“Had I known you were an ultra-Orthodox male, I’m not sure I would have booked the appointment”
This woman in my waiting room looked far too professional to be anything else.
She was talking loudly on the kind of smartphone that would be encrypted due to whatever governmental role she held and showed the kind of disregard for others that sometimes goes together with Very Important Person.
Something told me this wouldn’t be the most pleasant of appointments, but I straightened myself up as doctorly as I could and introduced myself, telling her to come on in.
“When I’m done with my phone call,” she replied testily without even looking up.
Well, I had plenty of work to catch up on and headed back into my office to check off a few boxes until she was ready. Ten minutes later she was still conducting her phone business, and I’d already contacted my accountant and coordinated Shabbos guests with my wife.
It was only after a quarter of an hour that my new patient stormed past the secretary and sat down furiously before opening with just about as an aggressive statement as you could get away with these days: “Had I known you were an ultra-Orthodox male, I’m not sure I would have booked the appointment.”
“I’m not hiding anything,” I responded. “My picture, bushy beard and all, is on my website.”
“So, do you treat women?”
“I treat anyone who makes it past my secretary and shows up for their first appointment,” I said calmly.
“Well, I am a non-Jewish woman, but I’ll expect professional care nonetheless.”
“Honored to help if I can, Mrs.—”
“It’s pronounced KRISH-na-mur-thy,” she snapped. “Didn’t you read the email I sent?”
“I didn’t,” I replied honestly. “Because nothing arrived.”
“I sent it two days ago,” she scowled and rolled her eyes.
I saw her furiously sweep through her emails to find the message she most surely had sent me.
“Here it is!” She smiled victoriously, brandishing her phone in my face.
I looked at her email drive and couldn’t help but chuckle — although nasty as she was, I felt a little bad for her.
“You sent it without the ‘L.’ That Jacob Freedman is a great guy but he isn’t me. That’s the Jacob Freedman who used to work for the federal government and served as speechwriter during the Obama administration. I’m the Jacob Freedman who has an ‘L’ as my middle initial and works here as a psychiatrist. Same name, different guy, therefore different email, Mrs. Krishnamurthy.”
“It’s Ms. Krishnamurthy! And that’s a violation of my privacy that he has my email!”
You could have fried an egg on her forehead for all her rage and steaming.
“What can I help you with, Ms. Krishnamurthy? Did you come here to pick a fight with a stranger or did you come here to get some help from an English-speaking psychiatrist?”
She composed herself and tried to begin again. “As you know, I am a lawyer with The United Nations.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Actually, I don’t know that. Remember, you emailed your fellow diplomat, not me.”
She attempted to ignore the comment and continued in quiet fury, “Yes, well, I am a lawyer with the UN, and I’m stationed here to investigate human rights abuses in Israel and the Occupied Territories.”
I wasn’t going to let her get away with that one. “As a proud Zionist-occupier, I’m happy to help you with your investigating.”
That threw her off balance a bit, but as she settled herself enough to continue, I tried to direct her. “So you booked an appointment with me and sent an email to my namesake and now you’re here because maybe I—”
“Because your apartheid country doesn’t carry the version of a stimulant that I need for my ADHD. I have my doctor’s letter here to show you,” she said, thrusting her phone toward me as I read the image of a signed doctor’s note describing her history and long-standing successful treatment with a British version of a commonly prescribed medication for adult ADHD.
Aha, I thought to myself as I considered her outbursts. Classic symptoms of anger and emotional fluctuations that often accompany adult ADHD, related to poor impulse control and the patterns of frustration from attention and relationship difficulties since childhood. Even so, this woman didn’t come to me for help or treatment, so it wasn’t my place to address her awful behavior.
“So you want me to just prescribe Israel’s so-much-inferior version of this and wish you a good day?”
“Can’t do it.”
“Why not?!” She yelled. “I paid for this appointment! Is it because I’m a non-Jew?! I’ll report you!”
“Well, it seems like you’ve already been in touch with the State Department,” I quipped as I took her British passport and copied down the information for my chart. “Listen, seriously, can I ask a question about your family?”
“You’re in the doctor’s seat, so do I have a choice?”
“Where are you originally from?”
“Why is it any of your business?”
“Because your documentation says your family is from the Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan, and your name is clearly a Hindu one.”
“And it must be tough to come from a family of refugees fleeing from their national home because of persecution due to religious beliefs.”
“That’s making a lot of assumptions, Dr. Freedman,” she said in a voice that was suddenly softer.
“Right or wrong?” I pressed.
It took a moment until she finally answered: “Right.” But then she snapped back, as if remembering that she wasn’t supposed to be friendly, “What does it matter to you?”
“Nothing,” I said peacefully. “It’s just a story that us Jews are familiar with.”
She wasn’t ready for a discussion, and our time was over.
“You’ll need to get a refill every month,” I told her. “It’s the law here. I can only prescribe 30 days at a time.”
“It’s how you cheat your way to a paycheck,” she said with a nasty grin.
“Yes. I’m happy to cheat you again next month if you need me.”
I would have loved to have told Ms. Krishnamurthy that although she might have often felt isolated and out of control with her moodiness and bullying behavior, she wasn’t alone, that mental health support could ease the internal storms and prevent the destruction it causes. I would have loved to have told her that we doctors here in Israel treat everyone fairly, even our demographic enemies.
But I didn’t do any of that. You know what it’s like when you receive a package of seeds in the mail without any labels on them, and you have no idea what will actually sprout when you plant them? That’s a bit like what I felt when she stormed out with her prescription. I had no idea what would be growing in a month’s time.
To be continued…
Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.
Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman, whose new book Off the Couch has just been released in collaboration with Menucha Publishers, can be found learning Torah in the Old City or hiking the hills around Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 877)
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