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

  • Review
By – March 20, 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.

Deb­o­rah Miller received rab­bini­cal ordi­na­tion at the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. She lives in New Jer­sey with her hus­band and daugh­ter, where she serves as a hos­pice chap­lain and teacher.

Discussion Questions