Life & Culture

Break a leg...but not in Israel

When Jo Sugarman broke her leg it was her first experience of Israeli hospitals.


Breaking your leg in Israel, 18 months after making aliyah, when your only form of communication is hand signals, is totally inadvisable.

I didn’t even break it doing anything exciting. No sky-diving for me. I was actually getting out the car. It’s not difficult. I’ve done it loads of times before. But this time, I lost my balance, wobbled and frantically tried to grab something to hold onto. But there was only air.

My husband’s head appeared from behind the car. He didn’t find it strange to see me lying in the road. (I’m often to be found lying down — it’s a favourite position of mine — especially on a sofa). But he could see that my leg was a funny shape. And the fact that I was shouting: “Leg! Hurting! Could be broken!” might have also given the game away.

Upon arrival at the hospital it appeared that I really couldn’t walk. My body is not as sculpted and toned as it once was and as a result I did not have the required muscular ability to hop, even whilst clinging onto Husband. A wheelchair was needed. Husband succeeded in finding one that had seen better days — it only had three wheels — and off we went to the emergency room where it transpired I had broken my leg “very well indeed”, “in quite a unique way.” I felt I should get a prize.

My prize was, it transpired, a major operation. I would be out of action for six months. Euphoric thoughts sped through my mind — exactly how many episodes of Game of Thrones could I watch in six months? If I ate one tub of Ben & Jerry’s icecream every day, how many flavours could I get through? How many packets of Cadbury Giant Buttons could I bribe friends to bring back from the UK?

But then reality set in.

On the first day, they told me to fast in preparation for my operation. I’d done Yom Kippur a few times successfully (does a cup of tea really count?) so I was optimistic, I could do this. But by 8pm my sugar levels were dangerously low.

Through a mixture of Russian, Arabic and Ivrit (none of which I can speak) I discovered that the doctor had left for the day. Not good news.

But I was cool. It would be tomorrow.

But it wasn’t tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow. I was becoming institutionalised.

This was my routine. Lights on at 5am. Wheel self down corridor to communal shower. Dress self in attractive green pyjamas, balancing on one leg, (very useful skill), wheel self to nurses’ station, learn some Russian and Arabic swearing, hear that I was definitely “next” on the surgery list.

Starve for 14 hours, hear that I’m not next on list but still can’t eat, because I am definitely next on list. Hear that I am not next on list. Visitors wheel me down a ramp (fun). Husband wheels me back up the ramp (less fun, particularly for Husband). Stalk doctors to ask them about possibility of having my operation.

This went on for 10 days, until I found myself parked in the Chief of Hospital’s Office, holding his very nice secretary as my hostage.

I didn’t have a weapon or anything (I’m not totally crazy), but my wheelchair became a useful tool for blocking any movement that she wished to make between her desk and the exit (I had become very nimble). After 10 days of starvation, dehydration and a crash course in swearing in foreign languages, I was fierce.

Husband and I explained the problem. I had been in hospital for a while now, and although we were very grateful for all the weirdly coloured jelly they had provided, it was apparent that when they told us I was next on the list, they were lying, as I was still here and not fixed.

I was ready to be cut open and to go home please.

My hostage looked slightly ashen-faced, like she might be sick, but she managed to call her boss and spoke some rapid, garbled Hebrew. She was breathing quite heavily by that point, so I couldn’t catch everything she said, but I think it involved words such as “meshuggana”, “excellent at wheelchair manoeuvres” and “I’m not paid enough for this.”

The Chief of Hospital rapidly agreed with her recommendation that I should be permanently removed from the hospital, and I was promised my operation that very day.

I waited for the dashing doctor to come and discuss the intricacies of my proposed surgery, but instead was faced with a rather frazzled-looking gentleman who spoke no English. My Russian was limited to swearing at angry nurses, so our communication stalled. But he was wearing scrubs and was carrying a clipboard, so I assumed he was good at his job.

Success. My operation was done. So, remember. If you ever find yourself in an Israeli hospital, cut to the chase and take a hostage.

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