My Rides With Magen David Adom

magen david adomThis is a guest post by Jesse Abelson, a Young Judaea Year Course participant. 
It’s been three months since I started volunteering with Magen David Adom (MDA), the national ambulance service in Israel. Sitting outside the station now, in the middle of another slow overnight shift, I can’t help but reflect on my time here. I’ve seen many different things; serious calls, bad calls, baby calls, asthma attacks, heart attacks, twisted ankles, people happy to see us, people not so happy to see us, the list goes on and on. But one thing’s for sure: I’ve had the experience of my life.
Before I get too far into my story, I should introduce myself. My name is Jesse Abelson, and I am an overseas volunteer for MDA. I am originally from Minneapolis, and I am currently in Israel on a gap year program called Young Judaea Year Course. Year Course allows teenagers in-between high school and college to come to Israel for nine months to study and volunteer. Part of Year Course for me is volunteering for MDA for six months.
I began volunteering in late December, and by January I completed the advanced 88-hour course to become a Senior First Responder. Ever since then, I have been volunteering at the Bat Yam station, doing mainly overnight shifts, multiple times a week. While many nights are extremely slow, there are some nights where you won’t return to your station for hours at a time. That’s what happened to me during a recent shift.
It was one of my first ever shifts on the ‘Natan’, the Advanced Life Support ambulance. We were having a busy, if unexciting night. That is, until we got called to neighboring Rishon LeZion. Over the dispatch, I was able to hear that an elderly man was complaining of weakness and pain in his chest. As we rushed to his house, I tried to guess what was wrong. Could he be having a heart attack? Asthma attack? Was this going to turn into a CPR call? My heart started racing as fast as the ambulance itself.
As we drove up, lights and sirens roaring, I was ready. Ready to swoop into the apartment and be the “hero” who saves this man’s life. But once inside the apartment, his family did not seem too worried about him, and he just seemed to be casually lying in bed. He later told us he had no pain in his chest and was merely weak all over. That was a great relief for us.
But what stood out most to me was the language he was speaking. It wasn’t Hebrew. It wasn’t even Russian, a language that seems to be more popular than Hebrew in this area. It was Spanish, and I was the only person there who could speak both Spanish and (some) Hebrew.
I introduced myself and began asking the usual questions: Where does it hurt? When did it start? Can you sit? After figuring out what was wrong with him, we took him to the ambulance where he suddenly started panicking. The job immediately fell to me to calm him down. Right away, I grabbed his hand, and, switching between broken Hebrew and somewhat fluent Spanish, I managed to calm him down a little bit as we made our way to the hospital. Throughout the whole ambulance ride, he never let go of my hand. He asked me where I learned my Spanish. I told him about going to a Spanish Immersion school in Minnesota, and my trips to Peru and Nicaragua. Then he started telling me about his daughter.
Suddenly this man turned into more than just another patient. I continued to ask him questions about his life, genuinely intrigued about how he ended up in Israel and where he was from. At the hospital, we moved him from our ambulance bed to the hospital’s bed. Right as I was about to leave I felt someone grab my arm, and I turned around to see my patient. He pulled me close and whispered two words: “Todah Rabah.”
Only two words. But those two words sunk in. I may not have saved this man’s life, and I may not have needed to be the “heroic first responder”, but I made a difference. I made a difference in the life of a man that I will most likely never see again. Sometimes it’s as simple as caring. Something as simple as holding someone’s hand, and being with them when they need it most—despite being a total stranger—can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
As I turned around to walk back to the ambulance, I couldn’t help but smile and look back at this man, who was smiling right back at me.
Jesse Abelson is a Minnesotan from St. Louis Park. He’s currently a participant on Young Judea’s Year Course In Israel, a gap year program for post-high school students. 
(Photo: Wikipedia)