Life-Changing Moments in Magen David Adom

I’ve been slowly writing down a few stories from the past weeks. It’s hard to fit writing into my schedule 🙂
Dealing with Pain:
Our patient had fallen off his bike and when we arrived he had a neck brace on. I stabilized his head with what I call “spock hands”, because with a neck brace the “yes motion” is blocked but not the “no motion” which could cause spinal damage. A few men and I helped get him into the ambulance using the backboard. We placed a bag under his leg because he had broken it. Throughout the ride he was moaning in agony. He was in immense pain and there was nothing I could do to help him.
This was the first time that I had to spend an extended period of time with a patient who was in immense pain. Just know, it sucks. It’s even worse when there is absolutely no way for you to even console them or give them pain medication. There are times when you wish they’d stop complaining. Then there are times where you’re grateful that you don’t feel their physical pain. The other times when you’re empathizing with them, is torture. By the end of the ride I felt sick to my stomach.
Cool Ben Sherut:
During the day shifts we ride on the ambulance with the driver and a Bat/Ben Sherut. These are people who have decided to work in Magen David Adom (MDA) as part of their national service. My Ben Sherut this morning is one of the guys who gave me my MDA orientation. Really cool guy. 18 years old, but doesn’t speak English. We had a patient who had intense chest pains. The Ben Sherut worked with him asking him certain questions to figure out whether it was a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or just angina pectoris (chest pain). For example, whether he’s feeling pain in one specific place (chest pain) or all over his chest (heart attack). After we dropped the patient off at the hospital the Ben Sherut came over and asked me if I understood what the patient’s symptoms were and how he diagnosed him. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to learn so I asked him if he would walk me through what he did. Immediately he jumped into an explanation of the case at lightning speed, in Hebrew. Immediately afterwards he tells me that my Hebrew is pretty good. We laughed about how we’re both afraid to make mistakes in the other person’s native tongue.
Value in Work:
Pretty much every single volunteer on Magen David Adom that I’ve talked to was expecting a different experience than what they received. We thought we’d be saving lives by performing CPR, cutting off bleeding arteries and using a defibrillator to restart a ventricular fibrillation. We soon realized that’s not what we do. Most of our days are spent taking old people to the hospital from either their home or a nursing home. We take blood pressure and pulse, but the treatment is rarely more substantial than that. When we are presented with a patient in critical condition, it’s usually the driver’s or Bat/Ben Sherut’s responsibility. The treatment intensive cases are given to the Natan ambulances not the Lavan ambulances, because they’re designed for advanced emergency medical care. In spite of this, I’ve learned to find immense value in the work that I do. I’ve been able to recognize the value in improving someone’s quality of life, even if it’s just for a short period of time.
Talking about God with my Bat Sherut:
Talking to the various Bat/Ben Sherut has been one of the most rewarding parts of MDA for me. I’m now Facebook friends with many of them. When you spend that much extended time with someone in an enclosed area, every topic becomes fair game from relationships and politics to talk about religion and god. Whenever I see them, we hug (not so with drivers).
My Bat Sherut and I were at a patient’s home where we’d just learned that the patient and the woman we had assumed was her sister were transsexual. We had asked when was her last period and she said that she couldn’t have one. It got quiet so I broke the silence by asking my Bat Sherut whether she was Orthodox. She told me that she was “nationally religious.” I assume she meant that she saw her religious and nationalistic identity as one of the same. Basically, if you’re Israeli then you’re automatically Jewish. I later found out that she was quite religious lol.
Immediately she asked me if I believed in God. We talked for hours debating in Englew/Hebrish about what makes a good Jew, my issue with god being anthropomorphized by having physicality and that organized religion is based on the self-importance of the human race.
She told me that she really wants to know the absolute truth about god. She told me that she’s read a lot on the topic and simply wants to know the answer.
I asked her whether she believed in biblical literalism. She said, “Yes, I prefer to believe.” I asked her if she kept kosher and she responded with the same answer, “Yes, I prefer to believe”. I love that answer, because she’s admitting the fragility of her religious beliefs.
World War 2 Veteran:
We had this awesome patient in the morning. He was a 95-year-old Russian man who (supposedly) had a blood sugar level of 600. His apartment didn’t have an elevator and I was on duty with just women (women aren’t allowed to carry people down the stairs, and must call another ambulance if not enough men) so we called another ambulance and waited with the patient. He was adorable and hilarious. Telling our medic and Ben/Bat Sherut that they should find men. The patient told us about his grandchildren and how one of them just had his fourth birthday, but since he couldn’t physically attend he had hung a picture of the event up in his room. The patient told us to grab the bag on the door and in it we saw a package from the state of Israel. In the folder was a letter of recognition and several war pins for his service in World War 2 against the Nazis. We all commended him on his service and gushed over his awards, which only made him happier. When the second ambulance got there we showed them document of his war service, which we again praised. He loved this. When we began to take him down the three flights of stairs, he asked us if he was heavy and then followed it up with telling us he needed to lose weight. We all laughed 🙂
It was a great morning. I know that we made the experience of leaving his house a much more comfortable one, while being really fun for us.
I’ve talked to quite a few people and many of the volunteers have had drivers who hate us, but love the patients. The Bat/Ben Sherut on the other hand seem to love all of us. I think it’s because the drivers don’t like dealing with people who are slightly unqualified and less experienced…which we are.
Note: The volunteers usually don’t choose the same bad driver twice, and many of them find a favorite driver.
Difficulty Consoling Patients:
Over these past few days I’ve been thinking about my inability to console patients. Normally I find it very difficult, not only because I don’t feel very comfortable speaking Hebrew, but also because these people are either in pain, frightened, diseased or all three.
I talked to one of my Bat Sherut on my shift about my problem. I told her that I’ve been having trouble relating and comforting the patients. She told me that the next patient we had, I would do all of the talking.
We get a call. As we drive up to the scene I see a car flipped completely over. A truly terrifying sight.
Here’s an authentic image of the scene. One that I was hesitant to take.
All three of us run to the patient. We find a 30-year-old woman on the side of the road with a neck brace on and blood on her hands, knees and clothes. Once we get her into the ambulance she begins to have a panic attack. Our driver sits next to her and talks to her for five minutes. Explaining the situation to her slowly and delicately. Telling her that it’s vital that she calm down so we can safely take her to the hospital. The woman is panicking over relatively trivial matters such as not being able to find her phone or a few of her fake plastic nails. Understandably, she seems unable to grasp the gravity of the situation.
As the Bat Sherut begins to ask her the basic medical questions I take out the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Take her hands covered in blood and lay them across my leg as I ask her in Hebrew to straighten her arm. I slide the sleeve up her arm as her cries make her body shake. After taking BP, I hold her hand as I measure her pulse.
Now all that’s ahead is the drive to the ambulance, but the woman is still terrified. I’m holding both of her hands in mine. Every few seconds I felt a tight squeeze and a quick breathe. I didn’t let go of her hands the entire car ride.  After a few minutes of silence I gained the courage to relate to her and try to get her mind off the crash. As I held both her hands I asked her in Hebrew where she was born. She says, “I don’t know”. I’m worried that maybe I said it wrong or she didn’t hear me. The Bat Sherut looks at me and tells me to try again. Again I ask the patient and receive the same answer. I brush it off and ask her what she does for work, this time she says, “I don’t remember.” Suddenly, I realize her head injury was not light. This woman had serious head trauma and brain damage from the car crash. For the rest of the ride she continues to hold and squeeze my hand. I tell her not to be afraid, not to worry and that everything will be ok.
Maybe it was easier to support her better because of her youth, her vulnerability or just because I forced myself. Once we got to the hospital, we lifted her on the backboard into a hospital bed, as I said my goodbyes I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach like I wanted to puke. I couldn’t help but feel nauseous simply from seeing her trauma.
English Speaker and Firefly DNA:
Our next call was a woman with such splitting pain in her head that she was unable to move. She had made Aliyah from Los Angeles about four years ago. As soon as she began to speak in English, my brain took a deep sigh. Thank god. I began asking her medical questions. She told me that my English is great, to which I thought, “I would hope so.” I told her that I’m from Minnesota. I asked her if she took a fall or if she knew what had caused the pain. She said she didn’t know and that it had started last night. As we drove along to the hospital I asked her what she did for work. She told me that she worked for a biotechnology firm in Tel Aviv. I shouted, “Cool! I’m interested in biomedical engineering!” It might have spoken a little too enthusiastically for someone who’s supposed to be acting professionally 🙂
She appreciated my interest and told me how she’s she’s currently working on an avatar plant project. She handed me the card with the website on it. She went on tell me that they insert firefly DNA into plants so that they can glow in the dark and light up cities without the city consuming electricity. WOAH!! That’s so cool! I repeatedly told her amazing her job was. When we got inside hospital I was able to keep her updated on what was happening. We said our goodbyes, and rather than feel sick I felt like I had reached some form of closure with the patient.
I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of Magen David Adom. It has truly been life-changing.