45 year-old Esther Pamensky, originally from New York, lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol with her husband and 4 kids. She has been volunteering for the last year and a half in United Hatzalah’s Women’s Unit.
Throughout the current pandemic, mothers, wives, and grandmothers, are risking it all by continuing to respond to medical emergencies in order to help their neighbors and those closest to them.
In her own words, Esther dives into specific challenges she has faced during the pandemic, how her own personal trauma has helped her be an even more compassionate volunteer, and why we should all continue to stay strong and keep positive.
Masks and 14-day Isolation (Bidud)
Volunteering in general has definitely been more challenging during this pandemic. There are certain types of calls you can’t go on. You want to go, but you can’t.
For example, sometimes my neighbor’s kids will get a burn and they want me to come over to check it out. Once there was an 18-month old baby in my neighborhood who was burned and I couldn’t go to their house because they were in isolation. And they were reluctant to tell me they were in isolation. But at least there is technology and video chats you can utilize to help in these types of situations.
Though, we have a new rule now, especially during a CPR, that you have to wear a N95 mask with a blue mask over it, so if you are at a call and someone does have COVID-19, you don’t have to go into isolation afterwards.
The regular blue masks don’t protect you as much as an N95. If you are in the room with someone for more than 15 minutes, and you only have a blue mask and someone has corona or is in isolation, you would then need to go into isolation. The N95, though, are harder to breathe in. So if you are doing CPR, which can last a good 45 minutes, and you need at least 6-8 people there, it is definitely a challenge.
We are really risking ourselves going out in the field, especially being a mother, or wife, or grandmother.
Birth and Community
I feel like my community really appreciates what I do. Recently I assisted someone in a birth in my neighborhood who was actually a midwife by profession. She was so appreciative, and didn’t even realize herself how important it was that a woman was there with her. There is a certain sensitivity women have. We can clean up the blood on the floor. We can make sure everything is okay with the other kids.
I know that some women are more reluctant to go to the hospital now, because if they test positive for COVID-19, then their baby is taken away from them.
That is really challenging, because then what happens with nursing? The first 48 hours are so important with nursing.
My niece is actually due very soon, so she put herself in quarantine to avoid this. She said there is no way her baby is getting taken away from her.
For me, I feel it is especially important to get to a call when someone is miscarrying. Sometimes the woman just needs a hug. It is just so important that we can help her change her underwear, help her clean up the bathroom so she doesn’t have to come home and see it and clean it up herself. Even the husband appreciates it so much, because they don’t always know what to do. This is so important.
I try sometimes even harder to get to a miscarriage call, because I know the woman is already sad.
You give assurance to her that everything is going to be okay.
There are some weeks you have so many calls for miscarriages and other weeks where you have so many calls for births. It really depends.
Mental Health and Domestic Violence
There has definitely been a recent spike in domestic violence calls. People aren’t working. People are financially strapped. Many are living in very small houses with young kids.
It is really hard to go to those calls. I have gone on a few. There was one call with a girl who was suicidal. The girl was 18. The mother was hysterical. It was good to be there, both for the girl and for the mother. She tried to stab herself, and we were trying to get the knife away from her. She wanted a glass of water, but she was refusing medicine that could calm her because she was 18 and had the right to refuse.
The situation in general is sad. A friend of mine who has been volunteering for the last 30 years has said you almost can’t blame the families. They are put in situations where they are all day together and they aren’t working. No one has their personal space.
Everyday, throughout the day, there can be domestic violence calls. One Motzei Shabbat, there were so many calls, about 6-7 in a row, I was shocked. In the last three to four months I have seen a really high increase in these types of calls.
I feel like the most recent lockdown has made it worse, which in turn puts a lot of pressure on us volunteers. People want to go back to normal life. People want to go back to work. Businesses are suffering. It is just a lot.
I have been through enough trauma of my own. I lost my brother to cancer, and my father was hit by a truck a year later and passed away because someone was texting and driving.
I had my own situations where I needed to be strong, so I am really understanding of people.
I can be there for someone, and just let them talk. Even though I can’t speak Hebrew so well, when you hold someone’s hand and you give them a listening ear, even if you don’t understand exactly what they are saying, it is all the same language.
A Message to the Public
The most important message I want people to know is that they should really try to stay strong because they are not the only ones going through a hard time right now, although it might seem like it.
I have had a very hard time in my life, and I just chose to be positive about it and do mitzvahs with it.
You get to choose.
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