A few weeks ago a man was shopping at a store in Haifa and suddenly fell to the floor in a fit of seizures. The frightened store owner quickly called for emergency services. I was on my ambucycle when United Hatzalah’s dispatch alerted me to the nearby emergency. I gunned the engine and raced to the scene, arriving as the first responder on site. As I parked in front of the shop and grabbed my medical kit, I saw a municipal ambulance coming toward the location.
The shopkeeper met me at the door and led me to where the man was convulsing on the floor. I secured the man’s airway and carefully protected his head during the elongated bout of seizures. After some minutes passed I wondered what was taking the ambulance crew so long to arrive. As I was attending to still-convulsing patient, I asked the shopkeeper to call dispatch and inquire about the ambulance. A minute later the shopkeeper told me the ambulance had responded to a car accident, and an intensive care ambulance was on its way from Kiryat Ata, a town northeast of Haifa.
I knew that the man’s elongated seizures could result in brain damage or even death due to lack of oxygen, and that it would take an unacceptable amount of time for the mobile intensive care unit to arrive. I told the shopkeeper to immediately request any available ambulance in the area to rush to the scene. A few minutes later an ambulance arrived, but with only the driver on board.
Together with the driver I quickly lifted the still-convulsing man onto a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance. As the ambulance was short-staffed, I got on board and rode along to the hospital to safeguard the patient during transport. Together we rushed him to the emergency room, the convulsions continuing, and I updated the treating physician as to the length and severity of the man’s seizures. It took two doses of anti-epileptic medication for the man to finally stop convulsing. One of the nurses thanked me and told me if I hadn’t gotten to the man to the hospital as soon as I had, he would most likely not have survived.
It gives me a feeling of satisfaction to know I help others and even save lives on a regular basis. I began learning about emergency medicine as part of a family safety course I took with United Hatzalah—I wanted to know how to help my family if they needed it. At the time I was working in a bank in Haifa, and I sensed a commotion happening behind me. I turned and saw a woman standing in the middle of the room, choking. It was shocking to me to see a woman choking right in front of my eyes.
Everyone was standing up, but no one seemed to know what to do. I thought someone would surely know how to help her, but no one moved. I moved. I ran to her and performed the Heimlich maneuver. My actions saved her life. After we successfully dislodged the blockage from her windpipe, she calmed down, and by the time the ambulance arrived, she refused their services.
When they announced the next EMS course in Haifa, I signed up knowing that in times of need, I needed to know what to do. Because if not me, who else will?
I began as a volunteer because I wanted to help save lives. The heads of the chapter saw I was interested and worked hard. They gave me an ambucycle, and then a short while later, they asked me to be the deputy head of the region. I thought if I could help others do what I did, then my family, my community, and other communities would be safer.
I didn’t expect to be put in charge of 200 other volunteers. I am happy that I am, though, because the work I do now saves even more lives. From one small course of four hours, I ended up becoming a force multiplier to save countless others, and all because of knowing what to do and how when the time came. The message I learned that day is that we all have a responsibility to help others and that often there isn’t enough time to wait for an ambulance. When people suffer a medical emergency, they need help right then and there. I am thankful to United Hatzalah for teaching me, equipping me, and empowering me to be the one to step up and help.
Shlomo Tausky is a volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah and deputy head of the organization’s Carmel Region. He also works for the Israeli nonprofit health-support organization Ezer Mitzion. He is married with two children and lives in Haifa.