One Weekend in the Life of an Israeli EMS Paramedic
It’s About Community
Jerusalem, Not everyone is cut out to be a volunteer EMS paramedic and sometimes even those who are find themselves overburdened by the sheer volume of emergency calls they receive in a single day. Dov Maisel, the Senior Vice President of International Operations of United Hatzalah, is also a volunteer paramedic with the organization. This past weekend, he responded to six emergency calls that took place in his community, in less than 24 hours.
Maisel, who has been working and volunteering in the field of EMS for more than 20 years, is no stranger to emergencies. According to him, this weekend emphasized the “Importance of building one’s own community by being an EMS volunteer.” The calls began on Friday afternoon when he was dispatched by the national command center to an emergency involving a teenage boy who was severely injured. “The call came in and I raced over to the scene, which was a few short blocks away from my house. While I was treating the young man, a neighbor came out and offered me challot ( a special bread) to take home for the Shabbat celebration. I told her that I had to treat the injured person first. After bandaging him up I then addressed the neighbor and refused to take the bread. The woman would not hear of it and placed a large number of loaves on top of my car. At this point, the police were arriving on the scene, after giving my statement to the police, I headed home, with the blessings of the neighborly woman and her loaves in tow.”
The second incident occurred after Maisel had returned home and finished preparing for the Shabbat evening meal. “I was just leaving my house to go to synagogue, and I left my car with my med kit in it at home. When I was a few feet away from my house I got an alert that a man nearby had collapsed. I ran back home, got in my car and drove to the scene where I helped treat the gentleman as well.” Following that call, Maisel made it to the synagogue by foot and then returned home. As he was sitting at his dinner table with 15 guests, he received another alert and rushed out to treat two people who had been injured in a car accident on the highway outside of Ramle. From there he was rerouted to his fourth call of the day in which a person with respiratory problems was in need of assistance. Finally returning home after a few hours spent responding to the two emergencies, Maisel was ready for some well-needed sleep – that didn’t come.
“At three a.m. I was called to perform CPR on a woman who was found unconscious and not breathing. It was a very tragic call, as these things often are. A daughter returned home after a night out and found her older on the floor of the apartment,” recalled Maisel. But these are the calls where you need to be sharp because you are the only response, the only chance that this person has. So you rush out of your home not having your hair done, in pajamas, and everything is just a mess. There is not a soul on the road, no one is there to cheer you on or even to watch, as you try to revive an older woman with one or two other volunteers. There is no fanfare for this. These acts of volunteering as a first responder do not come with accolades. They come with hard work and exhaustion. We spent 40 minutes trying to revive her before eventually having to pronounce her dead,” he said.
Maisel’s last call of the day came in the early afternoon. “By this point, I was completely over-exhausted. I didn’t get much sleep, I had to entertain guests and spend time with my family as well, and here I got my sixth call of the day just after noon on Saturday. Another young man needed patching up.”
Maisel said that while constantly being on call and needing to drop everything at a moment’s notice can be exhausting, the ability to make a difference and save lives is absolutely worth it. “To see the community come alive and support you while you are working and to save the lives of your neighbors or family members is simply remarkable. The woman who made me challot, or the man who walked by me while I was on my second call and said ‘I know you, you saved my father two years ago. You are the United Hatzalah guy who lives two streets down. I wanted to say thank you.’ Those are the moments that pick you up when you are on the long and difficult calls at three in the morning trying to revive a woman in her apartment with two other volunteers and there is no noise except for the compressions you are doing and the clock ticking away the last moments of her life. We are part of the communities that we serve, and as a part of them, we are there for them, and they are there for us.”