When Seconds Count, Help was Forty-Five Minutes Away

My ambulance shift started that day like it did every other day; at 6:45 am, I arrived at Magen David Adom’s Bet Shemesh station, quickly found my ambulance crew for the day, and began checking our equipment. Fifteen minutes before every shift starts, the ambulance crew is responsible for going through everything on their assigned ambulance, making sure that nothing is expired, missing, or not working. There is no “Do not worry; we will not need it” mentality in an ambulance. Nothing gets left to chance, and it only takes a few shifts on one to experience that firsthand.

Thankfully today, everything was working and accounted for, and upon completing our checks, we waited at the station for the dispatch to ring our phone with our first emergency of the day.

The only constant when it comes to working in EMS is that you can never really know what to expect on call that day. Some days can go by with just one or two minor cases and other days, you are going back and forth between life threatening emergencies and the hospital, with no breaks at all. Today was starting to look more like it would be the latter of those two days because our first call came in just thirteen minutes to the start of our shift. “Sixty-year-old man with a suspected cerebral vascular attack (CVA), also known as a stroke. Fueled up on three cups of coffee, I jumped on board our rig, and off we went.

It was a “concern for human life” code, meaning we proceed with lights and sirens. It is a code reserved only for the gravest emergencies. Thanks to our generous use of the gas pedal, only took us a few moments before we arrived at the man’s residence, where the first major hurdle was confirming our stroke suspicions with a panicking wife looking on. I asked him to squeeze both my hands and as I had predicted, his left hand made not the slightest squeeze, a key symptom of a CVA. After confirming our suspicions, we wasted no time loading him into our ambulance.

There was no hospital in Bet Shemesh. At best, he would be at Hadassah Ein Kerem within forty-minutes, assuming there was no traffic. Pedal

to the floor, we raced to the hospital, hoping and praying to God almighty that the roads would be clear for us, and more importantly, for our patient.

About thirty minutes later, with our patient’s condition deteriorating fast, the thing we were praying for would not happen did happen. We were forced to slow down, held up by heavy traffic heading into Jerusalem. At this point, our patient was beginning to have severe trouble breathing, forcing us to increase the oxygen flow into the mask we had on him. I exchanged glances with my partner seated next to me, a young Bat Sherut EMT with only a few months experience. This call was her first case involving a patient whose life was truly on the line. Nonetheless, it was evident that she and I were thinking the same thing: If this man does not reach a hospital within ten minutes, things are going to turn from bad to worse.

Mercifully, the traffic relented, and we arrived at Ein Kerem with hardly a moment to spare, our patient had just about lost all consciousness. We rushed him to the shock and trauma unit and transferred him to the hospital’s care. Phew! Disaster averted!
Even though everything went for the most part, smoothly, one question itched at me the whole time we were filling out paperwork for him.

What if the traffic did not let up? In EMS, a few seconds could be all it takes for things to make a steep turn for the worst. Two more minutes without a hospital and the fortunate ending our case had would have no doubt whatsoever taken a tragic turn.

Thinking about all of this brought me to another question, one that I still ask myself to this day: Why does Beit Shemesh, a rapidly growing city with a population of over a hundred thousand people, not have even the slightest resemblance of a hospital? More so, what is going to be the excuse if a terrorist attack or some other mass casualty incident happens in Beit Shemesh and people who would typically survive their injuries die because they were too far from a hospital? Are the lives of over a hundred thousand Israelis worth putting at risk for economic reasons?

I hope that it does not take a tragedy like the one we narrowly avoided for us to realize how urgently Beit Shemesh needs a hospital? It is no longer the question whether or not a tragedy will occur in Bet Shemesh that will make us wish we had a hospital. The due date for that question expired years ago. It is a matter of when a tragedy will occur. The proud EMTs and paramedics of Magen David Adom and United Hatzalah can only do so much with a hospital forty-minutes away.