Lital Schertzman: The dancing paramedic from Betar Illit

Lital Schertzman has always enjoyed excitement, whether it be from dance shows she arranges, or the cardiac arrest cases she manages on her Magen David Adom ambulance.

Lital Schertzman, who was trained to be a professional dancer and teacher, is now a Magen David Adom paramedic (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lital Schertzman, who was trained to be a professional dancer and teacher, is now a Magen David Adom paramedic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lital Schertzman has always enjoyed excitement, whether it be from the many dance shows she arranged for the hundreds of religious girls and women in her dance school in Betar Illit, a city in Gush Etzion 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem, or the cardiac arrest cases she adroitly manages on her Magen David Adom ambulance.
Originally trained to be a professional dancer and teacher at the Wingate Institute in Jerusalem’s religious women’s dance division, Lital worked successfully with dance projects for many years until, one day, she made up her mind to pursue her highest calling. This, in the midst of managing her family of four daughters with husband Shimmy, an architect and builder.
What was it that made you want to change to a whole new career?
I began learning dance as a child and really loved it, so naturally, I went to dance school, but in the back of my mind, there was always this yearning to help people in a medical way. You might say it was my secret dream.
Why didn’t you do it sooner?
For years I thought about this, but I also loved dancing and didn’t have time. I have a dance studio in Betar Illit where I teach several classes in jazz/hiphop and modern dance. I also employ other teachers to run classes. These classes are attended by hundreds of frum girls and women, culminating with a big dance show at the end of the year. Eventually, I just decided to go for my dream and still do teach a few classes a week on the side. So, you can say that I do both!
“SO NOW, you’re the dancing paramedic!” I tell her. Lital began studying for the Israeli psychometric exam and was admitted to the Hadassah College Medical Engineering School in Jerusalem where she attained a bachelors degree. Her degree included many of the same courses given in medical school. Lital then went to the paramedics’ school of Magen David Adom, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in June, for three years in order to become a regular paramedic. Following that, she was accepted at the Medical School for International Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
After discussing her goals with a counselor at the medical school, Lital was offered the possibility of specializing in pure emergency medicine as an “advanced” paramedic with a Masters Degree. This three-year program offered her more flexibility and a shorter residency than the traditional medical doctor route. 
She was very attracted to the idea of being on the front lines of helping people, being able to be the very person who could give lifesaving care and compassion at the scene of an emergency. The choice was easy for her. She accepted the coveted spot in the advanced paramedic program, completed it and her hospital and ambulance internship, passed the tests and emerged a full-fledged advanced paramedic right in time for COVID-19 to emerge in Israel. 
As the only woman in MDA working in Betar Illit, Lital is the only paramedic in the city who also lives there. She also works in Jerusalem.
A 56-year-old woman was vacationing at a hotel with her husband. In the middle of drinking coffee with her husband in the lobby, she suddenly went into VF- ventricular fibrillation. This means her heart just stopped! Lital’s team arrived and did 10 minutes of CPR, administered five shocks and she came back to life. 
“Many people call MDA and say thank you,” she says. “Once in a while, I see a person I have helped in the hospital. Today one of these people, an 80-year old man, presented me with a flower. It’s all very touching for me.”
How does the coronavirus affect you?
It certainly makes it harder to work wearing the whole enclosed protective suit. It is hot, your breathing is also harder in the suit, and, sometimes, you cannot even see well. I recently had a case of a heart attack where I had to do CPR. In this case, I literally relied on picturing the anatomy in my mind and then intubated (placed a tube down someone’s throat to assist with breathing) by using my knowledge of anatomy. I could not really see as in a regular situation. I felt the anatomy outside and use my instincts. It was a hairy situation, but thank G-d, the person lived.
Are you afraid of catching the coronavirus?
Not really, because I am in my thirties, take a lot of care of my health and, also, Israel seems to be managing the virus cases well.
What is it that you most like about being a paramedic?
It is so special when you get called into a person’s house for an emergency and see a person who looks to you as the only one who can help for their serious problem and know that you can help. Whether it be a life-threatening allergic reaction, asthma or heart attack, they need you so much.
How does it feel to save someone?
It’s euphoric! It’s an exhilarating feeling, and because I see that I not only have so much desire to do this but have the talent for it, I realize that it is one my Godly missions. For me, doing this work as a paramedic as well as my dance work brings healing, joy, expression and even exercise to women. Also, as a paramedic, it’s not all the time about saving lives. Sometimes you get to a person with hyperventilation or an anxiety attack. That person may just need to talk. I listen to them and give reassurance. I help them to calm down and let them know that everything is okay. I talk with them for a while and listen. It is such a good feeling to do this especially when you observe the healing it is doing for that person.
What is the difference between a “hovesh” and a paramedic?
A “hovesh” is a person with training in basic first-aid care for emergency situations such as doing CPR, taking blood pressure and vital signs, taking people to the hospital when called and giving oxygen. Training is usually limited to up to two months. Often, these people are volunteers and many are found on the “white” regular ambulances where as paramedics usually work on the “orange” intensive care ambulances where more serious procedures are carried out. For example, in the scene of a heart attack, For example, the “hovesh” would do the regular CPR until a paramedic arrives to continue with the advanced CPR techniques.
What are some of the interesting cases you’ve attended?
In Betar, there is a birth in someone’s house every couple of days, so having a female paramedic around is a plus. It was so exciting for me to deliver a baby in a house recently. The woman was relieved to have another woman helping her deliver the baby, but I must admit that wearing the protective suit made it very hard for me. There was not a lot of room to move around with the suit on, and I found it a bit suffocating and hot. Fortunately, the beautiful baby girl arrived healthy, and the woman was fine as well.
A sad case for me happened recently on one of my Jerusalem “runs.” A health care worker in on the medical clinics was not feeling well at work. He was pale, sweating a bit and extremely weak. This person had recently suffered the loss of a child and was still grieving intensely. An astute nurse observed him and decided to call an ambulance.”
THE HEALTH-CARE worker didn’t think he needed help, but when Lital arrived, she quickly assessed him as having a heart attack. This poor person was crying with grief and fearful all the way to the hospital. Lital worked hard to comfort him while stabilizing his heart. “It is very important not only to be a good paramedic, but to have good ‘human being skills,’ to be able to show compassion and loving care to the patients,” she says. The whole ambulance staff, she notes, was crying along with this man. And yes, they did save his life!
Israel offers a very extensive and elite program to be a paramedic which requires very rigorous coursework and training before dispensing the official license. A paramedic in Israel, as we see from Lital’s advanced paramedic background, is similar to a doctor who is specially trained in emergency medicine and life support techniques for acute medical emergencies.
Paramedics have a license to dispense medicine on the scene, to order the other ambulance workers to give the proper drugs. They are on the front line of emergency situations generally arriving in an ambulance. They could be sent just about anywhere from a simple case of an accident, stroke or birth to where the “action” is such as to the scene of a terrorist attack or a fire, perhaps even to help another country suffering a natural disaster such as an earthquake or tornado. 
It is a job not only fraught with excitement and challenge but also requires a lot of physical stamina, sometimes even danger. Lital feels her training and continued exercise as a dancer has given her physical strength to help her work. Paramedics like Lital perform all sorts of field interventions such as delivering babies, administering cardiac resuscitation, shocks and drugs, inserting breathing tubes, administering drugs for all sorts of acute emergency medical problems like an anaphylactic reaction (a life-threatening allergic reaction). They monitor vital signs and can even do some surgery, if necessary.
Tell me more about your lifesaving work.
Sometimes you see things you wish you never had such as when I was called to the scene of a child who was run over by car. It can sometimes take me a while to recover from the trauma, especially when the outcome is fatal. We had an anaphylactic case of a six-year-old with a big swollen tongue. He was very blue. I gave him adrenalin, oxygen inhalation and steroids.
It took around five minutes to get him breathing normally. While that was happening, his mother was crying and hysterical. I asked the driver to calm her down because I was with the child, who was conscious but very “air hungry.” We took him to the hospital.
How does your career affect your family?
Well, it’s true that in order to do all this, I depended on a lot of babysitting help and making meals at times from my mother and mother-in-law, both of which live near me in Betar Illit. I want to thank them and my husband Shimmy for the huge help they lovingly gave me because it just wouldn’t have been possible to do this without their generous help and support as well as God’s! My grandma Caryl, who was a school teacher in the US, spent a lot of time with going over advanced English vocabulary to prepare me for the psychometric exam. The hours and studies were extremely difficult, but what made it easier for me was that my father-in-law, Dr. Tuvia Schertzman, is an anesthesiologist in Jerusalem and was always available to answer my never ending questions and give over his vast experience in medicine and “intubation.” Having an experienced physician as a “tutor” was advantageous. You might say that my career became a family project!
Has your work had an unexpected impact on the children in your life? 
My two youngest daughters Adelle, 6, and Ella, 3, have very extensive toy doctor kits and love to imitate me. My nephew Yehonatan, age 9, took it more seriously. He takes all my old MDA clothes and whatever I can get for him and wears it all the time. He collected medical equipment from my father-in-law and makes me teach him all sorts of medical procedures like CPR or how to deal with something stuck in the throat, procedures which he memorizes quite accurately. Yehonatan knows how to make accurate and loud ambulance sirens with his mouth, too, while he dresses as a paramedic and goes on his skateboard. There is an ambulance station in Betar Illit which Yehonatan likes to visit while espousing his “medical procedures” to the crew.
So now, what are your plans for the future?
I want to continue with what I am doing, combining both my loves. I would also like to teach emergency medicine. Now I work three times a week in the ambulance, and I still teach a class or two of dancing because I am “the dancing paramedic.” n
The writer is a pianist/composer and classical homeopath in Betar Illit and the proud mother-in-law of Lital Schertzman