A medical emergency took a turn for the worse in the Jerusalem suburb of Giv’at Ze’ev on a recent Sunday afternoon when a recent immigrant to Israel suffered cardiac arrest. United Hatzalah volunteers who arrived at the scene discovered the man’s wife was a confirmed COVID-19 patient, and she and their daughter were both in isolation.
The volunteers donned full protective gear before entering the premises and performing an almost-hourlong CPR. They were joined by a mobile intensive care ambulance team, to which they gave additional PPE suits, but unfortunately the efforts of the combined team were unsuccessful.
United Hatzalah’s Giv’at Ze’ev chapter head, David Israel, who also volunteers with the organization’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit (PCRU), recognized quickly that the wife was not handling the situation well. Seeing there were enough medical responders on hand, he contacted United Hatzalah’s dispatch and told them he was going to provide the wife with psychological first aid.
“When the CPR was about to be called off, I saw the wife getting very agitated,” David recalls. “I began to help her and her daughter while in full protective gear, something I had never done before. It felt awkward at first, but I managed to convey that I was there for them and would stay with them until they no longer needed my help.”
Fulfilling the promise required a great deal more time than is usually allotted in a PCRU treatment. David discovered the small family was relatively new to Israel, and neither the woman nor her grown daughter spoke Hebrew well. He used his connections with the local chevra kadisha (burial society) and organized the details of transferring the body and the funeral, with everyone involved wearing full protective gear at all times.
The man’s death was called in the middle of the afternoon, and the funeral was held at 7:30 p.m. at Har HaMenuchot, the largest cemetery in Jerusalem.
David then faced a new problem: The mother and daughter, both being COVID-19 patients, were confined to quarantine and forbidden to attend the funeral. He contacted United Hatzalah’s operations department and arranged for an ambulance to transport them both to the cemetery so they were able to attend.
“At the funeral the wife and daughter needed to stay completely isolated,” David says. “We opened one of the ambulance’s doors, but other than that they had to remain inside at all times. We helped them remain as comfortable and dignified as we could under the circumstances. When it was over the ambulance took them home.”
There was one problem David was unable to overcome: The couple’s son lived abroad and did not have Israeli citizenship, which meant he was not allowed to enter the country for his father’s funeral.
But the mission was not yet over. The family was entering their week of shiva (mourning) bereft of the provisions they would need to get through it. “We provided them with the customary low folding chairs, candles, books, and any other supplies they required for the period of mourning,” says David.
“To give a full level of care goes beyond just performing CPR or providing medical assistance,” he adds. “In this instance we assisted with CPR as well as emotional and psychological care, funeral arrangements, transport, and everything the family needed during their period of mourning. We had to provide an entire envelope of care for this family who had no support network, and that is what we did.”
David and the Giv’at Ze’ev community of volunteers remained in close contact with the family over the shiva and will continue to assist them as needed with their recovery from COVID-19 and continued recuperation.
Raphael Poch is the international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization.