"Good Morning! #54 to your Ambulance please," said the tired voice over the intercom.
Several things though – for starters it wasn't the morning. 05:00 is in middle of the night. Secondly, the voice most certainly did not say ‘Good Morning’, nor did she say ‘please’. That was just me trying to make Controlfont seem more human. They’re not. They are lean mean working machines, functioning under immense pressure for 8 hours at a time. It’s true that a shift can sometimes pass with only a handful of calls. It’s also equally probable that during a particularly fateful morning, the dispatcher can talk a distraught mother/father/child through a home birth and/or a CPR – sometimes in the span of a few minutes.
Furthermore ‘Control’ staff doesn't have the luxury of (attempting to) sleep through a night shift like regular ambulance staff does. The three or so personnel in Magen David Adom’s main Jerusalem station stay up the whole night irrespective of the volume of calls. Less calls = more reruns, more calls = less reruns. You get the picture.
“Urgent, pregnant woman, 41 weeks, 3 – minute contractions”
Bottom line; they get immense joy in waking us up to go out on a call.
Did I say ‘waking us up’. That’s not entirely accurate. Though when on standby we are technically allowed to sleep (night or day,) the reality is otherwise. Every room has a speaker, which manages to blare out incomprehensible blurbs every 18 minutes, keeping everyone in a unique limbo state between blissful sleep and stressed consciousness. Besides, you need to be in the ambulance within a minute of the dispatch, so…
Bottom line; no restful sleep on shifts – ever.
“J’M #54 – you are going to Ramot, urgent, for a pregnant woman, 41 weeks, 3 – minute contractions.”
Five am is a particularly auspicious time for Matern-a-Taxis and if you are lucky, a home birth. Why in the wee hours of the morning, you ask? I’m not entirely sure. I think it’s partly due to the night being a ‘scary and dangerous’ time, when people seem to have a difficult time differentiating between real and imagined emergencies. By 7am the day sheds light (pun intended) on the matter, and people often realize that things are not half as bad as they seemed before. But when the contractions are coming rapidly at 5am, people are quick to call an ambulance: sometimes not quick enough.
So we make it to the address in about 8 minutes, climb the stairs (an exceptionally pertinent fact – there are a lot of stairs in Jerusalem), and knock on the door. A burly man opens up – promptly notices that we are a three man team, and promptly closes the door in my face. There was nothing, I repeat nothing, that could hold back the torrents of laughter that engulfed us. Yes we were overtired, yes we were called out in middle of the night to the middle of nowhere, and yes, he had just slammed the door in our faces.
“Why?” you ask. Well we (and you) were about to find out.
He called through the door and said “I am not, under any circumstances, having an all – male team delivering my wife”. Full – stop. “Please send somebody else.”
“But the baby’s coming,” we hear the distraught mother shriek in the background.
30 seconds of silence, followed by 30 seconds of muffled dispute.
The door opens again, and he angrily waves his hand towards the bedroom. I walk into the room to find a lady clearly in the pangs of birth, and her doula clearly in the pangs of, well, some sort of mysterious ritual. She had a waist – pack full of vials, which she quickly closed as we approached the duo.
I asked the usual questions; what number birth, whether the pregnancy was uneventful etc. and found out that all was normal and this was her first baby. “How many minutes apart are the contractions?” I asked the doula. She shrugged and said “3 or so.” I went over the facts in my mind, took another look at the mother – to – be, and decided we would try and make it to the hospital. Firstborns are almost never born at home. The process is just too long and the women too jumpy; so they generally get themselves to the hospital hours, or days, before the actual birth.
Remember those stairs I was telling you about. Now imagine this;
3 minute contractions
3 scrawny schleppers
The experience was like a bad dream, except much more painful on my biceps.
Two in the back and me in the front, we carried her down the endless stairs on our ambulance chair, and made it safe and sound to the ambulance, at 05:25.
We set out towards the hospital with Lights and Sirens, when all of a sudden…
No it wasn't a burning smell…
It was eucalyptus, yes, unmistakably eucalyptus. And that’s not all. There was music as well. Amidst the din of my siren, was the sound of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, blaring from…
You guessed it…
The Doula’s waistpack.
Turns out she had placed droplets of eucalyptus strategically all over the back of the ambulance and put on, in her words, “zee kalming muzikk” so that the whole saga would be more relaxing for us. Yes, not only more relaxing for her client, but also for me. How thoughtful. “We should take this lady on all our calls,” my colleague snickered from the back in English. “I zpeek Inglish yoo knowe” she retorted.
05:38 we reached our destination.
05:40 our patient was in the labor room.
05:43 the baby boy was in his mother’s arms.
05:44 he wanted to know what that awful smell was.
Ladies and Gentleman, joking aside: emergencies come in different shapes and forms in Israel, and in the rest of the world for that matter, but the common denominator is the reality that, however and wherever we find ourselves, the only real place to look for salvation, is UP.