No questions are asked that are not pertinent to the patient’s immediate stabilization.
Outside the trauma room at Beilinson Medical Center in Petah Tikva, health-care professionals mill about, joking with one another, discussing banal topics, or scrutinizing the plots and relationships on some television show.
Nothing foreshadows the gravely serious scene about to unfold. As the doors to the emergency room part and gurneys are wheeled in, the shift in demeanor is striking. Expressions become serious; motions, deliberate; and all verbal communication, professional. In a cloud of frenzied action lasting no more than a few minutes, the trauma room is transformed from coldly sterile and silent into chaotic and often bloody disarray. Every person in the room recognizes the importance of time, of distinguishing immediate danger to the patient vs. a non-critical injury.
No questions are asked that are not pertinent to the patient’s immediate stabilization. On the precipice of a potential fatality, a person’s curriculum vitae – number of children, occupation, religion – simply does not matter and might even become a distraction. The profession requires that no normative evaluation be made of a life in danger. And, while this fundamental value of medicine, this unwavering law of impartiality, might seem noble and lofty in theory, abiding by it can sometimes harshly test one’s mettle. It certainly tested mine.
As a product of Cleveland’s Jewish day schools, I have long been educated about Jewish laws and values and the importance of the state of Israel. While my level of religious observance has vacillated and my perception of our Jewish state has become increasingly confounded, I remain staunchly proud of my heritage and the small stake Israel’s Jews have claimed amid a sea of less-than-friendly neighbors.
Certainly, a trip to the cash register at Supersol (Israeli supermarket), not to mention the somewhat disconcerting recent activities of Israel’s leaders, would remind even the most idealistic of Zionists that our Jewish homeland could use some tinkering. Nevertheless, there is so much of which to be proud, and, in some respects, the unmasking of flaws has authenticated rather than tarnished the unrealistically pristine picture sometimes presented in school.
Like all members in the health-care field, I bring personal values and convictions to the workplace, quelling them when necessary in favor of a sworn professional obligation. In just my second experience as a member of a trauma team, I was assigned the task of mechanically ventilating one of two incoming patients known to be Palestinian terrorists. They were shot while being apprehended in an attempt to infiltrate Israel’s borders.
I stood there, breathing oxygen into a man willing, quite literally, to sacrifice his life for the annihilation of the Jewish state and its people; I was participating in saving the life of a man who, in reversed circumstances would not only not save me, but would almost certainly end my life. While I did not falter over the course of treatment, I felt more than a little conflicted throughout. And the conflict was one that ran right to my very core.
When the dust had settled and both lives had been saved, I left the trauma room, sat down, and reflected for a moment. If this experience had been so difficult for me, an American Jew born and raised far from the Israel-Palestinian struggle, it must have been considerably more so for the other members of my team. These are Israelis who have witnessed Palestinian violence against their people and perhaps experienced firsthand the loss of loved ones. Yet, in the trauma room, they acted professionally and impartially according to their professional code.
Over this past year, I have rotated through five hospitals in the Tel Aviv area and participated in treating many Palestinians seeking medical attention within Israeli institutions. They are treated equally and compassionately, with access to the same resources and technology afforded to Israeli citizens.
While I have opinions regarding the international community’s persistent condemnation of Israel’s supposed humanitarian infractions against Palestinians, I will abstain from expressing them here. I will say only that the Israeli health-care system is more than non-discriminatory in the treatment of its charges. Rather, it goes out of its way to care for Palestinian patients despite what I can only imagine to be deep frustration and dismay over the unrelenting feud which has brought with it so much suffering and bloodshed.
I am then led to wonder whether the academic community of Great Britain has taken the behavior of Israel’s health-care community into consideration as it threatens to boycott the exchange of information and ideas between the two countries. But then, considering the world?s untiring capacity for turning a blind eye to violence against Israeli citizens, all the while reprimanding Israel for its alleged lack of restraint, I wonder if this display of humanitarian behavior would even make a difference.
(Originally appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News)