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Each one of us in that waiting room had something in common: in silence, we awaited an anguished moment of terrifying truth.


Divine Providence has assembled us in an unlikely group this ordinary Wednesday morning. I am among eight men and women, without much in common at first glance, each awaiting a turn in the ultrasound room at Shaarei Tzedek.

And yet, we have everything in common. Each one, in privacy and silence, awaits an anguished moment of terrifying truth.

I am perfectly healthy. I am here completely by mistake. The doctor who sent me for this thing must be some kind of idiot. He likes to order tests, you know the sort. What kind of place is this, anyway? There are no cups in the dispenser near the water fountain, even though my instructions were to drink a cup every half hour before this stupid test.

I will make no complaints and drink as best I can, straight from the fountain.

A lady sitting next to me keeps leaning over and asking me questions. She is anxious to talk about her ailments, but I cannot bear to become her compatriot. I take out a torn book of Psalms, avoiding her eyes. Some of the people waiting are in carelessly closed hospital pajamas, lying on long beds, their faces ashen. They do not try to still their groans.

I feel really sorry for these people, but I'm not supposed to be here. My doctor is one of those alarmists who wants the chart to look complete, and so he ordered this ultrasound. Really, this whole procedure is unnecessary, a big waste of time. Right?

My name has not been called, a short reprieve. I look around. What am I doing here with these people?

For me it is a second Rosh Hashana. I know that I must pray before I am called in, with all my might, before it will be too late. Amidst the abrasive noise my heartfelt prayers have never flowed so freely: God, You know the innermost secrets of my body. You already know what the ultrasound people have yet to discover. Please please God, let them find nothing. Please please God, let everything be okay.

Could you please calm down? They probably don't tell you anything right away, no matter what they see. Maximum, they talk about polyps, not tumors, right? And anyway, they tell you nothing, they just give you a computer disc and send you back to the referring doctor. Oh my God. I don't even have a telephone card to call my husband.

A young doctor with a kind face opens the double metal doors. She reads two names from her papers, calling the appointed defendants into the courtroom. My name has not been called, a short reprieve. I look around. What am I doing here with these people?

A man in the waiting room speaks rapid Yiddish into a cell phone. I gather that all his plans for the day have gone awry. Everything is late, a big balagan. The man accompanies a little boy about ten years old, who is very pale and walks along with a mobile intravenous apparatus. The boy is not distressed; he is extremely calm.

The young doctor re-emerges from behind the metal doors. This time, she calls my name. My heart almost stops with fear. She beckons me inside. I am gestured into one of the dark little rooms, where only the screen is lit up. Someone tells me to lie down on the bed, and I numbly follow orders. My moment has come, but there is no solemnity or even silence. The doctor who examines me is also talking to several young interns about a different case. Very quickly she completes the test.

"Everything is fine, completely normal," she tells me in accented English. "You have nothing to worry about." She sees that I am too moved to respond. "I wish that everyone who came here had such perfect results, my dear." She adds, more gently, "You're one of the lucky ones."

They tell me to wait outside for 20 minutes till the disc is ready. I cannot bear the tension of the waiting room and I take the elevator to the cafeteria. Amazingly, people are laughing, drinking coffee, buying newspapers, utterly oblivious to the dramas taking place moments away, in a different dimension of time and space, truth and pain. I count my change, overjoyed that I can think again about such simple, beautiful matters as getting home in time to give my daughters lunch and buying a phone card to tell my husband, thank God, everything is okay.

March 21, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) israel kestenbaum, November 19, 2008 4:58 AM

I liked so much that you were grateful without saying others have it worse.

I found your description of the world of illness compelling. Many are not as fortunate as you and that made you all the more aware of your blessings. Sometimes I hear people say "I am grateful because others have it much worse...". That others have it worse is of course no reason to be grateful..on the contrary if we are truly ohavei yisrael that will make our situation only feel worse.. You felt grateful to Hashem because you were spared...Thats the kind of thanksgiving that feels genuine and true!

(9) suri, September 14, 2008 5:13 PM

Wow I know how you feel. I went for an ultrasound 5 months to find out if its boy/girl. Instead I found out she died of a cord accident. I don't take anything for granted. Hashem is in charge.

(8) Anonymous, March 26, 2008 10:24 AM

Don't lose Emunah

Every day big things happen for one person and the person next to them is oblivious. G-d willing we should always walk, move and hear with awareness and acknowledgement. We cannot always change what is going on, but our perception of it changes us and those around us. Kol Tuv

(7) Anonymous, March 25, 2008 4:56 PM

I do ultrasounds

I appreciated your article. It's good to be reminded of the anxiety of the patients. My heart and prayers go out to the patients when we find a problem. Blessings.

(6) A.M., March 25, 2008 10:13 AM

As a sonographer/ultrasound technologist working in the field, it is helpful to read about the thoughts of a patient. My colleagues and I are continuously discussing how to be sympathetic to our patients and try to lessen patient anxiety.

I find that the most helpful thing that a patient can do when their doctor orders an exam is to make sure that they understand why the exam is being done, for good or for bad. There is no reason that the doctor him/herself cannot tell a patient how severe he thinks the situation is. There are many ultrasound exams that are done as a matter of routine, including pelvic and breast ultrasounds. Patients (and their families) who are anxiety ridden because of a routine ultrasound, or any other exam, are causing themselves and their loved ones unnecessary pain. If patients are comfortable with their doctors then they will be able to trust that what the doctor is telling them as accurate and they will be (mostly) free of the torture of doubt.

And if, chas v'shalom, a doctor is sending a patient for any sort of an exam because the doctor has a real concern about the results, then any patient would do well for themselves to pray and know that the Almighty never gives a test that a person cannot handle and with His help you will get through this time as well, whether your difficulty will be only the fear of the exam and a well report or, chas v'shalom, anything else that may come as results.

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