Thursday, May 17, 2007

Respecting Knowledge

It's not always easy to sit in one place and listen to a lecturer, when you know that you know the subject better than the person who is talking. It's a growing experience, a learning experience, to handle the situation with grace and patience.

This is the situation Elie found himself in yesterday and, knowing that this would be the case in advance, I was anxious to hear how he would handle it. For years now, Elie has volunteered in the local ambulance squad. For a time, when he studied in the Old City in Jerusalem, there too he volunteered regularly. Elie is a natural because when an ambulance arrives on the scene, the first thing they do is assess the situation and take charge of how the injured are treated.

I have watched Elie several times as he has quickly taken on the role of an ambulance volunteer, seeing to the people who need help, convincing those who needed assistance to actually accept help, and much more.

Many months ago, Elie was the first on scene when an 85-year-old woman collapsed. Elie was just driving by, but quickly stopped, began administering CPR, called the local ambulance and stayed there until they arrived. In the end, the woman died on the scene. There was nothing anyone could have done to help her and the ambulance driver was quick to commend Elie and point this out to him. Still, as I heard about the incident as I was driving home from a meeting, I was frantic to see Elie, to make sure he was ok with what happened.

In the end, the best comment came from my husband, who told his son that had he not been there, forever this woman's family would have wondered - would the outcome have been different if the ambulance had gotten there a minute or two sooner? They would have the comfort of knowing that all that was humanly possible was done. There is comfort in knowing that he helped that family accept that it was this woman's time, even if he couldn't save her life. She didn't die alone and she didn't die because of a lack of medical treatment.

Elie has administered CPR in the past and successfully helped save lives. I've watched him handle children injured at local events. I've seen him handle hysterical mothers, telling them they had to calm down to help their children - and they do, because there is something in Elie's voice that tells them to listen.

Elie was given the option of being a medic in the army, but it would limit his choices and he is still exploring what he wants to do, how far he wants to serve. Commanders and officers must lead and so they cannot be medics. Medics must care for the wounded, and so they cannot lead. Elie must choose a path and so he is not yet ready, only two months into the army, to limit that choice.

Yesterday, as he knew they would, the army gave his unit a crash course in medical training. The course was one day and was intended to teach the basics of handling a medical emergency in the field. All that was taught, and far beyond, Elie has already learned in the numerous courses he has taken. It was Elie's job to listen patiently, knowing all that the medic said, knowing there was so much more that could be taught. He was discouraged that they didn't teach the soldiers CPR. "I've taught 15-year-olds how to do CPR," he told me last night.

For the most part, Elie had to sit and listen. He didn't always agree because where he was taught 5 steps, the instructor only covered 3. "I have to remember to write what he said on the test," Elie told me, "and not the truth." A little harsh, but it was a good way for him to get out his frustration.

Elie's commanding officer saw his impatience at one point and asked Elie if he wanted to take a turn on patrol. Usually, this is a boring task in which you are charged with walking around an enclosed area "protecting" four tents and the possessions of the unit. Because it is so monotonous, each soldier takes a 30-minute turn. Elie gladly took an hour yesterday.

Overall, Elie listened in patience, saving his frustrations for his conversation with me later. After we talked, I thought about his sitting there, yearning to teach the soldiers of his unit what he knows and wondered what would happen in a real situation where there are wounded. I can pray that this will never happen but reality has a way of intruding sometimes.

If the time ever comes when Elie is pulled between his medical training and his technical responsibilities as a soldier, which will he choose? What is expected of him? I have never seen Elie drive past a "situation." We were on vacation in Eilat and Elie and I and his youngest sister were driving to the market to purchase some things. Moments before we arrived at a particular intersection, a young driver had hit a motorcyclist, knocking him down. When we got there, the motorcycle was laying on its side in the middle of the road; the motorcyclist standing on the side with the driver and some others.

Without a word, Elie pulled to the side of the road and took control. He checked the young motorcyclist who said he was fine. Elie decided otherwise, and insisted on calling an ambulance. He checked the boy, spoke to the driver, and waited until the ambulance arrived. He briefed the ambulance driver and only then came back to the car, where I waited with my daughter.

Elie has a medic's vest in the car he regularly drives at home. He carries plastic gloves for safety and some nominal first aid equipment with him; always ready to help, always prepared. At his yeshiva, it was Elie and another medic who climbed down the side of a cliff and treated a student who had fallen down several meters. Elie stayed below and helped prepare the student, physically and mentally, to be evacuated by army helicopter when it became clear that this was the best way to move the boy from his location part way down the cliff. This is Elie.

Elie is being trained to be a soldier. He will learn how to control complex technical devices, the norm in modern warfare. He will join his unit in controlling tons of ammunition, huge artillery batteries. All manned by his unit, his friends. The vast machine that is an army works because everyone has a task, every part has a role.

Yesterday, Elie had to sit by while someone else took the role he is so accustomed to fulfilling. For years, the ability and the willingness and the knowledge of how to help people has been a part of his life. Now he is being given other knowledge, other tools. This time to defend a nation, as much as to help a citizen of that country.

I wonder if the time will ever come when these two skills will pull him in different directions at the same time and if that time should come, what will he do?

1 comment:

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Knowing Elie a little, I think he will follow orders. Because by the time he is trained enough to encounter such a situation (G-d forbid!) he will already understand that his role is NOT to be a medic. But also knowing Elie, he will find a way to deal with the situation that will not cause him to abandon one responsibility for the other. He'll carry both. He's an amazing, amazing young man and thanks, again and again, for sharing him with us in this blog

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