Swords Of Iron

258th day of fighting

Haim Rubin, a paramedic working for MDA out of the Arad station

Haim Rubin, a paramedic working for MDA out of the Arad station, evacuated wounded through fields to avoid encountering terrorists, miraculously escaped a shooting scene, and saved dozens of lives.

n Simchat Torah I was assigned to the Har Hevron ALS ambulance, Negev 72. At 8:30 in the morning we received a call about missiles falling and that Be’er Sheva needed our reinforcing. Avia Goldstein, Ariel HaCohen and I got organized, took our tallit and bulletproof vests and got going. On Shabbat, even when we are in the ambulance, we try not to desecrate the Shabbat unnecessarily, which is why we didn’t have the radio on and weren’t aware of the magnitude of the event that was taking place.

On the way we heard that an MCI, a multi casualty incident area was set up in Soroka, in their bomb shelter. Medical teams asked to join us because they had no other way of getting there, and we took a nurse in our ambulance and dropped her off at Soroka. We saw that it was very busy there. There were a lot of special-forces soldiers bringing wounded soldiers. On the way we encountered air raid sirens and I thought to myself that this was different. Both the number of sirens and the number of forces that arrived at Soroka. There were armored carriers who loaded off the wounded and immediately returned to the fighting areas. There was no place to walk.

We left Soroka heading towards for the Be’er Sheva MDA station. At the Revivim junction we saw there were several seriously injured people who we needed to bring to the MDA helicopter. They were seriously injured civilians, unstable, looking really gray. We stopped their bleeding, placed tourniquets, and took them to the helicopter.

From there we continued to Tze’elim Junction where we met severely injured people that we had to physically lift and carry, where we realized that we didn’t have enough manpower to transfer them to the helicopter – this time of Unit 669. We saw people trying to help a farmer who had lost a leg. I told them to come help us carry the wounded and I told the farmer to hop to our ambulance on the one leg he still had. It was surreal.

From there we drove through the fields because we realized that all the other routes were under threat. On the way we heard that two ambulances had been attacked. We met a Duvdevan (special forces) soldier who said that a few minutes earlier he had encountered terrorists on motorcycles, in IDF uniforms, they shot at him and he had run away through the fields. All this happened on the way to Moshav Neve. We went there because we understood that the road there was relatively secure. When we arrived at the Beit Midrash in Neve, everything there was arranged nicely for the holiday. Myself and Menahem, a paramedic from Zohar who was also there, moved away all the benches and set up a triage and treatment area with signs and areas for the lightly, moderately and severely injured. In the center we put tables on which there was medical equipment. Cars carrying wounded people starting flowing to there.

We received another report about a severely injured person in Bnei Netzarim who needed to be evacuated immediately. I spoke with Menachem, I told him to stay in Neve and that I would go there with my team. We arrived at their clinic and found Amichai Schindler, lying on the bed, mumbling and bleeding, with limbs amputated. Severely injured.

I inquire about a helicopter, understand that it is currently not possible to land and that we currently do not have a helicopter. I decide that we will transport Amichai to Neve for further treatment and wait there for the helicopter. We treat him with plasma and in the meantime other injured people arrive. Amichai is very seriously injured, medically complex. He was unstable, I knew that if I gave him too many painkillers he would deteriorate, and on the other hand if I sedated him he would probably die. He was one of the most complex patients I have treated in all my years as a paramedic.

At the same time, a wounded man arrived, with shrapnel in his chest and a bullet in his leg, in great pain. A line of the wounded had already gathered and we succeeded in getting the MDA helicopter to us. We divided the wounded between two ambulances, Amichai was with me in the ALS ambulance, and our paramedic Avia went in a white ambulance along with the person suffering from shrapnel wounds and another wounded person. On the way to the helicopter, Amichai’s condition deteriorated again and I managed to stabilize him.

Then, we returned to Neve and a pregnant woman arrived at the medical center we had set up in the Beit Midrash. Her baby was in a breech position and she was nearing delivery. I understood that she had to get to an operating room because this birth would be very high-risk. After an inquiry, I realized there was no way to transport her. We brought midwives from the Moshav, put her in a separate room with mattresses and prepared by consulting with an obstetrician in Soroka. At some point her contractions stopped and she returned home, but she returned again the next day, with contractions every 2 or 3 minutes, which basically indicated that her birth was very near. This time we managed to arrange for a helicopter to land at the Egyptian border. At the same time, another mother arrived, who was not yet in the advanced stages of active labor, but we decided that if we had the option, we would transport her as well. I contacted the pilot directly on WhatsApp regarding the location of the helicopter and we brought the women in our ambulance to the border where the helicopter was waiting. Baruch Hashem the woman in labor managed to reach the operating room and gave birth safely.

The situation we were dealing with was incredibly extreme. It was a never ending nightmare. We heard about more and more wounded whose condition was unknown and were on their way to us, we had used all the equipment we had and we had none left.  Sometimes I reused stuff and I also received some equipment from a nurse and our helicopter. There was a joining of hands, there was generosity. I think we treated over 15 wounded.

We were besieged. We made good decisions – the decision to open a treatment site was a very good one. When we were released on Sunday afternoon, together with the other citizens of the settlements, we set up scenarios and decided on designated places where, God forbid, if necessary, we would open treatment sites in Har Hevron. We set up WhatsApp groups with the medical teams in the Yishuvim and instructed them where the meeting places would be in the case of extreme emergency. We prepared a box of medical equipment in each of the locations designated to become a treatment site. As a lesson from this, in our joint training in cooperation with the IDF we now established that this be implemented. The treatment site we set up in Neve saved lives. The decision to stay in place and not disperse saved lives.

At night we slept in a shelter, the Beit Midrash was not protected, we didn’t walk around outside. There was a constant sense of danger, not that we were in open places. At some point we also ran out of gas. We talked to the settlement and they arranged fuel for us and light from the tractors.

I was sure I was going to die. I felt this way when we were in Neve, and every time I closed my eyes – the thoughts that the terrorists would reach me came up. I thought about writing something, in the end I decided to call my wife, talk to her, see if she’s okay. You have to understand, I am a paramedic in the south of Har Hevron, I was in almost every terrorist attack in the area and on the Hevron route  and I’m very practiced in these events but the feeling here was different. I felt powerless. It’s just unending.

I’ve been in the profession for years, I’ve handled a lot of incidents on this route, stabbings, you arrive at the scene, there are a few shots, a car and that’s it. Ends. Here there were masses, quantities and lots of uncertainty. I remember the operator reporting more attackers and then sighing and saying to herself “it’s unending…” not realizing that she was still connected. It was hard. There is no other way to define it. There were of course stories of heroism, lots of them, but there is no way to describe the feeling, it was simply helplessness. Avia, who treated Amichai with me, knew him – he had once treated Amichai’s brother, who was shot in a terrorist attack and murdered. And now he is taking care of the family again, this time the other brother. Despite all this, the work was excellent. We were filled with motivation, vigilant, we did everything possible to save lives.

There was another one, killed, he looked around 40 years old, who was shot several times in the chest. He arrived as an unknown person, found on the side of the road. We didn’t know if he was a soldier or a civilian. At first I still didn’t understand what situation we were in. He came to us, dead, and I started working on him, resuscitating him. Menachem came and asked me what I was doing, I told him I was going to do everything possible. So he approached and whispered in my ear that there were hundreds outside, and that we should save the equipment. And I didn’t know there were hundreds out there, I didn’t realize.

When we were there, there was a feeling that everyone was working together for one goal. The residents of Neve, the citizens, it was an unbelievable feeling. I was encouraged by the MDA helicopter crews. We went and returned, we brought them the wounded again and again, they were our oxygen, because they were the only way to evacuate anyone and everything at the end was up to them. Everyone there are heroes, but the MDA helicopter crew are what changed the picture for me. Because we didn’t constantly have the military helicopters of Unit 669. The MDA helicopter crew did crazy things in order to reach us. They almost landed on top of us. I don’t think I can express the feeling. They are the ones who changed the picture.”

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