Giving can take many forms. Unfortunately, it can at times be stifling, obligating, or burdensome. It may be self-serving or simply uncomfortable for the receiver. It is when the giving is selfless and heartfelt, an outpouring of the desire to truly make the other happy, that it becomes a form of art.
The legend tells of a gentle bear who befriended a man. One day, the two friends went on a stroll through the forest. Stopping to rest under a wide tree, the man fell asleep. The bear stood devotedly at the man’s side, ready to protect his friend from any disturbance to his sleep. Suddenly, a small fly settled on the man’s nose. At first the bear tried to swat it away, but the fly kept returning. Finally, the bear decided to teach the impudent fly a lesson. Ambling over to an upturned tree stump nearby, it picked it up and hurled it directly at the fly on the man’s nose. Needless to say, the man was instantly killed by his friend’s “crushing” kindness. Giving. Its definition itself can be so elusive, taking on hundreds of different manifestations, forms and masks. Some people are givers like that well-known children’s story of the Giving Tree – giving and giving in a way that fills them with satisfaction yet ultimately depletes them. Some giving is full of good intentions and devotion, yet not properly adapted to the receiver. There is the bear-hug, stifling sort of giving and the kind which makes the receiver feel like he’s drowning in the outpouring of love. There are also forms of giving that are less altruistic, such as giving which is really more about the giver than the receiver, and giving because “I can’t not” or because “I need some Divine assistance now and this might turn the tide in my favor…”
And then there is giving in the truest, purest sense of the word. The kind of giving which is all about the receiver and whatever will make him happy and comfortable.
Simply watching people who exhibit that kind of giving offers a deep, lasting understanding of what true kindness looks like.
The Best Place to Diffuse Tension
Spending a day in Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital’s paediatric surgery unit gives a glimpse into the truest form of giving borne of love.
Dr. Boris Orkin has been serving as manager of this unit for a number of years, and with his trademark warmth and love of his patients has succeeded in creating a truly spectacular ward which children actually…enjoy.
“There is a special magic in the hospital that is difficult to describe in words,” he begins. It is clear, looking at his animated face, that the topic is especially dear to him. “We have succeeded in creating a safe, comfortable atmosphere in our ward. The children are not afraid of surgeries, and the surgery becomes an incredible experience for the child.”
No doubt, some of you are raising a skeptical eyebrow right now. Yet it is difficult to dispute hard facts.
We walk into the ward to see for ourselves.
“How can you make a child comfortable in a frightening place like an operating room?”
“Well, what better place could there be to show love and comfort than a children’s operating room?” he counters. “There are so many areas in general medicine that are devoid of emotion. Here, though,” he points toward the operating room door near us, “is the most appropriate place to diffuse tension, to interact with the child and to spend some enjoyable time with him. The child is in distress. He is on a pretty difficult journey. He is looking for help and healing and instead, I need to cause him more pain…”
It is painful to hear Dr. Orkin speak, yet deeply moving too. An experienced, veteran doctor who sees countless children every day and operates on dozens of young patients every month, Dr. Orkin’s sensitivity clearly remained unaffected. In fact, it seems to have only deepened with time. Viewing the young patient before him as a child, an entire world, a wondrous little being who needs to be protected and enveloped in love – Dr. Orkin’s perception is astounding.
“What would you say is one major difference between treating adults and children?”
“The difference is that normal adults have learned to lie, while children are real. They see reality as it truly is. You cannot have the child place his trust in you, and then cause him pain. The child will interpret that as betrayal. The most important thing here is, I believe, to maintain the child’s dignity and his sense of security.”
“How is that implemented here, practically speaking?”
“The entire team here in the ward is untied in this goal; even the secretaries and receptionists. It starts with the verbal connection made. When a child arrives at our ward, we will never ask him, “Sweetie, where does it hurt?” The child is sitting on an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room, while an unfamiliar doctor approaches the painful area and then asks him where it hurts! Of course the child will immediately shrink back. He’ll be afraid, cry, and might even throw a tantrum. What we do here instead is create medicine through play. The medical exam is so exciting and funny that the child is not looking out to feel the pain. His mind is not producing fear and anxiety.”
The same approach is used in the ward’s clinic. The medical equipment becomes part of an elaborate show. The beds are huge airplanes; the x-ray machine is a massive camera, binoculars, or anything else the child may fancy. The décor is child-friendly and calming, the soft hues casting a soothing calm over the entire ward.
The operating rooms, where the child’s comfort level is especially crucial, are clearly Dr. Orkin’s favorite.
“In what way are the operating rooms here different than other operating rooms?”
“Try to imagine what a child feels like when he enters an operating room. He is incredibly stressed from the empty room he is entering alone, without his parents or a familiar escort, just a team of doctors around him. This is the time to respect his needs and maintain his physical dignity.”
The preparation for surgery at Mayanei Hayeshua is an experience in its own right. Multiply that by the number of patients which the good doctor operates on an average day, and the reality is astounding.
Dr. Orkin’s belief is that a child in surgery must fall asleep with a smile on his face. “If he falls asleep with a smile, he will wake up with a smile,” he asserts. “It’s a tried and true fact.”
“How can a child fall asleep with a smile on his face before a complex surgery?”
When it comes to the staff’s devotion to attend to the child’s emotional needs, at Mayanei Hayeshua’s paediatric surgery ward, the sky is the limit… Even if the patient is small, shrill, and throwing a tantrum.
To Dr. Orkin, every idea that may help this goal is a viable option, and he tries them all. You might walk into the operating room to a surrealistic scene of the revered surgeon sitting on the child’s hospital bed and reading him a tzaddikim story out of one of the many books in his possession. He may draw, colour, or play with the child if necessary. You might even find the child dancing on the operating table if that is what he needs. Dr. Orkin will do whatever it takes for the child to calm down so he can safely settle back and fall asleep – with a smile.
A large percentage of the children who begin surgery in this way do not require painkillers during their subsequent hospital stay, and for many, the recuperation process is far easier and shorter.
The same sensitive approach to the children’s emotional needs is displayed by the other doctors and interns in the ward. Before each round, you will find the ward manager standing with the other staff members and reminding them, “We love and respect what we are doing.”
“These are the greatest, most important moments of my work day,” concludes Dr. Orkin. Because “love” and “respect” are indeed the operative key words in his ward.
Dr. Orkin asks to add one more thing in conclusion. “I love my work at Mayanei Hayeshua hospital. It is a hospital that breeds a sense of security for anyone who steps into it.” As he speaks, Dr. Orkin’s eyes exude that special glow which accompanied our entire conversation. “Mayanei Hayeshua is a community hospital, and as such, it provides treatment that is completely adapted to the community’s culture and standards. That’s part of the goal that we set for ourselves. As part of my job, I am in touch with the maternity ward, sometimes performing surgery on newborns with medical problems. I also work with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And I feel secure working with our professional team, knowing that they will provide a consistently high standard of medical care.
“If you can add one more thing,” he asks, “it is my thanks to the hospital management which allows me this job that is so filled with color and with love.”
Speaking of giving, there is one more quite literal definition: giving gifts.
As I walk through Mayanei Hayeshua’s maternity ward, I observe what whole-hearted giving looks like. A new mother might be given a bed, bedside cabinet, wash station and mirror – or she can be given those same items with an additional sense of pampering and the feeling that someone wants her to really enjoy herself and to use those initial days following birth to luxuriate in comfortable surroundings, like a mini hotel…
I peek into the rooms. Comfortable, adjustable beds with no wheels, that look nothing like hospital beds. An inviting armchair near each bed, right alongside a beautiful bedside cabinet. Everything is designed with the same wood paneling and beautiful colours, the wallpaper meticulously planned to exude a dignified, pleasant atmosphere.
There are no curtains here for an illusion of privacy. Instead, between each bed is a sturdy wooden folding partition, easily pushed back for a good schmooze with the mother on the bed across the room, and then just as easily pulled closed again when privacy is needed.
And there is no need to fill the small bedside cabinet with dripping water bottles. Every two rooms are equipped with their own private water cooler, approved for Shabbat use, as well as a small refrigerator to store food. And if the new mother would like a hot drink, there is a fully equipped coffee corner in the dining room available to her at all hours.
It is difficult to be surprised again after viewing the accommodations, yet the dining room is a wonder in its own right, looking more like an elegant restaurant than a hospital dining room. As we enter, the small tables are already set for lunch, covered in beautiful tablecloths. The wood-paneled bar is spotlessly clean, ready for the hot and cold spread that is about to be served. The food is varied and geared for every taste. Meat and pareve dishes are served daily, along with multiple sides and salads. Everything is aesthetic and plentiful.
A Distinctive Welcoming Atmosphere
In contrast to other hospitals, where new mothers are discharged 48 hours after birth, Mayanei Hayeshua’s maternity ward continues serves the mothers for three days. Mayanei Hayeshua’s worldview maintains that pampering a new mother is part of the care she needs and deserves. Hospital care following birth is not only about medical services; it is about allowing the new mother to rest and recuperate in hotel-like conditions.
Tzofit Meshorer has been working as a nurse in Mayanei Hayeshua for twenty-seven years, fifteen of which she has served as deputy department head. Over the last few years she has been serving as head nurse in the upgraded maternity ward.
“Since its own birth, the hospital has doubled in size multiple times, but the pleasant atmosphere has never changed,” she shares.
“Recently, one of the mothers in the ward told me that this is her thirteenth time by us, bli ayin hara. She has been with the hospital almost since it was established and enjoys discovering each time anew how much further it has developed. About her current hospitalisation, she said that the exceptional conditions make her feel like coming back to be hospitalised here again and again!”
The Treasure under the Bridge
New mothers are a sensitive bunch. That is an important fact to remember when dealing with this particular group. Practitioners need not only professional experience but also a wide-open heart. That is why, as part of the entrance exam each professional must undergo before receiving a job at Mayanei Hayeshua, their devotion is tested too.
“The [entire team here at the] ward does everything they can to make sure that the new mother will enjoy herself. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the first few days after the birth of a new baby is mood swings. Getting used to the new role, the round-the-clock focus on the baby’s care, all these make the new mother experience swerving highs and lows. She can be happy one moment and sad the next. She is full energy and then she isn’t. She wants the baby but also wants to be alone… At the ward, we notice her needs and try to create a supportive environment for these sometimes-difficult days.”
As part of being that “supportive environment,” the new mothers enjoy hotel-style accommodations, with soft music playing in the background and excellent food – including meat, chicken, different carbohydrates, sides and soups. (As an aside, the menu is created by the ward dietician and is fully adapted to the mothers’ health needs during the days following birth.) Women who have specific dietary restrictions receive customised meals.
The staff is also aware of the women’s delicate state and is sensitive to it. “I am lucky to work with a most gentle, sensitive staff,” says Tzofit. “A staff who only want to give and give and will do anything so that the new mother will be calm and happy.”
Indeed, Mayanei Hayeshua’s maternity ward is where one can see what true giving looks like. A treasure hidden right under our very own bridge…
In the last week of November 2019, Professor Rael Strous, the South African-born medical director of Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre, and professor of psychiatry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Medicine, was in London for a busy round of meetings and events organised by the British Friends of Mayanei Hayeshua.