The most important thing to realize is that we are all people. Last night I hugged a Palestinian man whom I had never met before outside the southern gate of Efrat, the town in which I live. I, together with other first responders, had just attempted to resuscitate his father. He had brought his father to the gate seeking medical assistance as his father had been suffering chest pains and was unconscious.
The situation transpired just as I was leaving a different medical emergency inside Efrat where a man fainted. After successfully treating that man, I received the emergency call regarding the second medical emergency and raced over to the southern gate where CPR was already in progress. Responders who were closer than I was also rushed out of their homes, leaving their families, their children and their beds, to help a man they didn’t know, and sadly never would.
After 40 minutes of intense CPR in which we brought a pulse back for a very short time only to lose it once again, the man flatlined and the assembled team of first responders which included a doctor, two paramedics, and a few EMTs, were instructed to stop resuscitative efforts.
By this time, the son had been joined at the scene by his brother, his wife and other family members who were all waiting anxiously watching the CPR, hoping for a positive outcome — one that never came. One of the paramedics walked over to the two sons and explained the situation as kindly and as gently as he could. “We did everything we could,” he said. “We weren’t able to save him. I am sorry for your loss.”
As the paramedic was talking to the family, the rest of the team cleaned up the scene, throwing out all of the used medical supplies and bringing a sheet to cover the body. The look on the face of the son is one that I will never forget. It was a look of a broken heart.
The paramedic left and a police officer came over to take the son’s statement and help him organize plans for what to do with the body. It was at this point that I excused myself and stepped in. “You are the son of this man?” I asked. He replied in the affirmative. I looked into the son’s eyes and without further thought, I stepped forward and gave him a big hug. “I share in your sadness,” I told him.
The Palestinian man who I was hugging was stunned. He was not expecting to receive a hug from a Jewish EMT. It took him a second but then he embraced me back, strongly. As he cried into my shoulder he simply said, “Thank you.” We hugged for a minute or so. Then I turned to his brother and I hugged him. He was stunned as well but equally grateful. “Thank you,” he told me. “You have given us some comfort.”
After I stepped away, one of the other EMTs came over and repeated my gesture. During his hug, the second EMT, also Jewish, told the deceased man’s sons: “You no longer need to worry, your father is in heaven. He’s up there together with Allah.” I added to the message: “He is also no longer in pain. He is at peace.” This resulted in another round of thanks from the gathered family members.
With this small gesture of comfort, I helped these two men understand that I saw them as people, as people who are in pain and who needed comfort. I passed on a message that while we may have different nationalities and languages, I respect them and I wish to help alleviate the pain that they are suffering in whatever small way that I can. In spite of my efforts, I couldn’t change the outcome of their father’s state, but I could help these men by offering some comfort where they didn’t expect it. For me, empathy surpasses all boundaries, nationalities, languages, religions, and politics. The empathy I felt and showed at that moment is part of the job and part of being human.