Israeli doctor uses lessons from intifada in Boston

Doctor trained in elite IAF unit finds himself experiencing American terror.

April 21, 2013 23:36
2 minute read.
A runner is wheeled from a triage tent after twin blasts at the Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013.

Boston blast weelchair 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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NEW YORK – After two bombs tore apart the limbs of Bostonians as they celebrated their Patriots’ Day with a marathon, and as 18 victims were rushed to Tufts Medical Center while over 100 others were scattered among other facilities, at least one doctor at that hospital knew the drill.

David Spector wasn’t just an attending surgeon at Ichilov Hospital at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv during the second intifada. He served in the Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit 669 – one of the most elite units of the Israel Air Force.

Army life, he explained, forced doctors to work together as if their country required it of them. And quite honestly, he simply didn’t expect the same camaraderie to come from Americans.

“No one in Boston is used to it, and their reactions were very different from what I expected,” he said. “They became viscerally emotional, and patriotic. Suddenly everyone was very close.”

Once it became clear that the city was under attack, a tremendous sense of community drove Spector’s colleagues in a way he hadn’t seen in the four years since he had first arrived in the US.

He characterized his reaction as a cultural mechanism that, while perhaps a byproduct of unfortunate circumstances, enables him to do his job efficiently and without emotional delay. It’s a trial-by-fire that literally comes with the territory.

And yet, while Spector tried to advise his colleagues at Tufts not to be afraid when leaving work for home – the entire city of Boston went into virtual lockdown, as the identity of the still-at-large 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was publicly revealed – he found himself reflecting on whether it was a faux sense of panic on the part of a privileged nation, or whether he himself was in someway jaded, cynical or hardened from seeing so many limbs in his past.

As Spector made his way to the hospital, he missed that golden hour of aid for the victims: when blood loss must be abated; when decisions have to be made on amputations. By the time he got there, most of those decisions had been made. And what Spector saw took him by surprise.

“In a potential mass-casualty situation, they really are well-organized, and I didn’t expect that here coming from Israel,” Spector said.

Tufts managed to prevent any limb amputations, and had no fatalities among the victims it treated.

“At the end of the day, a lot of patients that were severely injured were suddenly dumped onto a bunch of Boston hospitals,” Spector added.

“And even though they’re not used to this stuff, the emergency procedures in place were very effective.”

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