a pill for the pain…we thought. My dad, the smart man, asked him what the name of the drug was. The name he eventually gave we immediately googled. I guess when he said “for the pain,” he was trying to say “for poor blood circulation,” because that’s what the pill helped out with.

We made him leave pretty quick.

The next doctor our wonderful insurance sent, we insisted had to speak English. The man on the phone promised us this. If I had to give a first impression of the woman that appeared at our doorstep, I would probably guess that she was a nice old grandma that liked to knit and give her grandkids money or something. I also would guess that she spoke English. I’m not very good at first impressions.

She followed a similar program as the last doctor, jabbing me as hard as she could in the same spot on the stomach and saying “pain?” in a thick Russian accent. I guess they graduated from the same medical school.

We made her leave pretty quick.

Our next destination was our local Israeli emergency room. It was a fun place to be because they actually spoke English there! I was getting pretty sick at this point, though. Finally, a doctor could see me around midnight. He followed the same procedure of poking me, which is apparently pretty standard. Wherever the patient hurts, poke them there.

He had good news for me, though. He thought I had a ruptured appendix and might need an operation! Right then I just started thinking how awesome it would be to get my appendix ripped out in a foreign country about three days before we were supposed to leave. Anyways, they ran some more tests, drew some blood, and went to give me an IV. Just then, the kid in the room over began to scream at the top of his lungs and battle off the doctors and his parents. He put up quite the fight before being subdued.

I got a little nervous. “What are they doing to him?”

The nurse gave me a winning smile. “Oh, they’re just giving him an IV sweetie!”

She calmly lifted the giant IV needle.

It wasn’t that bad.

I was kept overnight in the children’s ward, which was decorated with murals of Israeli cartoon characters and stuff. I guess it was supposed to cheer everyone up, but the garish colors and fake smiles were more creepy than happy.

The morning came and brought a dose of doctors – in – training with it. They took turns learning the tools of the trade, which mostly involved jabbing me in the stomach to see if I still hurt there. I did.

I was promised an ultrasound at nine in the morning that day, and they told me that if it was clean, I probably just had a bacterial infection instead of a ruptured appendix and they’d send me home with some antibiotics. I’ve never been so excited to get an ultrasound in my life! Actually, I don’t think I ever expected to get an ultrasound in my life.

I got the ultrasound a little off schedule at around noon, but it was alright, because it turned out that I didn’t have a ruptured appendix! However, despite having all the evidence to the contrary, the doctors wanted to keep me for another night to be sure. I adamantly refused. It’s strange – in America, hospitals kick you out as soon as you can stand up, but when I was in Israel, it was like a big family party at the hospital, complete with a bunch of little kids running around and that too-friendly uncle that keeps poking you in the stomach. Actually that was pretty much true. Whole extended families came and visited their kids, bringing picnic lunches and eating out on the roof.

Anyways, the final battery of tests came, culminating in the most humiliating experience of my life. Two doctors brought me into a room and laid me on my side. The older doctor calmly took a seat and observed while the second doctor turned to me and said “Son, this might feel a little weird,” and gave me a painful poke in the posterior. As soon as he emerged the first doctor took a quick *sniff* and said “yep, that’s shigella,” while the poking doctor nodded matter-o’ factly. True story.

So I had shigella, a less potent strain of dysentery. I was given some delicious antibiotic cocktail that tasted like bananas and sent on my way. It was an anti-climactic ending to an intense ordeal, but I left with the taste of bananas in my mouth, so it was all right.

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