By Ariel Drei
At 1:45 a.m. on Sunday morning, I was dispatched to provide psychological first aid to people suffering from severe emotional stress reactions to the terror attack that took place at David’s Tomb near the old city of Jerusalem. The incident, which began at 1:24 a.m. had dozens of first responders already on scene. My job, in spite of my being an EMT, was going to be a little bit different. As part of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit (PCRU), I am trained to provide emotional and psychological stabilization in the field at the scene of a traumatic medical emergency. Mass shootings, according to pretty much everyone, certainly qualify in this respect.
I was 25 minutes away by ambucycle (motorcycle ambulance), and headed out without delay. I arrived at the scene at about 2:10 a.m., almost an hour after the shooting started and the original emergency call was made. One of the heads of PCRU, Uriel Balams, was already on scene and had been directing the PCRU responders on who to treat. He instructed me to a car wherein I found two young women who were both suffering from emotional shock. The roadways were closed and it took me some time to locate the car that Uriel had described.
When I finally found the car in question I saw two young women inside the vehicle one of whom was crying bitterly to herself and rocking back and forth in the backseat of the car. The second young woman was hiding under a blanket in the front seat of the car. The car was locked.
I started making hand gestures to them that the incident was over and while trying to communicate with them that they were safe. I asked them to open one of the doors – the one who was hiding hesitated. After I stressed a few more times that the incident was over and that they were safe, she finally agreed to open the door.
The car was hot and stuffy, which didn’t help their emotional situation. I asked them to exit the vehicle and step into the fresh air while all the time reiterating that it was safe for them to do so and that they were not in any danger. They slowly acquiesced and came out of the vehicle. I then proceeded to utilize the model of intervention that we were trained in which in Hebrew is called Ma’aseh, an acronym comprised of four Hebrew terms that signify the steps of the intervention itself. The first step is commitment and connection. This is where the person intervening commits to assisting the person in need and builds a connection with them alleviating the sensation of loneliness. The second step is to encourage the person in need of help to take positive action, thereby alleviating the sensation of helplessness. The third step is to ask short questions that force the person in need to think, thus engaging the logical side of their brain to quiet the emotional side. The fourth step is to help the person reconstruct the traumatic incident so that they have a cognitive and clear understanding of what happened and can conclude together with the person providing the intervention that the incident threatening them is indeed over and that they are safe.
As I began working with the two young women it became clear that they didn’t know one another. During the mad rush after the shooting began, one of them asked the other if she could hide in her car with her. They both hid and neither knew what had transpired after they entered the vehicle. There they stayed, petrified in fear, for more than an hour. Another member of the PCRU unit joined me and together we worked with the women to stabilize their condition. After making sure that their relatives were aware of the situation and would receive them and continue to care for them, we finished our treatment, but for me, the night wasn’t over.
The morning dawn was almost on the horizon, and seeing as I was awake and near the Western Wall, I decided to head down to the wall and pray. I prayed for the health of those injured and for the peace of mind of those whom I had treated as well as the many others who required psychological or emotional stabilization as a result of the attack.
While I was by the wall and praying, I received an alert from dispatch that there was a person who had fainted back by David’s Tomb where the original attack took place a few hours prior. I asked dispatch if the person fainting was a result of the attack, perhaps another delayed emotional response, and I received an affirmative answer. I headed back to the scene of the attack to treat yet another victim of a severe emotional response to the incident.
When I arrived a few minutes later, I found a woman in her 60s who had been revived from fainting. She told me that she and her son had been just behind the terrorist when he started shooting at the bus. She was very active in helping others until she simply collapsed two hours after the incident was over.
The woman was hysterical and on the verge of fainting once again, and the son was completely detached from reality. I stabilized the mother by reinforcing her role as a mother and helping her realize that her son needed help as well. After she was partially stabilized, I began to work with the son to try to bring him back to his present situation. Once he began to ground himself in the present, I assisted them both with giving over their testimonies to security officials regarding what they saw.
When I saw that the mother was about to break down once more, I emphasized to the security officials the importance of them both finding a release and being able to put the incident behind them. The security officials acquiesced and the mother and son were released and finally able to head on their way and begin to put the incident behind them. I connected them with social service workers who were still at the scene and made sure they had continuing care.
I didn’t sleep much last night, and I had a full day of work ahead of me, but this is a small price to pay to know that I provided comfort and solace to people who witnessed a horrific attack and tragedy. I always count myself blessed to be on the side of providing treatment to others, rather than receiving treatment. It is a blessing to help others, and in the face of tragedy, selflessly helping others is the best remedy.
To support the work of members of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit such as Ariel, please click here: