7:00 am, first call of the morning: mass casualties on ____, near the ____ bridge. We arrive at a chaotic scene, suffused with blood and terror, reverberating with the screams of horrified bystanders and moans of the afflicted.The instructors at Magen David Adom tell you that this is a possibility, that working on an ambulance is potentially dangerous, and despite your best efforts, nothing can prepare you for the inevitable confrontation with tragedy.
We are instructed by the highest ranking paramedic on the scene that we are immediately needed to assist a woman suffering from a hemothorax (sucking-bloody chest wound) lying on the pavement in the parking area located in the rear — an apparent stab wound to the chest.
Although she is bleeding profusely, she is conscious and able to communicate. I am surprisingly calm, my mind somehow putting the situation into context, which allows me not to panic. Oxygen is administered and we get her into an Advanced Life Support vehicle (נ׳׳תן), sirens blazing as it speeds away. As we return to our ambulance, a Basic Life Support vehicle (לבן), we discover another person, critically injured, waiting for us inside. I am instructed to get in the back of the vehicle with the victim as the driver starts the car. Today is only my fourth shift on the job.
My training is based on a 66 hour course over the span of ten days for overseas volunteers from all over the globe. Although I am an Israeli citizen, I elect to participate in this program because it is taught in English, my mother-tongue, and suits my preferences. 66 hours of training over ten days and only my fourth shift on the job.
“Where is she injured?!” The driver asks in Hebrew. She too is conscious but bleeding at an alarming rate, half the ambulance floor is now covered in blood, yet I don’t see any wounds.
Now I panic. My heart is beating so fast I can taste its tissue on my tongue. I am alone with a critically injured patient and I don’t know what to do…so I keep searching, not wanting my driver to get out of his seat because of my inability to perform my duty, but the adrenaline is making it hard to focus. I suddenly notice dried blood on the top left corner of her shoulder and instinctively tilt her forward so as to see the condition of her back…and there it is, two deep wounds, 3 inches long, gushing red hot liquid. “On her back!” I reply in English.
Suddenly, another paramedic jumps into our ambulance and we take off to the hospital. “Oxygen,” he asks me calmly in Hebrew. I realize it’s the senior paramedic we encountered when we arrived. His presence soothes my nerves enough so I can help. I hand him the oxygen. “Gauze pads” he says and I hand him the gauze pads. “Hold her head,” and I hold her head so he can check the wounds and stop the bleeding. This is what we do until we reach the hospital.
The media is already there when we arrive, setting up their cameras, positioning their reporters, getting ready for the big story. We rush the victim to surgery and I hope for the best.
And like that it’s all over.
I ask my driver what he thinks happened but I already know, I just lack the details. I use my phone to see if there is any information on the situation: “12 Israelis Wounded in Terrorist Attack on Tel Aviv Bus.”
My driver asks me to get disinfected wipes from the nurses station in the hospital so as to wipe down the ambulance and retractable bed. The color of the blood is strikingly bold and insidious. There’s so much of it I need almost the whole container to get it all.
I feel like crying.
After I’m finished wiping down the crimson pools from the morning’s trauma, and after the initial emotional strain has faded away, a powerful hunger comes over me. “Is this normal?” I wonder. And as I am enjoying my almond croissant, I notice that the only thing in the car still covered in blood is me.