– By Miriam Ballin, EMT-B, Psychotrauma Director
“I’ve just had a mind-blowing 24 hours as a volunteer first responder, it made an incredible impression on me. It was Shavuot night (Feast of Pentecost) and I was preparing to have some 20 guests over for a festive dinner. I was setting the table when an emergency call comes in for a 65 yr. old male unconscious.
I hear my husband who is a physician say that he is on his way from Synagogue. I heard another two medics say that they are on the way and then I announce my departure as well. I drove the gear up to my husband who had begun compressions. I frantically got the intubation and line ready to be put in and then took over compressions.
I break more ribs with each first few compressions I do. This is a feeling I loathe. We are working on a man we have seen from time to time around the neighborhood who collapsed after prayer services… Alone in a synagogue.
The whole situation is so surreal. He is such a sweet and simple man who just came to pray. After tremendous efforts, we were forced to pronounce him dead. We found his wife and son and relayed the tragic news. We hugged them and cried with them. Then we covered him and waited for him to be transported to the morgue.
As soon as this happened and his wife and son had a plan and a support system in place, my husband and I left.
And then, as if nothing had happened, we walked into our joyous home filled with children giggling, guests laughing and speaking to one another…food and more food waiting to be served. Despite everything we just saw and did, despite having just fought for a man’s life. My husband and I look at each other, take a deep breath, look at our table and smile as we begin a celebratory feast.
As I served course after course I kept thinking about a mother and son whose holiday table is missing someone, their leader, the head of their table’s seat is empty.
While we enjoy, they mourn. While we feel togetherness, they feel alone. While we feel clarity and confidence they feel confused and forlorn.
With each tray, I smile again as I set it down on the table and pretend that today life is going on as normal as any other day and that nothing happened.
But life was not “normal as usual”. A life had been taken away. A life was lost. We didn’t manage to save this one. Over the next 24 hours, the same thoughts and images came in and out again and again. I didn’t block them out or chase them away. I allowed them to wander in my mind and as easily as they came, I’d allow them to go.
After the holiday ended, I ran an errand for someone who needed a favor on the other side of town. As I headed home after a mission accomplished, I heard my radio chirp. An emergency call was coming in for a woman giving birth at home. I made a U-turn and in less than a minute I arrived at the location.
I ran up the stairs and saw a woman who was very ready to give birth. I set up what I needed and guided her through the painful process. Eight minutes later, I was holding a beautiful baby boy. A life was born. A new life entered our world. A new life came as fast as one had been lost.
I held this screaming baby and basked in the beauty of this moment. It was overwhelming to hold this new little soul wrapped in this flimsy white sheet, especially when just 24 hours before I had covered a man with a white sheet.”
Life comes and goes. I am honored to be an ambassador of saving lives and bringing life to this complicated world, and I am humbled to realize that not every life is meant to be saved. But no matter what – I will always do my absolute best.