I am a volunteer EMT. I am part of a network of 6,000-plus volunteers who drop whatever they are doing when a medical emergency occurs and rush to save lives. Two years ago, a training course opened up in Efrat, where I live, run by United Hatzalah of Israel, an organization that provides all of its emergency services for free. I knew I had to join so that I could help make a difference in my community and save lives.
One of the first things that I realized when I graduated from my EMT training course is the difference between what goes on in a classroom and real-life emergencies. While I was still a field trainee and responding to medical emergencies under the careful eye of another fully trained EMT, I got to experience firsthand how true that was. One of my more memorable trials by fire occurred during a CPR call.
The call occurred in Jerusalem when a woman in her 70s had turned on the water while on her way into the shower. The woman fell and suffered cardiac arrest. Water from the shower flooded the small apartment. The woman’s husband, who had been relaxing in the bedroom, noticed the flooding, found his wife unconscious, and called emergency services.
Upon arrival at the tiny Jerusalem apartment a few minutes later, the first thing we saw was an apartment entirely flooded. This made it impossible to use a defibrillator on the patient, as both the patient and the surrounding area need to be dry in order to use an AED safely.
As first responders began compressions on the woman lying on the wet floor in the living room, other responders, myself included, tried to figure out how we could get the woman onto a dry surface to hopefully allow us to deliver a shock from the defibrillator. One EMT started mopping the water toward a drain in the bathroom.
Together with another EMT, I took off the thick couch cover and laid it on the floor that had just been mopped. The floor was still wet, but the couch cover was thick and we hoped it was enough to keep her dry.
We lifted the woman onto the couch cover and used bathroom towels to surround her and keep the rest of the water at bay. While other EMTs continued compressions, we dried off the woman and attached the defibrillator pads.
As we had them attached, the mobile intensive care ambulance arrived, and we passed over the care of the patient to them as per our protocol as pre-ambulance first responders. But our work was not over.
In any emergency medical scene where more than one person is physically present, there are numerous people who require care. There is the patient themselves, but there are also bystanders, witnesses, and family members of the patient, who also require a certain level of care and possibly treatment, whether this is simply being there to help explain what is happening or giving them a full dose of emotional or psychological stabilization. In United Hatzalah we refer to this as resiliency treatment or psychotrauma treatment.
In this scenario, the distraught husband had just spent 10 minutes watching emergency personnel attempt to resuscitate his wife. While the ICU staff was busy, it became the job of the EMTs, my job, to explain to the husband what was happening.
I spoke to him in soothing tones and reassured him that everything that could be done to save her was being attempted. He asked why we needed the couch cover and I explained to him the danger of using a defibrillator on a wet patient. He nodded in understanding. This, he was able to grasp and hold onto during this moment of emotional distress.
In the end, we were unsuccessful. We did everything we could to save her life, but sometimes, God says, ‘No.’ The woman was transported to a hospital and declared dead shortly thereafter.
I don’t know what would have happened had we been able to attach a defibrillator sooner. Perhaps we could have saved her. But in the end, we did the best we could with the scenario at hand, and that is the job. I am not sad or ashamed of how things unraveled. Each of us did everything we could to save the woman’s life in an atypical situation. But then again, I’ve come to realize over these past few months that every situation is an atypical situation.
That night I learned that an EMT doesn’t just need to know everything taught in class, we also need to know how to think outside the box. Because reality demands it.
Kalanit Taub is a United Hatzalah volunteer who lives in Efrat. She was born in Cleveland, grew up in Cleveland Heights and attended Hebrew Academy of Cleveland and Beatrice J. Stone Yavne High School for Girls. She studied at the University of Akron before making aliyah in 2004. In the first 10 months since becoming a volunteer EMT, Taub has responded to more than 600 medical emergencies and has saved dozens of lives.