This Narrow Space: A Pediatric Oncologist, His Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Patients, and a Hospital in Jerusalem

Schocken  2018


In This Narrow Space, Dr. Elisha Waldman, an American pediatric oncologist working at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, describes his struggles as a doctor in the Israeli healthcare system. As he cares for his vulnerable young patients, Waldman explains how navigating the unique political, economic, cultural, linguistic, and religious challenges of the hospital affects how he constructs his identity as a physician, an American, an Israeli, and a Jew.

While This Narrow Space is ostensibly Waldman’s personal story, it is also the story of the hospital, its staff, patients, and their families—and even of Jerusalem, Israel, and the Middle East as a whole. From the opening pages, Waldman shows that his experiences are closely intertwined with those of others. It is to his credit that he gives the hospital, its employees, and those they serve such central roles in the book.

At its best, This Narrow Space is a straightforward case study of the importance of self-awareness among doctors. While the old maxim might have been “physician, heal thyself,” a new mantra of “physician, know thyself” clearly comes through in Waldman’s book. As the author explores his hopes, expectations, and frustrations living in Israel and working with his patients at Hadassah, he demonstrates gracefully and compassionately how he changes and is changed by his surroundings. Readers may find that their ability to empathize with Waldman grows as the book goes along, and he is more able to empathize with himself.

Waldman’s writing provides sufficient background for readers with little to no familiarity with the Israeli context or medical training, but it will likely appeal most to readers with a strong interest in Israeli politics and public healthcare. Waldman’s attention to the challenges of providing palliative and spiritual care, and access to healthcare across religious and cultural boundaries, offers the opportunity for inspired discussions on these topics. This Narrow Space has the potential to change the way that many of its readers think about healthcare.

Dr. Waldman does not give himself over to flowery prose or extraneous details. His writing style is sparse, and occasionally he relies too much on clinical terms and explanations. Readers who want to be transported to the Israel of their travel brochures will surely be disappointed. Readers who can divine the special in the ordinary will relish their journey through This Narrow Space.

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