Friday, December 31, 2010

Visit(s) to the doctor...

I love being diagnosed with strep throat. That isn’t to say that it’s my most favorite thing in the world. But when you’re plagued with an aching sore throat with no remedy, a verdict of Streptococcus seems like the only light at the end of the tunnel.

My husband was ‘sick’ with a scratchy throat over the weekend. When my throat started bothering me the following Sunday night, I thought I’d caught whatever he had. As he left Monday morning, he called out to me “just rest, don’t do any work around the house while you’re sick”, a way to get himself off the hook for not folding any laundry while he was home sick, the day before.

I made a doctor’s appointment later that day, for the required ‘sick note’, and just a check up. I didn’t think that the sore throat would turn into anything more than a bad cold. While driving there, I received a call from an unknown number, and didn’t check the message until I was parking in the underground parking lot. “Hello, this is the Dr’s office. She won’t be able to make your appointment in 15 minutes.” To say I was extremely disappointed in the inept medical system, falls short of the reaction I had. I begrudgingly returned home, assuming that, in any case, I would feel better the next day.

I woke up that night with an excruciating lump in my throat, and I knew that this was far from over. My throat hurt so much, reminding me of my brief bout with mono two years ago. The next day, I tried everything, and I mean everything: hot water with lemon and honey, whiskey, ginger, sprays, pills -- the whole works. I went back to the doctor, who took a quick look and said “it looks like some sort of virus -- how many sick days from work do you need?”

Over the next two days, I drank more hot water with things floating in it than I ever have before. I polled people for any home remedies they knew, and tried some pretty crazy ones.

I finally decided that enough was enough, and I went back to the doctor yet again. I dragged my husband with me this time, for moral support. We came without an appointment, and I felt fine with that, seeing as she had stood me up once, and completely misdiagnosed me the second time, all in one week.

My husband teased me that it was people like me that held up upstanding people who come in waiting for real appointments. I said that we would be quick, in and out, and that we would hardly waste people’s time. Which is why I was so surprised when we finally went into the doctor’s office, and it was my husband who was chit-chatting with the doctor. It started about how his immune system is so much stronger than mine, because he exposes it to everything. This got the doctor rolling -- she really loves to chit-chat with other English speakers -- and the discussion evolved to lactose intolerance and a conference that she’d been at, the day before. This of course evoked my husband’s pride at his claim of being able to ‘overcome’ his lactose intolerance when he first came to Israel, some 9 years ago. Let’s just say, it was not I who held up the other patients.

When she came around to checking my throat, she said “oh, yeah -- it may be strep throat! Sometimes strep throat can be detected by little white dots in your throat, and other times, your throat looks normal”. She diagnosed me with strep, wrote me a referral to the lab for a throat swab, and a prescription for much-needed antibiotics.

She joked with my husband about my being overly-conscientious with regard to feeling bad about missing so much work. And as she wrote out a new doctor’s note, she said -- “you know, I always wonder why there’s no word for conscientious in Hebrew” -- and I thought to myself -- looking back over the events of the past few days -- that it’s really no wonder at all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Change -- and Pink Hand Soap

I think that we, as human beings, can really get used to almost anything. It is true that when faced with changes and obstacles, we get frightened and nervous about how to proceed into uncharted territory.

There are a few schools of thought, when facing such obstacles: one is to convince yourself of your future successes, and thus become so positively directed that you can’t imagine failure. The other is quite the opposite: to prepare yourself for the absolute worst; to become aware of any and all ramifications of the worst outcome, and to accept it as a possible -- and probable outcome.

I don’t accept change easily. I do not enjoy the challenge of something new; I prefer the known and the comfortable. This is why I become anxious and apprehensive when faced with new things. Actually, anxious is a bit of an understatement. When I recently booked my driver’s license road test for two weeks later, I couldn’t think of anything else. I stayed up at night, worrying about what would happen. I felt sick to my stomach, with pains that wouldn’t go away.

People tend to think that they are helping when they say “its all in your head” or “just think positively” -- but they just don’t understand. You see, if it was that easy, if all that it takes is just to tell myself that it will be okay, then wouldn’t I have tried such a tactic? Those people personify the first school of thought (above) that can convince themselves that they can succeed in any situation. The kind of person that I would like to be (and hate at the same time).

Lately, I am coming to the realization that some people had in their teenage years: that things aren’t as scary as they seem once you get used to them. Gaining experience and seeing what’s out there really helps one to succeed. Maybe, even planning to fall and pick yourself up once or twice is not the worst method.

So, although I failed the first driving test that I took, when I came back and tried again, I felt much more prepared and calm, knowing what lay ahead. I passed with flying colours the second time around.

But here’s another example of change: my fluorescent hand soap phobia. Israelis, for all their progress in technology, have not yet mastered the hand soap industry. The most common brands produce bright pink, blue or green goop, that have pungent, and interestingly unnatural smells. For a long time, my office had the orange flavour in stock. I was able to stand the orange flavour, as it slightly resembled a normal-smelling soap. But recently, the office manager changed, and with her, so did the soap flavour -- to pink.

At the beginning, I found myself close to throwing up every time I washed my hands. I almost resorted to bringing in my own hand soap, and hiding it somewhere, so that I wouldn’t be that weird person in the office bringing in their own soap. Then I told myself (and granted, this was a very quick decision, seeing as this was a sudden change) that I have to just take the plunge, and get used to it. I knew that it would be awful. I knew that I would find myself sitting at my desk sniffing and wondering who had mixed dishwashing liquid with ketchup -- and then realize that the smell was coming from me. And it was pretty bad at first, there were some hard times, I’m not going to lie. But slowly, I have gotten used to the smell. It has become less terrible, and more familiar. Once I got used to it, I realized that life with pink hand soap is better than life without any hand soap. And that maybe I can, one day, reach the point where I can embrace change as it hits me in the face.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Either my head is too big, or they’re just crazy!

I am the first to admit that I will always remain a patriotic Canadian at heart. I love Canada. The pristine cleanliness of the paved roads and street signs, and the friendliness of the Tim Hortons drive-through people as I order my "double-double", all make me crave my red-and-white-flagged home.

Perhaps Canada is leaps and bounds ahead of Israel in many areas, especially customer service. Or perhaps I have just convinced myself of the vast difference between the two countries in this respect ever since I moved to Israel, around six years ago. Could it be because of my subpar bureaucratic experiences in Israel, that I always look fondly at the polite, neat lines in Government offices back home in Canada, and the service-with-a-smile attitude the clerks always have?

My recent dealings with the Canadian Government offices in Israel have caused me to believe that I have just been dreaming over the past few years, and have wrongly led myself into a world of misconceptions. The Consulate office of my beloved homeland is as difficult to deal with as any Israeli office.

This mess all started when I had to renew my Canadian Passport. I am flying back to Toronto in September, and it turns out that my passport expires on the day that we fly out of Israel. Besides the fact that my passport will thus be expired the next day, when I land on Canadian soil, there is the whole issue of your passport being valid for at least another six months from the day you travel. I have never really understood this law. It essentially means that you never really get your full money’s worth of that five or ten year passport renewal. They should just start saying that each passport renewal is valid for only four-and-a-half or for nine-and-a-half years. It’s just deceiving otherwise!

The process is quite simple if you are Canadian and living in Canada. For those of us living abroad, it is slightly more complex. One is required to take new pictures, notarize them and to temporarily part with all the personal and important documents you own.

I went to the photo shop to get my picture taken for my Canadian passport renewal, but it was as if I was out of my mind for asking for a 5 cm. by 7 cm. passport picture. I had to reassure them that yes, I do know that the American passport is only 5 by 5. I know. But I am not American. The first store wouldn’t even take my pictures. They didn’t know how to reformat them so that they would be the size that I needed, or rather, that the Canadian government required.

I finally found a convenience store that said they could make passport pictures of all sizes - a real mom-and-pop type store. Sure, I thought: this is exactly what they envision when they write that the picture has to be taken at a "commercial photography establishment". I stood there, with the directions in hand, reading them off to the scruffy, don't-mess-with-me Israeli that owned the store. He wasn’t paying much attention, and as I stood there, without a smile on my face (as per the Canadian instructions), waiting for the flash, I hoped that he would try and follow the rules...

He took, I think, the worst picture I’ve ever seen of myself in my life. He then tinkered around with some machine in his back room to adjust the pictures to the right size. He handed them to me, and I took a ruler to check the measurement from my head to my chin. It was a good 40 mm, 4 mm too long. I asked him to re-do them, and he grudgingly complied. This time, I inspected the photos even more scrupulously, going over the rules on the application form again and again. Convinced that I had done everything by the books, and that there would be no problems handing them in with my application, I left.

The next day, my husband journeyed out in the blazing heat to take my photos and forms to the passport office. The officials looked over my documents and checked that everything was there. When they got to the pictures, the man at the desk took out his handy ruler, measured my head, and just shook his head: “we’re so sorry, there is just no way that they are going to accept this head in Ottawa. Also, there’s a shadow next to the neck that you can see if you squint and turn your head sideways”. When my husband called to tell me the news, I was heartbroken. I couldn’t help but feel rejected by my own country of origin. Now what?

...I have just gone back to the same "photo shop" to sit for my third set of photos. Needless to say, my application is still pending…

Thursday, June 25, 2009

summer missing...

My friend that told me that whenever she gets homesick, and sees a SuperPharm Pharmacy in Israel, she goes in, just to feel like she’s home. Superpharm is the Israeli brand of the Canadian Shoppers Drug Mart.

I am also starting to feel a little homesick this year as the summer kicks into full swing.
It’s that time of year again, when everyone you know starts to talk about their elaborate summer plans. Most of the international students (and by that I mean the English speaking ones that are my friends), at the university fly home after exams for weeks, even months.

This is the first summer ever, well, probably since those diapered pre-nursery days that I actually have no summer plans whatsoever.

I work full time now. My life doesn’t come with built-in vacations anymore.

When you work, you can’t just leave your current vocation and live a quarter of the year in a different country. I’m not flying back to my hometown Toronto this summer. I am convincing myself that I am perfectly happy, as a citizen and resident of Israel, to stay put and enjoy the summer locally.

This would be a great plan, if it were not for the following two points:

One is that Tel Aviv is so unbelievably hot. You feel as if you are constantly sleep-walking in a human size oven that has been pre-heated. You find yourself planning your walking paths to the grocery store around the corner according to most shade available en route. You become so drenched in sweat, only minutes after leaving the house, that you wonder whether your deodorant is really perfumed water in a can. From May till November you won’t see a cloud in this Mediterranean sky. I’ve talked to Israelis about the weather here, comparing it to Toronto. We’ve discussed the classic summer weather cycle in Toronto. The buildup of humidity, more clouds, unbearable humidity, and then after waiting for days, the heat breaks, and it rains such a lovely calming summer rain. They look at me bewildered. “Rain in the summer?!? How can it rain in the summer? What do you wear, long or short sleeves?” They don’t seem to understand the concept of precipitation when the barometer reads over 20 degrees.

The second reason why my plan is doomed to fail is because, when July and August roll around, you suddenly find that the rest of the country flies out in a mass exodus. The streets are bare, and the banks are open only one hour a day instead of the normal two. Everyone in the office discusses their summer plans, and stares at me in disbelief when I tell them that I’m not going anywhere this year.

To top it all off, I heard today that even the dead sea scrolls took a 6 month vacation to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

I think that maybe I’ll just take a little trip to the pharmacy to get a whiff of what being back in Canada would smell like…

Thursday, June 18, 2009

To Build, or not to build?

We all started getting our nails built at around the same time. My older sister, the self-care guru in our family, decided that it was something that we all must do. Naturally, we immediately ran after her into the stylish lure of acrylics and gels. After my first experience at the ‘salon’, my nails were quite sharp. I wondered how it is that nail-building is legal, although there is something to be said for having ten sharp weapons, ready on demand, at your fingertips. Literally.

At the beginning, I fell in love with the tap-tap-tap that my nails made on hard surfaces. It became an empowering part of who I was. Women who noticed my nails would comment enviously “oh, you got your nails done!” and I would reply, ever so nonchalantly, that my nails are always done. I would run home from an appointment, and show my husband the new design etched into my cuticles. He would nod his head in agreement (although slightly unconvincingly) that they are so very worth it. I must admit, that every once in a while I would look over at my hands, and not recognize my own nails -- but I truly came to appreciate them.

The salon experience was quite what I expected from the Israeli service industry. The nail lady claimed that I have very sensitive skin, as she filed away in every direction, completely missing the nail most of the time. Perhaps my skin would not have been so “sensitive” had you not been on the phone, I wanted to say. But I kept quiet. (It pays to be in your manicurist’s good books.)

What they don’t tell you is that once you’ve started doing it, you can never stop. Your nails grow (and you notice) like never before. Every chip, every scratch, can turn a bright happy day, into a depressing misery. You wait and long to get another chance, to make them perfect again. They are thick, and difficult to maneuver. Day-to-day activities, such as pulling small pieces of lettuce out of your teeth, or picking spare change off the ground after it’s fallen at the grocery store checkout (and everyone is waiting for you), become chores. And yet, you remain committed to an everlasting program of filing, gluing, brushing, and painting.

It was after half a year of this addictive routine that I decided “enough! I will no longer be a slave to my nails”. I knew that I was making the right decision, but I had so many worries. What would my nails look like when I came out of this on the other side?
Above all, I was scared that, by leaving it all behind, I would endure shame by telling my manicurist that I was leaving her.

And so it is with mixed feelings of sadness and great trepidation, that I bid adieu to my beautiful artificially-strengthened nails, and move on to other beauty care routines.