the schmooze

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

Before I begin a discussion about a new HBO program titled, "Getting On," here's a list of some essential Yiddish words:

"shpitol" (hospital)
"krankn-shvester" (nurse)
"doktor" (doctor)
"patsyents" (patients)
"pileven" (nurse/to give treatment)
"vashtsimer" (bathroom)
"alt" (old)
"refue" (remedy)

"Getting On" is a satirical look at the events that take place at the fictional Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit of Mt. Palms Hospital in Long Beach, California.

The first words spoken in HBO's new hospital-set comedy: "There's a turd on the chair in the lounge." Much of the humor revolves around the red tape that gets in the way of modern healthcare. It's a place where "alt" folks go to prepare for recovery ("tsuriktrign") and where the employees are somewhere between annoying and "meshuge" (crazy).

The hospital has a plan to "Make Someone Happy." In Yiddish, we would say, Make Someone "FRAILECH."

Laurie Metcalf stars as the unwilling medical director, Dr. James. She's trying to become a research star and attempts to change the chart of stool standards. Sounds odd? The New York Times recently wrote about a Dr. George Preti, who is an expert on human odors, having studied them for more than 40 years. "Diseases can subtly alter people's fragrance," according to Veronique Greenwood. Dr. James has a difficult task since she can't even remember the patient's name. She wrestles with "parking-space Nazis" and could be mistaken for a mental "patsyent" herself.

DiDi, played by Niecy Nash, has her head screwed on straight ("glaykh") and provides actual care to patients. She's controlled and huggable! We'll see how long that lasts in this toxic environment!.

Alex Borstein, as Nurse Dawn, takes comfort in overeating and has a frightening fixation on men.

Then there's a new supervising nurse called Patsy (Mel Rodriguez). He is more interested in instituting procedural changes than he is in patient care.

One patient, Nebraska's, June Squibb, is verbally abusive. Perhaps she knows a secret: swearing helps reduce pain. According to new research, it seems to have a psychological effect on increasing pain tolerance. BTW, there's a Yiddish expression that goes:

"Fun a kloleh shtarbt men nit" (curses do not kill).

The jokes concern themselves with human excrement, disoriented patients who babble in an unknown "loshn" (language), speech-code violations, geriatric sex, and "anderer" (other) staples of the modern hospital.

My suggestion for future episodes: share the following jokes with the patients:

  1. A man was telling his "LANTSMAN" (neighbor from the old country), "I just bought a new hearing aid. It cost me $4,000, but its state of the art. It's perfect."
    "Really," answered the neighbor. "What kind is it?"
    "Twelve thirty."

  2. Morris, an 82-year-old, went to see his "doktor." A few days later he was walking on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach with a gorgeous ("prekhtik") young woman on his arm when he ran into his "doktor."
    He said, "Morris, you're really doing great, aren't you?"
    Morris replied, "Just doing what you said, Doc: 'Get a hot momma and be cheerful.'"
    The "doktor" said, 'I didn't say that. I said, 'You've got a heart MURMUR--BE CAREFUL.'"

  3. At many hospitals the rules state that patients checking out must have a wheelchair. One day a newly graduated nurse assistant came into the rooms to find an elderly man fully dressed, sitting on the bedside chair, with a piece of "bagazh" (luggage) at his side, all ready to go.

    When he was shown the wheelchair, he was adamant that he was fully capable of walking himself to the parking lot. But the assistant told him rules were rules, so he relented and let her wheel him out.

    In the elevator, the assistant asked the elderly man if his wife was coming to meet him.

    "I don't think so," he replied. "It takes her awhile to change her clothes, so she's still upstairs in the bathroom taking off her hospital gown and getting dressed."

  4. A couple in their 90s are both having some short term memory ("zikhorn") loss.

    While in for a checkup, the "doktor" says that physically they're okay, but since they're having trouble remembering things, they might want to start writing things down.

    Later that "ovnt" (evening) they're sitting in front of "di televisye", when the husband gets up

    "Would you like anything from "di kikh" (the kitchen)?" he asks.

    "Some vanilla 'ayzkrem' (ice cream)," his wife replies.

    "Shouldn't you write it down so you don't forget it?" she asks.

    "Don't worry; I won't forget."

    "Well," she said, "A few raspberries on top would be great. You want to write that down?"

    "I've got it, honey. A bowl of vanilla 'ayzkrem' with raspberries on top."

    "And chocolate sauce, too. Maybe you'll forget that. Want ME to write it down for you?"

    A little "broygez" (angry), he replies, "I've got it! Ayzkrem, raspberries and chocolate sauce. I don't need it written down, for gosh sakes!"

    He waddles out to "di kikh." A half hour later, he comes back with a plate of ham and scrambled eggs, and gives it to his wife.

    She looks at the plate for a few seconds, then says, "You forgot my toast."

  5. An elderly man was having hearing problems and went to see "der mumkhe" (the specialist). The "doktor" fitted him with some hearing aids that brought his hearing back to full strength. After a few weeks the man came back to make sure the new equipment was working properly, which it was. The hearing specialist said, "It all seems perfect. Your family--the whole 'mishpocheh'-- should be delighted you can hear everything now."

    "Oh, no, "the man responded. "I haven't told any of them. I just sit 'SHTILINKERHAIT' (quietly), listening carefully. I've changed my will four times."

  6. A man entered the hospital's emergency room. The technician took X-rays of the trauma patient. The radiologist read the films and said that he had multiple fractures of the femus and pelvis.

    "What happened to this patient?" he asked in astonishment.

    "He fell out of a tree."

    The radiologist wanted to know what the patient was doing up a tree.

    "I'm not sure, but his paperwork states he works for Bob's EXPERT TREE SERVICE."

    The radiologist blinked and said, "Cross out 'expert.'"

MARJORIE WOLFE'S favorite expression: "Gezunthayt iz beser vi krankhayt." (Health is better than illness.)


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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