“What We’ve Experienced Will Leave Scars for Life”

Serving on the front lines of the Corona pandemic have been the teams of doctors and nurses ensuring that their patients are getting the care they need under extremely trying circumstances.

The Makor Rishon Newspaper (Hebrew) profiled a recent seminar where 14 members of the Shaare Zedek team came together to discuss their experiences and emotions. Each from their own perspectives, all described something that someone who hasn’t been there would never be able to truly understand.

The full link can be found here with the following excerpts translated:

https://www.makorrishon.co.il/news/255923/

“Our experience has been something that I can’t find the words to describe. It’s tough for me to explain,” says Oshrat Chachimi, who was the head nurse in Shaare Zedek’s Corona Ward. “I’ve been a nurse for twenty years and as much as I thought I had seen it all and experienced all the pressures of the job, nothing has compared to what’s gone on behind the isolation doors of the Corona Ward. We confronted caring for these patients with almost complete uncertainty of what we were facing and we were constantly working with the fear of becoming infected and endangering ourselves and our families.”

But Chachimi says the absolute toughest part of the job has been witnessing patients in the final stages of their lives, “People died while their family members were forced to be away from them. I found myself standing next to a patient’s bed and reciting Shema and Vidui (Confession) just as the monitor gave off its final beeps and told us that the patient was dead.”

The Corona Unit at Shaare Zedek was the first of its type to open in Jerusalem and the first COVID-19 cases in the city were evacuated there. Over the course of the following months, the hospital would open seven Corona units. To date, over 700 patients have been treated in the hospital, with conditions ranging from light to critical- and over thirty have died.

Dr. Bashar Faticha, an Internal Medicine physician, recalls the death of the first known Corona fatality in Israel, 88 year old Holocaust survivor, Arye Even who died at Shaare Zedek. “I’ve worked at the hospital for the past four years and seen many deaths. But this was nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “Even from just the practical perspective we didn’t know how the body should be handled after death. How would the body be transferred safely, how do we inform the family that couldn’t be alongside him to say goodbye?”

“The things we’ve experienced in the Corona ward will leave scars with us for the rest of our lives. Death is always tragic but death by Corona is something that you can’t explain. In many cases, we couldn’t meet with family members of the sick or those who died and explain to them face to face what was happening because they were often in quarantine as a result of exposure to our patient.”

The medical staff themselves were often limited in their access to the patients and much of the communication with patients was done via videolink.

Dr. Faticha explains, “As much compassion as we wanted to convey, it’s extremely difficult without that physical interaction. Even when we go in fully suited up looking like something from outer space, they can’t see our faces or read our smiles or body language. I can’t ever forget that sense of confusion on the faces of our patients, particularly the older patients who couldn’t comprehend who was this stranger treating them. Their reactions were defined by confusion and fear.”

Michal Gribsky, a nurse who only finished her nursing studies two years ago similarly describes the experience in the ward as “frightening.” “We saw what had happened in Italy and the scope of disease and death and knew that could potentially happen here in Israel and no one wanted to get to that stage. Fear is not a word to be taken for granted or minimized. But on the other hand we were never paralyzed by it because we were quickly thrust into the practical care of our patients and that became our preoccupation.”

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