Bird's-Eye View: A pre-Passover miracle

At the end of the day it always comes down to the patient whose life is on the line.

doctors operating room 311 (photo credit: HBL)
doctors operating room 311
(photo credit: HBL)
‘We have a situation here,” was the opening sentence of a call that shattered our post-Shabbat dinner serenity last Friday night. It was Shabbat Hagadol, a fitting title for the Sabbath that precedes the “Great Miracle” of Passover.
Little did I know that I was about to be swept into a “situation” holding life or death consequences, whose swift resolution was made possible by many “miracle-workers.”
The voice at the other end belonged to Dwight*, a former US Navy SEAL who today helps run a terrific company that provides emergency medical services, including evacuation by air ambulance, to a growing list of clients around the world. I had met Dwight on his recent visit to Israel and saw how impressed he was by the state-of-the-art care available in our Start-up Nation.
“If you ever need help bringing someone here,” I told him, “don’t hesitate to call.”
So when the phone rang close to midnight, Dwight was all business.
William*, an American professor who had been teaching at a satellite campus in a country far from home, was in desperate need of a life-saving procedure in order to reign in a heart more arrhythmic than a Stravinsky piece. To his fortune, the professor’s cardiologist back home had professional experience with Tel Hashomer and could even recommend by name the specific physicians whom he thought were best suited to perform the procedure.
But life is never simple. The professor and his wife Mary* were living in a country that does not maintain ties with Israel. The ramifications of this were far greater than difficulties caused by lack of direct communications.
Obtaining flight clearance was justifiably problematic. Not only were our civil aviation authorities being asked to allow an aircraft to enter Israeli airspace and land at our main airport for a flight originating in a state which doesn’t recognize us, but they would have to grant this permission within a few hours! If not, the operators would go to plan B, and bring the patient elsewhere, which would involve a longer – and therefore riskier – flight, and leave the medical treatment in someone else’s hands.
The deadline for obtaining a clearance was Saturday morning, so this would have to be accomplished in the middle of the night during the heart of the weekend. Finally, just to ratchet the level of difficulty up one more notch, it should be noted that this whole story was unfolding on “Land Day,” precisely as Israel delegitimizers were threatening to invade our borders with a million man march. And just last year, similar forces organized a so-called “Fly-tilla”.
Luckily, each of the senior people who were called displayed the same attitude. They all recognized that a life was at stake. Ein breirah, (Hebrew for “Failure is not an option”) was the compelling power that helped creative and caring people come up with bona fide solutions to satisfy a host of valid concerns. The duty officer at the US Embassy was particularly helpful.
By 2 a.m. it appeared that we were almost there, but would have to wait a few hours until we could seal the deal.
Hoping to overcome the adrenaline rush that would make a much-needed nap nearly impossible, I poured a tall one and found myself ruminating about the coincidence of this occurring on Land Day, reminiscent of Bogie sitting in Rick’s Café at about the same early morning hour and saying, “Of all the gin joints, in all the world…” Saturday’s morning light brought the hoped-for approval and by early evening the aircraft touched down safely. William was transferred to a waiting ambulance while his passport was stamped. Within 30 minutes, he was hooked up to the monitors at Tel Hashomer’s Cardiac ICU. When Mary arrived the next day (the air ambulance did not have room for her to accompany William), she was met at the door of her plane by a Foreign Ministry representative sent by Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon’s efficient staff, who sped her through the airport and to her husband’s bedside.
The Head of Kfar Maccabia provided not only a room, but a suite at the sold-out hotel (this being Passover season) to make Mary’s stay as comfortable as possible.
Yet certainly all this would not have been enough, had it not been for the expertise of Prof. Michael Glikson (head of the Davidai Arrhythmia Center), Dr. David Lauria and everyone else at the hospital. The paramedic who accompanied William remarked that “these were professionals who try hard to be the best at what they do...and then work harder to get better.”
At the end of the day it always comes down to the patient whose life is on the line. In the days that have passed, I have been privileged to form a bond with William, a jovial and witty academic as well as Mary, who is clearly his match. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned for those who want to see Israel put its best foot forward. At this year’s Seder, I am adding a special prayer for William.
*Not the individual’s real name.