‘Just do your job’: Trainer of IDF paramedics on life-saving improvisation

By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org

LOS ANGELES—For Israel Defense Forces Lt. Anastasia Bagdalov, there was no time to ponder the gunshot that penetrated both legs of a man riding with her on a bus ambushed by terrorists.

Click photo to download. Caption: Anastasia Bagdalov, a trainer of IDF paramedics. Credit: Courtesy Anastasia Bagdalov.

“You just start to not think about anything but him. It’s the goal now. I see only him. I don’t see the smoke, I don’t see the glass, I don’t see the bullets. I don’t hear the bullets. Just do your job,” Bagdalov, now a platoon deputy commander of an IDF paramedics training course, recalls regarding the man she treated on Aug. 18, 2011.

That day came just two weeks after Bagdalov had completed her own IDF course for paramedics. On her unexpectedly tumultuous bus ride home from her base, the Uvda Airbase near Eilat, Bagdalov learned the value of improvisation. She saved the wounded man’s life by what reports on the incident have called the application of an arterial tourniquet to his knee—except for the fact that she didn’t have a tourniquet. She says she “started to use every object around me to stop the hemorrhages,” including her t-shirt and phone, and eventually received a bra to use from another girl on the bus (she didn’t use her own bra, as reports have stated).

Ultimately, “There was no place for a tourniquet, so I just put my hand on the artery, and he stopped bleeding,” Bagdalov says. In April 2012, she earned a military decoration for her acts on the ambushed bus. Last month, she visited Los Angeles as one of the guests of honor at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala, an event that raised more than $20 million.

FIDF is the nonprofit whose mission is to provide for education and wellbeing of IDF soldiers, and for the families of fallen soldiers. While IDF soldiers “always think about the work” and have “no time to waste,” Beglov says FIDF “always comes to us and says, ‘Wait—after the work, before the work, stand in place, take a breath. You need to think about yourself.’”

Click photo to download. Caption: Last month's Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala in Los Angeles, which was attended by Anastasia Bagdalov, a trainer of IDF paramedics who spoke with JNS.org about her treatment of wounded passengers on a bus ambushed by terrorists in 2011. Credit: Orly Halevy.

“I think without FIDF we wouldn’t have this time of breathing,” Bagdalov, 21, says in an interview with JNS.org.

But when she treated passengers after the August 2011 attack on her bus, Bagdalov didn’t have the luxury of time.

“Just do your job without thinking much. Because thinking is time, and more time lost is more blood lost,” she says.

Injured in her arms and legs from shards resulting from the terrorist gunfire, Bagdalov returned to work just three days after leaving the hospital. There was no time to be traumatized, she recalls.

“If I was sitting in my home and I had time to think about this, I think I would have never come back to my job. In Israel, you don’t know when you will need this [emergency response] knowledge, this practice. It’s our reality,” she says, citing the threats the Jewish state faces from its neighbors.

Bagdalov also came away from the incident with a greater appreciation for life. A bullet had hit the shoulder of a man sitting next to her on the bus, missing her neck by what she estimates to be five centimeters.

“The feeling was that I almost lost my life, so you understand that life can be taken from you like this, in one second,” she says.

Born in Russia, Bagdalov’s family made aliyah when she was a year old. At 15, she began volunteering for Magen David Adom—Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance, and blood bank service—which proved a precursor to her work as an IDF paramedic and then a trainer of paramedics.

“I was [at Magen David Adom] day and night, and in the army I just wanted to do more, learn more,” she says.

Bagdalov says every day in the IDF provides a new experience. 

“Every time I do something, it’s something new, it’s never the same in my job,” she says. “I was a medic once, and after that, I started to be a combat medic, and then a commander of the medics course. It’s always something new.”

With her required IDF service ending in March 2014, Bagdalov is currently unsure of the next step in her life, including the question of whether or not she will remain in the army. Yet she says the August 2011 terrorist attack taught her to believe in her destiny, whatever it may be. She says she was not supposed to be on that bus, or working on the Uvda Airbase—she had preferred to be stationed near her home in Tel Aviv. But she believes her destiny dictated otherwise, leading to her efforts on the ambushed bus.

“I know that all people have some mission in this world, and if I will need to stay in the army, I will know that,” she says.

Bagdalov says she had “a great passion and pride” about representing the IDF in Los Angeles last month. She appreciated the chance to witness American Jewish support for the IDF firsthand, given that the IDF and Israel don’t always “get a lot of love around us in the other countries.”

“Moments like this make you understand that you can’t leave the army,” she says. “We don’t have another country, so we need to do what we can to save this little piece of ground.”

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Posted on November 10, 2013 and filed under Features, Israel, U.S..