“What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties,” remarks the patient in one of the two beds opposite mine. He has a long face, flowing long white hair parted in the middle and, like me, he’s dressed in hospital pajamas. The bristled cheeks have a plasticity that makes him look young, although he’s no doubt 80 or so. Both of us are seated in high-backed imitation-leather upholstered chairs next to our beds, our various tubes carefully arranged for our comfort.
The time: January 1997. The scene: the intensive care unit on the eighth floor of Hadassah’s Ein Karem complex. The u-shaped ward has two wings; we’re in the smaller of them, with just three beds. The third one is occupied by a bearded Moroccan elder. Next to me sits my wife, Ilana. Next to Hamlet sits his Ophelia. Surrounding the elder are a clutch of children and devotees. Hanging over each bed are intravenous bags to which we are connected; over each bed hangs a monitor that displays our vital signs, but in such a way that we can track the heartbeat and oxygen supply of everyone except ourselves. On the ledge behind each bed stands a vase full of lung suction catheters. Stage left, for Hamlet, is a large sliding door leading out to a narrow balcony where the nurses slip out to smoke. Dark clouds hang low over Mevasseret Tzion and the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
I can’t remember my line, and in any case speech comes hard—it’s only been a couple days since the doctors removed the ventilator tube that had been stuck down my throat for two and a half weeks.
Hamlet cocks his head and smiles at me expectantly. When I don’t reply,