Miriam is a mother, wife, practicing family therapist and still makes time to save lives in Jerusalem as a United Hatzalah volunteer.
Listen to her amazing interview below or read the transcript.
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My name is Miriam Ballin. I am a mother of five, a wife and a practicing family therapist. I am also a medic for United Hatzalah in my free time.
Q: So where did you grow up?
Miriam Ballin: I grew up in Houston Texas until age 12. After that I moved to San Francisco California where I lived for a while. We made our way around the globe. Soon after that I went to high school in Denver Colorado and then in Brooklyn New York. I was in Brooklyn New York to finish high school and then off to Israel for a gap year and then I got married and moved to Australia. From which we made aliyah to Israel.
Q: What do you do?
Miriam Ballin: I do a lot of things. What don’t I do? That’s a good question. What do I do as a formal job? I’m a family therapist. What do I do on the side? I have many side interests. One of them obviously being a medic in addition to that I have a side interest in putting people together. Not as a formal shadchan but just introducing people to each other. I also love hosting and having people around my table and meeting people and hearing their stories. And I like being involved in different community work that we can hopefully help our community and make things run better and more smoothly. And I also like to help my husband because he has a lot on his plate as a doctor. And be a mom obviously.
Q: How did you become a United Hatzalah volunteer?
Miriam Ballin: Our neighborhood was lacking volunteers in general because of the fact that it is full of Americans and Americans come and go. So we were training people and United Hatzalah would train people and then they would go back to America and they would be left with no responders. So they needed to do a course. And they included in that course 6 women who’d completed the course and were interested in pursuing, actually being volunteers and responders.
Q: Why did you become a United Hatzalah volunteer?
Miriam Ballin: I was a Hatzalah dispatcher for three years in Australia. I took calls in the middle of everything that I was doing being that our hotline went to a cell phone that I carried with me all the time. That included on the car, on the road, in the shower. Wherever I was that phone was. So I was involved in Hatzalah heavily already but as a Mokednot as an actual responder. My husband has been a medic for many years. He started with Magen David Adom when he was a teenager. He went through the Intifada witnessing many, many different terrorist attacks unfortunately. He continued with Hatzalah in Australia in Sydney. And then he joined Hatzalah here as well. He’s also a Hatzalah doctor and an ALS responder. And I guess I’ve seen for many years now the work that’s done and I’ve always been a bit envious that other people are able to contribute to helping people medically and I wasn’t included in that. So I felt that it’s time to get in on the action.
Q: Wow and what do you love about being a United Hatzalah volunteer?
Miriam Ballin: What do I love about being a Hatzalah volunteer? Obviously I love being able to help people. That’s why I think anybody joins United Hatzalah to be able to help people. I love having the knowledge under my belt as a mother, as a community member in case I ever need it or am called upon to be able to help my own children or other people’s children or other community members. The adrenaline is always nice, having something exciting to be able to do on the side instead of getting stuck on the road of daily activities and life in general and I love hearing the feedback at the end of having treated a patient when they come back to you and are tell you how that helped and how they recovered and how you are a big part of that. I think that’s what gives you the biggest satisfaction.
Q: What do you find challenging about being a United Hatzalah volunteer?
Miriam Ballin: Well, I guess my circumstances are a little bit extra challenging. Because I am a mother and a wife and work like all the other Hatzalah volunteers as well. But I have to fit it in to where the little spaces of time that I have. So it’s definitely challenging to fit it in. But the other challenges involve I guess the psychological impact of seeing different people in need. Different people in stress or hurt. And having to get my head around that and be able to focus on the task at large which is really just helping them get better and be okay. So it’s definitely a bit of a juggle.
Q: Can you tell me the story of the most recent call that you answered?
Miriam Ballin: The most recent call I answered was last night. I was out on a little date with my husband And as we were coming home, as we were pulling into our spot outside my house we got a call that down the block from us there was a very large car accident. So we went there, we were there second, my husband and I pulled out our gear him ALS, me BLS. We approached the cars which were both totaled. So we assumed that we were going to have some very unfortunate patients to be treating but God made a miracle. And we got to the cars and both of the cars had a patient inside that seemed pretty much untouched and we were able to just help them mentally be able to calm down from the experience and to be able to organize the details and technicalities between the two of them. And we did not have to treat them medically at all which was rare and really unbelievable.
Q: Wow. And how does it feel when you are putting on the orange vest to go on a call?
Miriam Ballin: As a medic it feels great because I have the credentials that I need to be able to go help people. As a woman it feels great because it’s I get an extra feeling of accomplishment when I put on the orange vest because it doesn’t just represent being a medic but it represents being the first cohort of women involved as well here in Jerusalem.
Q: Tell me about some of the interesting people you have met while volunteering for United Hatzalah.
Miriam Ballin: Something that happens on a regular basis now is I go on a call, especially to elderly people and firstly to see their homes and what they’ve been through and the story of their lives and the accomplishments that they’ve obviously had is very humbling to see. But what’s been very interesting is to have come across many of my husband’s patients on Hatzalah calls as patients in their own homes. And to have them see my name or hear my name and ask me if I’m related to Dr. Ballin and then tell me that they are his patients. And for them to tell me a bit about how wonderful it is to be in his care medically. I’ve also just seen a lot of unbelievable who have moved to Israel, made aliyah and are here and living the dream and getting to know a little bit about them.
Q: How do you maintain a positive mental attitude while you are going on a call?
Miriam Ballin: I work on this because often it takes a lot of energy to be able to get in the right mindset. When I go on the calls, I try to distract myself on the way to the call about thinking about the different possibilities and the things that I’m going to do when I get there and the different things that I’m going to ask and the different things that I’m going to look out for. And I try to envision the outcome as best as possible and as positive as possible and that keeps me as positive as possible.
Q: Awesome. And do you have any beliefs or psychological tricks that help you stay calm when you are faced with a stressful call?
Miriam Ballin: Psychological tricks. Hmm, when I go to call when there are children involved as a mother and I’m sure other people feel as parents all the time it gets very personal because you are seeing children the same ages as your children. So one of the psychological tricks I guess I have made for myself is thinking about my own children enough to be able to make me empathetic and compassionate enough towards the children I am dealing with. But at the same time veering away from thinking about my own children and stayinng focused on their children and not letting myself get too involved emotionally so that I can actually give them the best quality of care.
Q: Besides physically helping the people you respond to what do you do psychologically to help them?
Miriam Ballin: I always give people hugs. I’m like known as the hug lady. So when I get to a scene and I see that they’re really stressed out or that they’re overwhelmed and they don’t know what to do next the first thing I do is like I give them a hug and then I continue holding their arm while I explain what we’re going to do to be able to help them. I think that the power of touch is very powerful.
Q: What about like how you use your voice or things like that?
Miriam Ballin: My voice? I mean I try to stay as calm as possible despite how challenging it may be. I try to talk to them calmly and clearly in their own language and try to explain everything that I do because I find that medics often can just get into it without explaining what’s going on and that can be very overwhelming and confronting for people because we go on calls all the time but they don’t have calls all the time to their homes. So they are not as familiar with the process as we are. That little bit of extra emotional support and explaining things does a lot for them. It goes a far way.
Q: Can you please share a story about one of your most exciting, meaningful calls?
Miriam Ballin: One? Exciting call. I have to think for a second. Let’s think. Definitely my most meaningful call was delivering a baby recently in Nachlaot in the neighborhood of Nachlaot to a young family where I happened to be nearby and I got the call and the woman had felt that she would be able to get to the hospital but obviously God had other plans. And she had called an ambulance and she had called Hatzalah. I got there – there were a few men outside when they saw a woman come on board they left and they allowed me to take things in my own hands which I was nervous about but also excited about. And to be able to be there and to witness the birth of a baby and be able to contribute to that and making sure that it went smoothly and that the woman was calm and that things were done safely and as well as possible. It was really an unbelievable experience.
Q: How do your friends and family respond to your activities as a United Hatzalah volunteer?
Miriam Ballin: So my family used to have to just put up with my husband being part of United Hatzalah. And now they have to put up with me being part of Hatzalah as well. And it was always a really good cop out for him because he could always just say “Oh, got a Hatzalah call, got to go.” And now I can do the same thing. So hahaha.
They have mixed emotions about it. My immediate family meaning my children obviously they have to sometimes wait a bit while we go out and we do what we have to do and come back and that can sometimes be trying although they’re young and so we’re able to distract them with different things in the meantime. My family at large, meaning my parents and brothers and sisters and all of them think on the one hand that it’s amazing and on the other hand that we’re crazy. So… we juggle expressing to them how much it means to us and how much we’re contributing to get them to continue supporting us.
Q: How does being a United Hatzalah volunteer change how you feel when you’re walking down the street.
Miriam Ballin: That’s a good question. I think I always felt that I could help in a time of crisis even before I had actually been trained. I’m good under pressure. I always felt that I would be able to stay focused in case of an emergency but now I just have that added reassurance that if something were to happen right now right here I have the knowledge and I have the training to be able to do the best job I can to be able to help. And that gives me a great feeling.
Q: How does being a United Hatzalah volunteer change the way you look at your neighborhood?
Miriam Ballin: Well, it definitely gets me to become a lot more finicky about neighborhood safety and trying to ensure the safety of everybody in our neighborhood. I watch kids flying down the street on their bimbas at like 300 km/h and that makes me more nervous than it ever did before because I can imagine the outcome if they were to crash into that wall or flip over or hit another kid. And because I’ve been to calls where I’ve seen that as the outcome, it makes me a lot more nervous.
So I find myself being the neighborhood ‘reprimander’, especially to children. Not to adults as much but in general safety hazards have become a lot more obvious to me. And I kind of walk around trying to cover up the potholes that have been exposed because I can imagine somebody falling into it and putting out salt because I can imagine the old man slipping and hurting himself and breaking the hip and then us being called out to that. So I definitely have become a lot more conscientious to the different perils that lie before us.
Q: Do you have any stories about how being a woman helped you respond to a call?
Miriam Ballin: So several times already we’ve had calls where I’d gotten there and it’s been like an elderly woman who fell in the restroom or is not dressed appropriately or has a problem that she wouldn’t be comfortable talking to a male about. So when I get there they’re always like kind of relieved. Their face looks kind of relieved that they don’t have to go in and embarrass her trying to take care of her. They could send me in and get her organized and comfortable for all of us to be able to give her the best care possible. So I find that happening a lot actually.
Especially in our neighborhood where we have a lot of elderly people in Rehavia and the Wolfson towers where we have calls frequently. We have women unfortunately who are older and just can’t take care of themselves properly and end up calling Hatzalah cause they fall or they’re not well and they need a woman to get them organized.
Q: More people seem to be interested in United Hatzalah. Why do you think that is?
Miriam Ballin: I think the idea of the gap between when the call is made and when the ambulance arrives really is something that people are not aware of. The idea of that taking so long for the ambulance to arrive and people in the distress that they may have in those minutes which could even just be a couple but it could feel like an eternity when you’re waiting for an ambulance, I think people don’t think about that regularly. They think you call 911, you call 101, you call whatever it is and you get an ambulance. And that’s how things go. But unfortunately especially in socialized countries including Australia where I used to live it can often be between 10 to 15 minutes until an ambulance arrives. And if you’re in a real emergency that can feel like I said, like eternity. So to have people feel that gap and get there seconds afterwards and to be there taking care of the patient until the ambulance gets there is incredibly reassuring and incredibly comforting. And that idea really takes people.
Q: When you arrive to a scene of a call, do you distinguish between people who are Jewish or not-Jewish?
Miriam Ballin: Not at all. Like I said, I grew up in San Francisco California, it was a very colorful place shall we say and I had all types of people around me at all times and I’m very understanding and very tolerant and very loving towards all people. I see people and I see the situation they’re in and I just try to give care to whoever needs it most first.
Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?
Miriam Ballin: Go for it. I’d tell them to go for it, I’d tell them to follow their dream and I’d tell them to not worry about any of the practical issues that people going to try to dissuade them with.
Q: Can you say more about that?
Miriam Ballin: Yeah I mean very often people’s mindset will be you should be being paid for the work you do. Or people will say well what about the things that will fall to the wayside? And I think that that type of encouragement, negative encouragement can be very daunting and it can make you really reconsider volunteering. And if you have the idea to volunteer and that’s something you feel passionate about, or you’re even just considering it, I think you should pursue it. I mean you should go for it because it gives you a tremendous amount of purpose and it gives you a tremendous amount of understanding of the nation that we’re part of, the people that we’re part of, the people out there. It gives you a lot of fulfillment.
Q: What do you think will change about United Hatzalah over the next 5 years?
Miriam Ballin: That’s a good question. If we continue putting in volunteers as frequently as we are into different neighborhoods, and communities around Israel, we will definitely be bigger than ever and better than ever. We will have better respond times than ever and that will be amazing, that will be great. As Eli Beer says the dream is really to have people in every block, in every home, in every business office and every store, who will be able to drop everything and will be able to respond to a call and then our response time will be seconds, not minutes. And I think that we’re getting closer and closer to that goal and that will be great. I think that we’re also including all different types of people including women, men, different ethnicities, different cultural backgrounds. And that’s great because then people will have people they’re comfortable with taking care of them. And that’s great.
Interviewer: Wow. Miriam Ballin, thank you so much.
Miriam Ballin: No worries, no problem. It’s been a pleasure.