IDF soldiers and United Hatzalah emergency responders at Kibbutz Be'eri, Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by TPS.
IDF soldiers and United Hatzalah emergency responders at Kibbutz Be'eri, Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by TPS.
featureIsrael at War

Oct. 7 through the eyes of an Israeli paramedic

"Everything was improvised."

Early in the morning on Simchat Torah, my husband woke me up and told me that many rockets were being launched towards central Israel. As a volunteer paramedic with United Hatzalah, I’m on call 24/7, even though I am Shabbat observant.

I was quickly contacted by Avi Marcus, the deputy head of the organization’s medical department, who asked if I could speak with EMTs in the field who had reached out to our command and dispatch center to consult with a more senior medical professional. Marcus is Shabbat observant himself, so I immediately understood that lives were at stake.

At around 11:30 a.m., I was asked if I could take an ambulance and head south. I never doubted that I would go, and neither did my husband and children, even if the children were somewhat frightened. I headed south with a team in an intensive care ambulance.

Makeshift triage

When we arrived, our crews were organizing and there were relatively few members of the emergency services present. We started receiving and treating those wounded by Hamas’s horrific mass terror attacks.

We treated dozens of soldiers and civilians for gunshot wounds, injuries from rocket-propelled grenades, shrapnel, severe head injuries and amputations. Unfortunately, many people, both civilians and soldiers, were beyond our help. We saw things that were extremely disturbing and will remain with me for the rest of my life, but I can say with complete certainty that we saved many lives.

We worked hand-in-hand with the Israel Defense Forces’ Medical Corps.

Haim Attias, another volunteer with United Hatzalah, arrived very early and set up a framework for this cooperation. I had served as an IDF paramedic in the past, and this helped too.

A makeshift triage site was set up. There we received the seriously injured, stabilized them and transported them to the helipad, from which they were airlifted to hospital.

The commanders of IDF medical teams would call our ambulance driver and say things like, “Come now to this location, I have three seriously wounded.” We would rush to the scene and perform similar procedures all over again.

A girl arrived who was at the rave near Kibbutz Re’im. She had sustained a serious injury to her arm and protocol called for an amputation. She had saved her own life with a makeshift tourniquet she had fashioned out of clothing and then climbed into an abandoned car, where she remained for hours until she was found by a group of IDF soldiers, who brought her to us.

She begged us to do whatever we could to save her arm. She explained that she was a physical trainer and without her arm she would not have a livelihood. We did everything we could to save the arm and stabilize her.

We encountered some of the wounded in the fields amid the carnage that was all around us, while others were brought to our command-and-control center. There was a constant flow of patients, all with severe injuries.

We normally use a trauma bandage or a combat application tourniquet (CAT) to treat a severe traumatic injury. Now we were using many of each on a single person. Our supplies quickly ran dangerously low.

‘Everything was improvised’

Everything was improvised and dynamic. We were informed in real time which routes were considered safe for travel and which were not, but there were no guarantees. The knowledge that there are seriously wounded people in need of immediate medical assistance forces one to take risks. When you are involved in saving lives, there is something that doesn’t allow you to avoid these places. You do what is necessary.

Only in retrospect does the realization creep in that it might have been dangerous, with terrorists behind every bush and gun battles in many different locations. Some of these battles lasted for hours, if not days.

We performed medical procedures that brought me back to my military service. We did everything we could with what we had and improvised when we ran out of supplies. We triaged, stabilized, transported and then did it all over again.

For the entire day. Without pause. We did not give up on anyone.

I remember the eyes of one soldier who was almost gone, but who had a glimmer of lift still in him. We fought hard to stabilize him and bring him back from the brink. We managed to succeed long enough to get him to a helicopter. He was stable when he was transported. I don’t know what became of him, but we gave him a fighting chance, and the image of those pleading eyes will stay with me for a long time. I know that, thank God, I was privileged to save many lives that day.

Aftermath

The sights were like arriving in Iraq after Islamic State had rampaged through. We had to zigzag on the road to avoid driving over the bodies of people who had been celebrating the holiday just hours earlier. Over the years, I have learned to filter out these scenes in order to stay sane for my family. I do my best to avoid seeing things that are not strictly necessary in order to save lives.

But in this situation, there was no way not to see. The city of Sderot was a killing field. I remember a minibus stopped at a gas station in which all 12 occupants had been murdered.

Amid the darkness, there was some light.

We rescued two babies from Kfar Gaza whose parents were murdered. We met a group of elderly people who were in their security room for 24 hours, too afraid to leave. When security forces arrived at their home and escorted them out, they were severely hypoglycemic, having been unable to eat or drink for the entire time. We treated them and evacuated them to hospital.

I later returned to my family and rested. I had to answer my children’s questions in a way that was appropriate for their age, knowing that I would be going back south the next morning. In the end, I ended up returning to the front lines near the Gaza periphery a number of times over the next few days.

While I and my comrades treated physical wounds, it is important to note that members of our Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit (PCRU) have been all over the south in the days and weeks since the fighting began on Oct. 7, assisting with psychological first aid and stabilizing civilians, military and many of our first responders. Some had broken down and were suffering severe mental anguish from the horrible sights they had witnessed and the friends they lost.

The PCRU members were instrumental in stabilizing them emotionally and giving them the strength to continue fighting.

This is a taste of what my experience was. I sincerely hope that I never have to witness such sights again.

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