How to Survive an Israeli Hospital

Number of Cockroach Sightings: 0  (come on, it’s not that bad! Israel is a developed country you know!)

Number of Schnitzel consumed:  5

Number of Nurses spotted who have walked straight out of the 1950’s: About 17

Tzfat hospital.  Beautiful mountain views.  My window looked onto the stunning Kinneret.  Brand new almost-finished maternity unit.  Lovely birthing rooms (not that I got to hang out much in there, shame coz there was a Jacuzzi….)   Kosher meals 3 times a day.  Bliss.

Well yes all that stuff is great but the problem is the general philosophy of the place is still dreadfully old-fashioned and the nurses must be hideously underpaid as they seemes to suffer the same issues as Israeli waitresses, i.e. they are doing you a favour if they bring you something.  Over the course of 3 days I attempted to ask for pain relief (for my frozen shoulder), hot water and perhaps a herbal tea-bag for my dreadful cough that was probably driving my poor roommate mad as well as myself, (why do hospitals think that new mothers want to drink caffeinated drinks??!) and various other straightforward things.  They were all met with a “are you mad” look, and I realised pretty quickly that this was  DIY hospital.  If you ever want to get out you have to do what you are told and look after yourself.  Heavan knows how the c-section women cope.  And goodness knows I saw a lot of c-sections.  For a modern hospital, with natural birthing facilities, I was shocked at the number of women I saw recovering from them.  Perhaps it just feels that there are more of them as they stay in for longer but still, the high number did not reflect well on the skill of their midwives.

I noticed this immediately after the birth when they offered me drugs to “shrink my womb and quell the bleeding” (er, doesn’t that just happen anyway??) I asked about it and they said “oh well you know after a long labour its often very necessary.  I blinked at the midwife in surprise – has she not been paying attention? I had only been in there for about 45 minutes! (in fact the friends we were staying with were in total shock when we called them, saying that they hadn’t even managed to complete one laundry cycle in the time it took me to give birth…) I explained to them that after a natural birth, I didn’t feel the need to spoil things with unnecessary drugs.  They also gave all sorts of things to the baby (after promising he would only be gone for a few minutes) some of which were probably not necessary but I hadn’t had a chance to do research on this so I let them get on with this.  They are supposed to be at the forefront of medical science here after all.

There was however, one lovely midwife named Hila who actually apologised to me afterwards for trying to change my birthing position, saying she really wanted to help.  I thought that was very sweet, and there was a nice english speaking nurse who apologised for the confusion re: taking the baby away and helped me translate what the others were telling me to do.  This was especially handy as one of the nurses GAVE MY CHILD FORMULA WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!!! I kid you not.  After them harrassing me I agreed to give him one tiny boost as he was small and yellow even though I knew he would be fine without it, but the nurse told me I would never get out of there if i didn’t…. then I asked a nurse to take him to the nursery during the night for his jaundice test as I was feeling a bit dizzy giving her strict instructions NOT to give him a bottle.  But when I got there it was too late, they had given him a big dose.  I screamed at the nurse and ran down the corridor with the cot in tears.  I couldn’t believe the betrayal of trust there.  Of course the formula knocked him out for hours so I couldn’t feed him which was very uncomfortable.  I gave them hell for that and the doctor told me he had reprimanded her.  I should bloody think so.

I could not believe the number of newborns on formula and sucking dummies.  Nor the hilarious policy that the babies had to be wheeled around in cots (they are worried you might faint when you carry them about which is kind of understandable but not so relaxing to hear these trolleys trailing up an down the corridors day and night).  They also wake you up in the middle of the night if your baby is found (shock! Horror) in your bed (can’t they just quietly put it in the cot and let you sleep, like in Watford General?) and to take your temperature and blood pressure.  Apparantly they don’t see the need for new nursing mothers to get some sleep.  At one point I woke up in the middle and gasped loudly in horror at the ghostly apparation that appeared before me.  Turned out to be arab midwife telling me to put baby back in his cot.  Somebody had had the bright idea of giving her a matching headcovering for her white uniform and being the middle of the night I assumed she was the ghost of a previous nurse.

Most upsettingly, the nurses didn’t seem to understand anything about the basic mechanics of breastfeeding nor bonding with ones baby.  The funniest was a nurse who came to check on me on shabbat afternoon.  I had been nursing the baby who passed out on me, so I left him snuggled on my lap whilst I read my book.  The conversation went something like this:

“Why are you holding your baby?”

(wasn’t sure how to answer this one.  So gave her what I hope was an incredulous look and said:) “Because he is my new baby”

“Shouldn’t he be in his cot?”

“Er, no, he is very cosy on me”

“But his neck looks awkward”

“I think he was probably more squished up in the womb.”

Sigh.  I can’t believe in 2010 a nurse would still believe that a baby is better off in a cot than on his mother!!!

I hoped shabbat there would be relaxing, what with it being a religious hospital, but all that meant that there were billions of people around as it was the weekend. I shared a balcony with the next room and on shabbat afternoon I had 2 arab men sitting outside my window with a full view of my hospital bed.  That wasn’t fun.  On sunday I had to tell one to stop smoking!! For goodness sake.  They were pretty militant about visiting hours so I guess they used the balcony as a hiding place.  On my final day there (I discharged myself in the end as I felt I could do more for the baby at home than they could with their monitoring) a lady was wheeled into my room following what I presume was a c-section.  Her russian husband and parents were quietly taking care of her when all of a sudden a tall man in a uniform and tattos stormed in:

“Mishtarah!” (police) “You need to leave now!” (directed at tiny russian new grandma sitting by daughters bedside)

Oh my gosh! I think.  This must be a drug raid! Perhaps she is storing drugs in her daughters labour bag! Wow!)

“But I am her mother” the woman pleads.  “I am taking care of her”


They were kicking her out as it was 2pm, and there are no guests between 2 and 4.  I could not believe the way they treated the poor woman.  They also tried to hustle us out even though were were clearly packing up, and the nurses were pushing past us trying to make up the bed even though we tried to explain that it would be easier if they let me, my husband, my sons buggy, the car seat and the new babies cot exit the room first.  But they didn’t get it.   Most of them were really miserable and moody, and the only cheerful staff I saw there were the cleaning ladies, who probably enjoyed this part of their rounds the most, as it was a brand new wing with lots of cute new babies.

Anyway, here are a few tips to anyone planning to give birth un Ziv hospital:

1) bring your own herbal tea bags. 

2) Get a window bed.  Or grab one as soon as its free.

3) Press the red button if you want something, don’t go to the nurses station.  They are more confident in droves.

4) Avoid avoid avoid russian nurses.  Racist but necessary.

5) Ignore the doctors.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh but take what they say, imagine you live in a mudhut in Africa,  and ask yourself, “is it really necessary?”

6) Be very direct about your requirements.  If your hebrew isn’t 100% ask an Israeli to tell them or seach for the one english-speaking midwife/nurse/doctor.

7) Have a birthing plan and stick to it (within reason).  Shout if necessary.  Or do as I did and pretend you don’t understand them when they tell you to lie on your back.

8) Say no to drugs.  Seriously, I have never seen people so willing to hand out drugs.  It’s worse than Kings Cross.

9) If you have an arab room mate, asked to be moved.  Again this is not a racist thing but their families do come to visit in packs and you will feel like you are in a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding when all you want is to relax with your new baby.

10) Learn to love schnitzel.


  1. I was told off for running down the corridor with newborn and very blue Alexa in my arms to get to the nearest oxygen outlet that worked. Firstly, she should have been in her trolley-cot, secondly I should have rung the bell [and waited 10 minutes for a nurse while my baby was being deprived of oxygen] and thirdly, how did I know where to go/what to do????
    That was 22 years ago at Northwick Park Maternity unit. Things don’t change.

  2. ROTFL at the ghost of a past nurse!!!!!
    The nurses are horrific in all Israeli maternity wards – sad but true

  3. See ?
    Not so warm and fuzzy now, is it?
    In Israel, you have to know that the person providing a service determines … everything. “Hand over the money and shut your mouth” is the guiding principle. What are you going to do – give birth in the street?

  4. If you check a more recent blog written on giving birth in Israel, you will see that I did in fact, find a solution. And I will be writing more on how the situation could be approved. If your opinion on Israel is so negative, then why are you living here?

  5. LOVE #9 LOL. Unfortunately due to a large number of unsuccessful pregnancies, I spent over a year of my life (on and off) in a small hospital in Y-m which is no longer operative. How about when the cleaning person did sponja and left the dirty shmatta in the sink in our room? They had a fit when I would not relinquish the baby (yes, eventually I was able to have a Sabra bh) to the nursery (but at the time, the nursery was full of staph infection and conjunctivitis, which my baby was one of the few to avoid). Or how about this one: a maternity nurse who screams and yells and berates a new mother to the point where the new mom bursts out into tears . . . I asked the nurse why she was so harsh with the new mom and she answered, “Oh, I don’t really mean it – but I’m really just doing them a favor. You see, mothers of newborns have raging hormones and their emotions are bottled up. I make them cry so they’ll have a release.” (I wish I were kidding!) And think of this: in the old days, before cellphones, there was ONE public phone at the end of the hall. The poor women whose room was next to the phone was always stuck answering it, and then had to scream down the hall “Telephone for Miri! Is there a Miri?” at all hours of day or night (if no one answered the public phone there was hell to catch, so not answering was not an option either). And of course the women who had c-sections were placed at the furthest end of the ward from the hall with the phone, and had to trudge many many meters to painfully to answer the phone… Ah, the memories! And yeah, about the shnitzel . . .

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