Emergency Triage

Night before last at midnight-thirty, my phone rings – a tourist friend experiencing a medical emergency and in need of assistance is on the other end. Twenty fast-flash-get-dressed-drive-over-to-their-holiday-rental minutes later, after declaring in Hebrew to the security guard that this is an emergency, we four pass the “punim/face test” that allows us to skip the car’s security check and drive up to the emergency entrance.
Arrival Time Stamp: 12:55 a.m.
At the walk-up entrance we submit to security’s review of our bags. We wait our turn to go through admissions/payment processing, a required step as we haven’t arrived by ambulance, and head into the emergency triage waiting area, a sliding security door away from emergency’s busy treatment rooms.
Waiting Time Stamp: 1:05 a.m.
I look around the overflowing “fast track” triage area trying to calculate how long of a wait we have. There are about forty people in the room. We are desert peoples, we always travel “Hamulah-fashion.” This “large-groups-traveling-together-style” is especially evident when we are sick. Our group is no different: only one of us needs medical care, but three of us are there for our sick friend. I try to determine how many among the forty are sick and how many are “just” the accompanying Hamulah. Luckily we find four empty chairs and sit together.
Waiting Time Stamp: 1:15 a.m.
Suddenly from outside, the last whine of a siren, MDA paramedics with a stretcher rush past directly into emergency. We shift in our seats, hold our breaths, will there be another stretcher? No. It is just the one. We breathe a collective sigh of relief. One ambulance team is “ok.” If another had followed too closely behind, then we’d all begin speculating where the terrorist attack had occurred. We’d all start making worried phone calls to be sure that our loved ones were out of harm’s way, without stopping to think that it’s the middle of the night and our loved ones are home sleeping. Sadly, such a reaction is part of our Jerusalem urban scene.
A name is called over the intercom system, 10 people, the women in traditional Moslem dress, stand up and walk into the triage station. Firmly the nurse says “So sorry, only one of you can come in, the rest of you need to sit back down and wait.” She smiles a gentle, understanding smile and adds, “Your mother will be out in a few minutes, if she’s admitted, I’ll arrange it so that all of you can go in with her.”
Waiting Time Stamp: 1:30 a.m.
A rowdy beer-drinking bunch of young homeless Israelis wheel in an older looking man. In less time than it takes me to realize that the semi-conscious man is actually in a drug-induced stupor, security is all over them. “No alcohol. This is a hospital. One person stays with the wheelchair, the rest of you, outside!” The junkie mutters in Hebrew, “I need them, they are my friends.” Security ignores him, the partying street people are shown the door, the wheelchair is pushed into the triage station. None of us complain despite the fact that everyone has been bumped back in the waiting line to make room for this unfortunate one.
Another name is called over the intercom. An elderly couple, he’s leaning on his walker, she’s leaning on him, shuffle slowly past us towards triage. The nurse professionally asks: “Your children are parking the car? They will be joining us?” The elderly gentleman stops, stands very straight, and answers a strong, “Of course!”
Waiting Time Stamp: 1:40 a.m.
An armed border patrol officer walks in followed by a prisoner and two other heavily armed guards. Keffiyeh around his neck, hands and legs cuffed, the prisoner is made to face the wall. The four of us are shocked and appalled by this. The prisoner’s situation brings tears to my eyes. I comment to my friends, “He’s a prisoner, he’s probably done something really wrong. I am crying because I am being judgmental and I really want to remember that when we are sick we are just human beings. You know, just like it says for physicians in Maimonides Oath – ‘May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.’” The prisoner is ushered into a different triage station. A blond-haired doctor rushes in. The Jewish settler sitting next to me, presumptuously hisses, “Hello! Leftist traitor, you do know that given the chance he’d kill you.” Ah, if this smart-mouthed settler only knew what I have survived…I let her comment drop.
Another name is called. This group, in traditional Jewish ultra-orthodox dress, is made up of a husband, his very pale, pregnant wife and their mothers. A wheelchair is brought over. They are quickly ushered through the sliding doors into the emergency treatment room. The settler mumbles a quick prayer for the pregnant woman’s health. I answer, “Amen.”
Waiting Time Stamp: 1:45 a.m.
The two dark-skinned men sitting across from me get up to go outside. I call after them in Hebrew, “Your medical file is here!” One of them comes back, collects it, nods at me, “Shukran,” (Arabic: Thank you). A few minutes later they walk back in, trailing behind them is the acrid smell of residual cigarette smoke. My friends, whose Arabic is better than their Hebrew, strike up a conversation with the two men. The Jewish settler and her Hamulah shift anxiously in their chairs. A recently arrived group of Orthodox Jews takes a closer look at all of us. I see that they are shaken, scared; they don’t understand what’s being said, they only recognize that it is Arabic – the enemy’s language.
My friends, having discovered that lo! they’ve all been working on the same co-existence project, are oblivious to the tension rising in the room. On a gut instinct I pull out my Psalter, rocking gently back and forth, I begin singing Psalms in a low voice. The Orthodox Jews turn their backs on me to avoid hearing a woman singing. The settlers remain tuned in to our little group…we are an existential threat to them.
The settler woman’s name is called. She and her family get up, the blond-haired doctor waves them into his triage station. Hearing our group’s Arabic chatter he lets out a clear “Masaa’ al-Khayr,” (Arabic: Good Evening). We answer, Masaa’ an-nuur.” …Then he turns to face the completely astonished and slightly befuddled settler woman – his next patient.
Waiting Time Stamp: 2:00 a.m.
My friend’s name is called. Our little Hamulah heads into triage…    
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