On a Monday evening in January, a young woman who had recently given birth to her family’s first child collapsed at home in one of the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem. First responders who arrived at the scene began CPR efforts. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful. Due to the complex situation and trauma of the other family members who witnessed the event, United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit (PCRU) was dispatched to provide emotional and psychological support and stabilization for the family and bystanders.
Daniel Katzenstein arrived as the first member of the PCRU at the scene and found several people who required assistance. He called for additional responders, and Batya Jaffe arrived with her therapy dog, Lucy, and sometime later John Atlas.
Jaffe spoke about how the team was instrumental in assisting those at the scene.
“I arrived after Daniel was already there and assisting people,” she recalls. “According to the protocol, the second and third responders at the scene check in with the first one to get an update and see what needs to be done. However, before I could reach Daniel, I heard someone call out, ‘We need the PCRU here!’
“I walked over, and a man told me [another bystander] was the brother of the woman who had collapsed, and he’d performed CPR on her.
“I didn’t even get over to him before a police officer came up to me and said, ‘I need you over there with the woman’s husband. Please try to get him to be able to speak to us, so we can ask him what happened.
“Once again I didn’t get the chance to get to him before someone else asked for my help with a different person. It felt like this was a mass-casualty incident from a psychological first aid perspective.
“I got to work on the brother who had started CPR. He was young, still just a teenager. He looked too calm, closed off within himself. He had just performed CPR on his sister in an attempt to save her life.
“I was just about to bring my dog, Lucy, over to the boy, but Lucy refused to go. Instead, she walked between the legs of the police officer. The officer bent down to pet her and then, with tears in her eyes, told me, ‘I need Lucy here with me.’
“I then went to the husband. From the onset he had support from other family members, mainly his parents, who had arrived to assist. The brother broke out into tears and was crying hysterically. This became contagious, and others began to cry as well. Together with Lucy, I went over to him, and we managed to get through to him and let him know we were there, and he was not alone.
“The woman’s mother told me she couldn’t process what had happened or even begin to think about it. The husband asked what he was supposed to do now, with a baby that is just a few months old, by himself. This baby was the couple’s only child. He very quickly descended from being very emotional to feeling a sense of helplessness to feeling guilty he wasn’t by his wife’s side in the last few moments of her life. It was clear to me that a world had collapsed here.
“Upon seeing the husband’s despair, there was not a dry eye in the home. I cried right along with him. The police officers also cried. This was the first time I was thankful we were all behind masks. The police officers showed an incredible amount of compassion and used our help wherever they could. We worked in tandem to get the scene under control and be there for those who had just experienced an unimaginable loss.
“One of the most useful and meaningful things to occur was that as soon as the situation began developing, the neighbors took the new baby into their home so it wouldn’t have to witness the CPR efforts and the emotional fallout that followed.
“The woman’s mother was feeling awful that she would not be able to find the energy to now look after her granddaughter. I asked the father if he wanted to check on the new baby, and at first he couldn’t bring himself to be with her. I went to check in with the neighbor and see the baby in an effort to encourage the father to do so as well. I saw a sweet and calm baby who was happy and surrounded with love. The neighbor told me she had fed and changed the baby. I thought to myself, What kind of a crazy world this is? Here the entire world of this father and daughter just went haywire, and yet there are still sparks of hope and joy.
“Friends and neighbors began to appear and offer help with all sorts of things. They showed their support and promised to be there for the new widower for the long haul and assist with the baby and anything else the two would now need.
“Working together with Daniel and John was a terrific experience. They are both professional and excellent caregivers. Additionally, we all worked in tandem, and Daniel was able to manage the scene and assign tasks and responsibilities to us all and the others present to provide the family with all the support they needed when their world exploded.
“Throughout the process I couldn’t help but think that while this baby girl will now have to go through life without ever really knowing her mother, she will know a community instead—a community of people who will step in to care for her and love her. While it can never replace what was lost, it will help provide the baby girl with the sense of being loved and not being alone in the world. And that is something we all need.”
Raphael Poch is the international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization.