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Stories from the Streets: Shabbat Save

Natanel Sofer

My name is Natanel Sofer, and I live in Rishon LeZion, where I work as a young-adult educator for the city. In addition to my work with youth, I volunteer as a United Hatzalah EMT. I regularly rush out on emergency calls when they occur in my area, especially if I know I’m one of the closest responders and can arrive in just a few moments. For me it is of the utmost importance that the patient, whomever they may be, receive the fastest response possible and with expert-level care. 
One recent Saturday (Shabbat) afternoon, I was enjoying a festive meal with my family when I was alerted to an unconscious man in my neighborhood. I dropped my fork, jumped up from the table, and ran outside, where I climbed onto my ambucycle and raced off at full speed. Dispatch had said this was an urgent case, so with lights and sirens blaring, I drove as fast as was safe to arrive as quickly as possible. I hoped it would be in enough time save the man’s life.

I arrived less than two minutes after receiving the call. I quickly climbed the stairs of the building with my medical kit and defibrillator and entered the apartment where the patient and his family resided. They too were having a Shabbat meal. The first thing that struck me was the dining room table full of food, surrounded by chairs that were empty. It was an ominous sight. The next thing was all the family members on their feet, crying hysterically as their 65-year-old father/grandfather lay sprawled on the floor next to his large chair at the head of the table. I rushed over and quickly checked the man for a pulse. Finding none, I immediately began CPR on the family’s patriarch.

I attached defibrillator pads to the man’s bare chest, and when the machine advised a shock, I stood back, made sure the body was clear, and pushed the button. The man’s chest heaved upward with the shock. No one else had arrived yet, so I performed compressions single-handedly for 10 long minutes until other volunteers appeared.
Finally an intensive care ambulance arrived, and its crew joined my efforts. For the next half hour, together with the ambulance team and other EMS responders, I waged an all-out battle to save this man’s life. I kept thinking to myself that I wouldn’t allow this man to die at his Shabbat table in front of his family. The family stood off to the side, crying uncontrollably as they prayed for their loved one’s life. 
Finally, after a full 40 minutes of CPR, the man’s pulse suddenly returned, to the enormous relief of the family and all those present. We’d succeeded at the first part, but now we had to stabilize the patient’s condition and transfer him to the ambulance. Once that was done the man was rushed to the hospital for further treatment. I am happy to say that now, a few weeks later, the man is still alive and has returned to his family. 
When I reflect upon my efforts on behalf of United Hatzalah, I am reminded of something said by our fallen brother Ephraim Gadassi, who lost his life on the way to an emergency. Ephraim once said, “I will give of myself to help others, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Every call I respond to endows me with the strength to respond to other calls, especially when they involve instances of successful CPRs.” 
Applying his idea to this scenario, leaving my table midmeal meant another family would have joy at theirs for the foreseeable future. They teach us in training that early intervention is the key to survival. In the field, I see that over and over again. Had I not arrived when I did, there is virtually no way this man would have survived. I am proud to be a part of that and part of an organization whose volunteers prioritize the survival of others over their own comfort.

Natanel Sofer is an educator and volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah in Rishon LeZion, Israel. 

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