Many neighborhoods in Jerusalem are absolute mazes, and from their mazelike streets numerous paths branch off, going every which way. Some are footpaths that are given additional street names, and some are paths that have the same name as the road they run parallel or adjacent to. For anyone who is not a local or unfamiliar with the layout, it can be extremely difficult to find any specific address, even using apps like Waze or Google Maps.
Residents in the area are aware of the difficulty in locating their homes, and often when they have an emergency, instead of giving their exact address, they’ll just direct us to a street or corner and say, “We’ll meet the ambulance outside.”
Pretty much every EMT or first responder who serves in Jerusalem has a story where they were on a street but could not find a specific address for at least half an hour. I am no exception. The street I was recently called to was a maze. Had the family not waited outside, our ambulance staff and I would not have found the home.
Instead a woman came to the street to meet us, and we followed her down some stairs and through various footpaths-turned-streets to her home, where her mother was suffering from chest pain and in need of emergency care.
The woman, who was in her mid-50s, was visibly shaking. She told us she was having an anxiety attack accompanied by chest pain. Her eldest daughter, who had led us down the staircase, was getting married in two days. The mother’s anxiety was triggered by her daughter’s upcoming marriage, and she felt she required medical intervention to calm down.
We took her vitals, and everything was normal. The ICU ambulance arrived shortly afterward, once again guided by a family member to the address. Upon their arrival the regular ambulance crew stepped back and allowed the paramedics to take over. The paramedics performed an EKG to rule out any underlying heart issues, and thankfully there were none.
The paramedics, having completed their task, reissued the call and gave charge of the scene back to the regular ambulance crew, made up of only EMTs, which had waited outside. My phone sounded another alert, and we went back in and resumed care of the patient.
Despite all her vitals being normal, the woman still wanted to be taken to the emergency room to be seen and receive help calming down. I helped her get dressed and pack her bag and accompanied her out the front door of her home.
The daughter and bride-to-be walked her mother up the staircase, followed by the ambulance crew and me.
As we walked up the stairs, a door across the staircase opened. A lady saw us and asked, “Are you here for my father’s heart attack? I was just coming outside to guide the ambulance.”
We had all assumed our phones alerting us to a new emergency was due to the first ambulance call being reinstated. In reality another emergency had occurred at the exact same time in the same building.
We were five responders altogether—four members of the ambulance crew and me. We split in half: Two responders continued accompanying our first patient up the stairs while I, together with the remaining two members of the ambulance team, entered the neighbor’s home.
A gentleman in his late-50s was experiencing severe chest pain and sweating profusely. His daughter explained he was a heavy smoker and suffered from diabetes. All his physical signs—sweating, the description of the pain, his medical history—pointed to a high likelihood this man was having a heart attack.
Thankfully, a second regular ambulance crew arrived shortly. With time of the essence, we decided not wait for the ICU ambulance to return but rather to scoop the patient and run to the hospital. The regular ambulance would begin the journey and hopefully meet up with an ICU ambulance on the way to transfer care.
The two calls being so close together on one of the most difficult-to-navigate streets in Jerusalem, and the confusion that ensued, almost cost this man his life. This is just another reason why it is always important to send someone down to the street to notify first responders of the exact location of anyone having a medical emergency.
Kalanit Taub is a volunteer responder with United Hatzalah in Jerusalem.