a prologue to Israel

So… At the end of my last post, about my trip to Jordan, I wrote that I had to wrap things up quickly in order to “head off on my next adventure.” As I typed those words — while running fifteen minutes late to get out the door for the airport — my superstitious self thought twice. If I let those words hang in the digital air, would they jinx my first trip to Israel in fourteen years and somehow turn my coming adventure into a misadventure? Would they magically conspire to make me miss my plane, or get stuck in the country because of my passport issues (which reached new heights of ridiculousness this year), or prevent me from entering the country in the first place?

Turns out my paranoia was entirely misdirected. None of those things happened — though the hijinks of getting in and out of the country with an expired Israeli passport (during an interior ministry strike right before a major national holiday) were next level. What did happen was that I had to go to the E.R. in Haifa, I spent four days in the hospital there, and I had a semi-emergency operation, smack in the middle of my trip. It was not fun. But it was both mind and heart-expanding. Uncannily enough, my last night in Israel was the first night of Passover, and attending my family’s seder felt like a celebration not only of the ancient Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt but also of my own liberation from a health crisis that had been holding me hostage.

I’m loathe to describe it in any more than general terms on my blog, but it would be disingenuous to post fun photos of Israel without acknowledging that four days of my sixteen-day trip were spent in a place that no one wants to go to on vacation, or really ever.

So I’m getting it out of the way now, and in my next post I will share more enjoyable, non-hospital-based pictures from Israel. It was a wonderful, long overdue trip. Even the hospital part had its beautiful moments — like when my cousins showed up for me in the most touching way, when I found common ground with the other patients in my room despite our language barrier, and when a doctor rearranged her schedule to take care of me and ended up saving the day, superhero style. Still, I’ll stick to the more conventional beautiful stuff in my next post.

Before signing off, I would like to leave you with an observation apropos to the language-learning bent of this blog: You learn a whole lot more Hebrew a whole lot more quickly when your physical and mental health depends on it. I have previously written about how dating a person who speaks your target language but not your native language really helps with language learning. A hospital stay in which half the nurses speak no English has the same effect — but with more trauma and none of the side benefits, unfortunately.

I’d also like to acknowledge what has become an elephant in the room for me: I have no idea why, but, as my cousin joked, I seem to be wracking up international hospital visits as greedily as passport stamps. I have now spent far more time than I’d like in hospitals in Senegal, France, and Israel. I am 100% sure this is not out of some subconscious desire to be cared for in all the far flung corners of the world. It’s just dumb luck, and I wish it would run out.

And one final thought: While this blog is about language learning and travel and NOT about my various anxieties (at least not intentionally), I am proud to say that my hospital stay accomplished one huge positive on the latter front. Fresh out of surgery, this dyed-in-the-wool emetophobe threw up for the first time in more than 30 years. What was very unexpected and delightful — and to be fair probably due to the anesthesia’s lingering effects — was that I did so without fear or panic. I am truly thrilled to have broken my three decade-long vomit seal in a way that seemed to convince my mind and body there is nothing to be afraid of. I would say that I’m almost looking forward to my next opportunity to puke without panic, but I now know better than to tempt the fates, so I will say no such thing.

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