How have the challenges of Covid-19 affected first responders in Israel on a day-to-day basis?
In their own words, 10 volunteers of United Hatzalah from diverse backgrounds share how they have become better EMTs and what has kept them going through each obstacle they have faced over the last 9 months.
I am young and athletic, so I wasn’t fearful at any point. I knew I wasn’t going to change and I wasn’t going to be scared of approaching people. I do think I am probably more courageous than in the past.
During lockdown, the streets were empty. No one was out. I felt like I was alone in the city, and it was really important to me that people were safe and healthy. It was almost like I had permission to do whatever I needed to do to get to people. But I wasn’t scared.
Back in April and May, I also did humanitarian volunteering, which included bringing medicine to elderly people in Tel Aviv. I also had some phone calls in English through the United Hatzalah Command Center with people who felt alone, or had various needs before the holidays, like Holocaust survivors. I also spoke with English speakers in old age homes who were lonely and just needed someone to talk to.
I feel like no matter what, throughout the pandemic, I have acted out of compassion.
Volunteering throughout this time has brought me a lot of joy and has fulfilled my will to give to the full extent.
These corona days have brought with them severe limitations in treatment, because distance is a very difficult part of patient care and therefore pretreatment questions are critical. I learned though, that you can treat in a very cautious way, with identical results.
One day while I was finishing my work as a news photographer at the Knesset, we received a call from a gentleman with acute shortness of breath and corona symptoms. I immediately put on my full protective gear and provided him with life-saving medical care that included providing oxygen until he was evacuated to the hospital.
After a few days, the patient was discharged from the Corona ward, and all the medical staff who were in the area of that call without protection went into isolation. The importance of caution during these days is extremely high and significant in order not to impair our competence as volunteers.
It’s just overwhelming, the amount that you will go through every day having to be on the front lines. A lot of people can work from home. They don’t understand what it means to be out there.
Perhaps the saddest part of this pandemic is that patients are without their family or loved ones. They say goodbye at the door, and they may or may not see each other again. But we are with the patient during intubation and various procedures and even when death is inevitable. We celebrate the wins and cry with the losses.
The Arab-Israeli communities have been hit hard by COVID-19. When I was younger, my family suffered a personal tragedy when my grandfather had a stroke, and it was difficult for a medic or ambulance to get to him fast enough. I decided to make a change in my life and the life of others. Our religion especially encourages woman to work both in nursing and to become an EMT.
Both myself and my husband Suliman devote our time to being in United Hatzalah and to help people as it is mentioned in the all holy books that “Whoever saves a life, saves the entire world”.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for.
Yechiel Mayburg, 40
Deputy Head of United Hatzalah’s South Jerusalem Unit
A lot of the volunteers in our area were afraid to go out, so I had double the amount of calls. In a usual month I had about 40-50 calls. During the beginning of the pandemic I had over 80 calls. Many of the volunteers had a alot of anxiety, but I tried to keep to my usual schedule. During Pesach, out of the 500 volunteers we have in Jerusalem, I was one of the 40 who were active.
Joelle Cohen, 59
I have 8 children and grandchildren (not counting!). We had a wedding during the corona time, so I was busy with that, but I still went out for calls as usual. Corona didn’t scare me. It really doesn’t scare me. I continued with my activities, like also volunteering at Yad Sarah.
I, of course, kept myself very safe. My family often uses homeopathic medicine and herbs, and we eat very healthy, so I feel that my body and immune system are very strong.
My husband is 69, so of course there is a higher risk of infection at our age, but we really keep ourselves safe. Also, United Hatzalah truly cares about us and protects us. They were always providing information on what was okay to do, and what we should avoid. They really looked out for us and our families, and I am very appreciative.
Liraz and Amnon Ben Yair
The truth is I didn’t go out to as many calls as I usually do during this time. When I did go out, I always had a bit of initial fear. It isn’t always comfortable to ask the questions we now must ask, like if anyone has a fever or shortness of breath. Also, sometimes the children who answer the door don’t always know if someone is in isolation or not, or they are scared to say they are because then the volunteer might not help them. However, the minute I went out for a call all the fear immediately went away. I got to the call and only thought about what I need to do for the patient and forgot all the fear that I had about the situation.
Six years ago I had a heart attack, and afterwards my wife Liraz then decided to volunteer in United Hatzalah so she would know what to do in those situations. Because of her, I started to volunteer.
It just so happens that right when I got a United Hatzalah ambucycle in January, the story of corona started. So because I am high risk, in the beginning of the pandemic I didn’t go out at all. Then when things started to quiet down a bit, I started to go out again. But it isn’t like it used to be. For example, in our neighborhood, when the situation isn’t critical, like a CPR, I don’t always run to go out because we have many volunteers around. If it was a year ago, it didn’t matter what the call was, small or big, I would run out right away. But I still go out. Even though I am at risk. Two weeks ago we had a CPR and I was there.
But one thing I can say, there is no doubt that United Hatzalah worries about their volunteers. We were in isolation three times, and our unit here in South Jerusalem checked in on us, sent us pizza, snacks, ice cream. Basically to say, we are with you.
It is so important, and was really nice.
I am definitely finding on calls that people are a lot more reluctant to go to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. In the past, people would always go to the hospital to get themselves checked out if needed, and now I am getting a lot of “Are you absolutely sure I need to go?” or “Can I stay home and not go?”. They don’t want to take the risk of getting exposed at the hospital.
There was this one family that I responded to where the grandmother was feeling weak. We checked her over and all of her vitals were okay, but we recommended that she go to the hospital to get checked out. They were the type of family who were very reluctant to go.
About a month and a half later, I responded to another call at the same exact family, where the daughter was bitten by a scorpion. Not only did I have to put the scorpion in a box to bring to the hospital so they could check out the exact type, but I told the family the seriousness of the issue and they immediately agreed to go despite all their concerns. This wasn’t a recommendation, it was an urgent matter.
During these Corona times, patients really look to you for advice and you are the medical authority there at the time.
Pictures speak louder than words! There have been plenty of calls and births, and as usual the women are so grateful when we come to assist them.
I have gone out to calls this whole time and it just so nice to see how appreciative a woman is when a woman volunteer walks in. When going into a birth, they are always an emergency. The women think they would get to the hospital in time.
It isn’t so easy with masks, especially for a woman in labor who needs to wear a mask which is not so comfortable.
To be able to know what to do in these situations, and to have experience and practice, is such a beautiful thing. And I feel very blessed to be a part of it.
We are aware that coronavirus is a war. There are volunteers who are high risk and many had to stop taking calls, so for us on the ground there was an even higher work load. But I found a certain sense of “shlichut” (or calling).
War time is a time where people reach inside and find greater strength. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Every soldier knows, when he puts on the uniform, that there is a level of risk.
For me, I can’t not respond. I have to for myself. This is what we do.
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