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is this an operating theater or an interrogation room

Updated: Aug 11

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For a split second, the crazy but not at all unlikely thought runs through my mind; that instead of being in a hospital operating theater, I have ended up in a KGB interrogation cellar.

The poison has worked. After three rounds of chemotherapy, virtually all metastases have disappeared. It is now time for surgery, to remove my ovaries and a maximum of the cancer in the abdominal cavity that has spread from them.

The doctors cannot say anything more specific in advance of the surgery. Quite scary.

A few minutes before my hospital bed gets pushed into the gynecological operating theater, I meet the anesthetist, Dr. Sergey. Our meeting takes place in a hallway. Doctors, nurses, stacks of sterilized operating room equipment, laundry, and whatever else is on the carts is constantly passing by us.

Dr. Sergey stands by a computer, which is dictating him, the questions, he asks me. To make sure I am the right patient. That I am in the right place and that all my personal information is entered correctly into the system.

In the months spent as an outpatient at the gynecologic oncology ward, I have become acquainted with the diverse universe of Israeli hospitals. The young onco-gynecologist, Dr. Majdi, who is a Bedouin from the city of Beersheba, the oncological nurses Viki, Anastasia and Yelena, all from the Ukraine, and their colleagues Merav, a religious Orthodox Jew, and Muslim Fatma, are just a few of the many making up the multicultural staff.

It is difficult not to notice Dr. Sergey’s heavy Russian accent. There were thousands of physicians among the approximately one million former Soviet citizens who immigrated to Israel between 1990 and Dr. Segey is probably one of them.

Then the surgical nurse Julia appears in the hallway and briefly presents herself to me. She is smiling and tall, at least 2.1 meters.

In the middle of the operating theater, there is a gynecological surgical chair bathed in light. Countless hoses and cables run from it in all directions. I am placed on that chair assisted by a younger male nurse who does not give his name.

Above my head, the nurse Julia and Dr. Sergey converse vividly with each other and with the younger nurse – in Russian. I gather they are all Israelis born in the Soviet Union.

Dr. Sergey – speaking in Hebrew – asks me to sit on the edge of the surgical chair, and begins to prepare me for the epidural anesthesia he will give me before administering the general anesthesia.

First, I will feel a short stinging pain in my back and then the sensation of an electric current spreading in the lower part of my body.

A few days before my surgery, a good friend who has been through far too many cancer operations in the past few years, shared a piece of good advice.

“I always ask one of the nurses to hold my hand the moment when they give the anesthetics. It makes it all the less daunting,” she suggested. That is exactly what I want. To make it all a little less scary. For as such the situation is not safe:

I sit on the chair that could fit well in a torture chamber, bathed in light. I am surrounded by people speaking Russian with needles and knives and I have to prepare myself to feel an electric current in my legs.

I use all my courage and call in the direction of Nurse Julia:

“Would you be able to hold my hand for a moment?” I ask her while Dr. Sergey prepares his long needles somewhere behind my back.

I have given birth to both of my children with natural births, and I ponder and wonder why nowadays so many young women are asking for these scary spinal anesthetics during delivery.

Maybe my Hebrew is not perfect. Perhaps Nurse Julia’s is not.

“Yes”, she answers and comes across the room with long strides, still speaking with Dr. Sergey in Russian. She stands in front of me, extends both her hands towards me, grabs my wrists, and presses both my arms down against the sort of armrest on the surgical chair.

I register, that instead of the caring hand I had imagined, I am being completely and relentlessly locked down. At the same time, I feel the stinging in my back, and the hideous feeling of an electric shockwave from my back runs down into my legs.

For a split second, the crazy but not at all unlikely thought runs through my mind; that instead of being in a hospital operating theater, I have ended up in a KGB interrogation cellar.

Then the discomfort is over. I am told to lean back into the chair, and I hear Dr. Sergey bid me good night.

The next thing I remember is from the recovery room, where a slightly agitated female voice shouts:

“How much did they weigh?” and gets the answer from someone: “2780 and 2550 grams. Mazel tov!

She has just given birth to twin boys.

Only then do I realize my daughter is standing next to me, smiling and saying, “Mom, it’s over, it all went fine.”

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