From the thoughts of Avi Sorias, an ambulance driver for Ezer Mizion
“Here,” says the young man from behind me. “At the right.”
From my place at the steering wheel, I glance at his image in the mirror. He sits there, limp and helpless, his head dropped back against the seat. His voice is soft, almost a whisper.
The vehicle, a modern Ezer Mizion ambulance, pulls up by a tall building. “Are you okay?” I ask the closed eyes behind me.
The young man, shaken, sharply pulls himself up in his seat, plastering a care-free smile on his gaunt face. “No,” he replies seriously, “but only you and I have to know that.”
He thanks me profusely for the ride, takes a deep breath, and steps out to the broad sidewalk.
The street is humming with people at this midday hour: Children are coming home from school, cheery preschoolers prance along with their colorful backpacks, busy parents rush along their way. A cat darts out from between the cars, startling a high-school girl leisurely walking home.
The young man continues along the path to the building. He stops a moment and glances at a large public bulletin board displaying freshly-pasted death notices announcing the demise of a special member of the community.
He scans it silently. I watch him and feel a stab of sadness, painfully aware of the thoughts running through his mind.
“He is so young,” I think to myself. “He has four little children at home. And so very little stands between him and a notice just like this one!”
A moment later, as my Ezer Mizion ambulance blends into the traffic. The young man’s face blends with the faces of so many more whom I have driven for treatment…and I think of other Ezer Mizion drivers transporting mothers who had moments before torn themselves from their well children to visit another child whose future is uncertain…or the many teens trembling as they near the hospital where their mother is wasting away and may never return. I chide myself for my lack of faith. “Is there anything stopping G-d from bringing a redemption, even when the outlook is so dim? Haven’t you seen in your own ambulance people who did not have the shadow of a chance to make it – and here they are among us, alive and well? And besides —” a sudden thought makes me tremble, “who guarantees you another hour of life? Can anyone know for sure in the morning that he will still be alive that night?”
When the ambulance is finally parked for the night in the parking lot outside my home, its doors still shut, I close my eyes for a moment and offer a prayer for all those broken-hearted heroes of the spirit who rode in this vehicle today. There are many such people in Elad, more that you can possibly imagine. I plead that He always keep me and my family on the giving side.”
If you were in Israel at the time, you probably read about it in the newspapers. You probably sighed briefly, maybe mumbled the name. On the next page appeared an ad for a one-time sale of suits at discount prices, and that was more interesting. A school announcing registration, a new store opening its doors in Nachalat Yitzchak, another engineer resigned from the Municipality, Ordman advertising the weekly sale. There were so many things to read, and you leafed forward.
Shevat 15, 5772. The time is 4:30 in the afternoon.
I stretch out on my brown chair in the main office of the Ezer Mizion building in Bnei Brak. Dozens of other workers sit around me. All of them spend long hours every day manning Ezer Mizion’s ambulances. Now, we have gathered in the room for a lecture.
Opposite us sits Rabbi Chananya Chollak. Do you know Rabbi Chollak? Heard about him? No, hearing is not enough. If you never experienced his compassion, his soft gentleness, his humble practicality, his fine-tuned understanding, his enormous heart, and his vision — you haven’t tasted the true sweetness of giving. It’s no wonder that Ezer Mizion staff and volunteers are imbued with such a strong desire to give. They say that the ambience of an organization comes from the top. Rabbi Chollak founded Ezer Mizion way back in 1979 as a newly married young man and has continued to imbue the organization with his personal brand of compassion which filters down to every one of us- the paid staff and the over 12,000 volunteers.
Rabbi Chananya Chollak is speaking in honor of Tu B’shevat. We are all listening in fascination. He speaks about the connection between man and fruit, and elaborates on the moral sensitivities demanded of people in positions like ours.
I feel the tremor of the beeper in my pocket. Like all volunteers, I receive emergency calls. Out of habit, I glance at the screen. Emergency call. A severely wounded child, a fall from a high place. The address is… Ben Shetach 42.
At that address lives the Sorias family — that’s me.
Any of you who ever felt this inner panic knows what I am talking about — the spasm of fright, the paralyzing understanding that a terrifying clap of thunder has burst in like a storm and overturned your peaceful life.
Since I am not in Elad, I cannot speed to the site and offer assistance. I make a quick call to find out what happened, and leap into my ambulance, my face a deathly shade of gray. I know the way to Beilinson Hospital with my eyes closed. A thousand hammers pound in my head, and for the first time in my life, my hands tremble at the wheel. I post myself at the entrance to the emergency room and wait for them with bated breath.”
Just fifteen minutes earlier, it was an ordinary, happy day. Four-year-old Yedidya was playing in the yard with Daniel, who was then five and a half. He ran mischievously along the length of the yard, and then, at a moment’s decision, he climbed onto the wall at the edge of the yard. The stone fence was quite low from the side facing the yard. But on the other side, it was very high, separating the yard from the adjacent building. A drop of five meters gaped from the top of the wall to the concrete floor at the bottom. He climbed along the wall with cheery, childish steps-feeling like such a big boy-, but on his third step, he lost his balance. Daniel, who was watching him with interest, was horrified to realize that Yedidya had suddenly disappeared from sight.
He flew home in growing panic, swung open the door and screamed the first sentence that escaped from his throat: “Mommy! Yedidya is dead!”
“The fact that Daniel was watching and not on his own adventures was a tremendous miracle in itself. The neighbors from the bottom floor weren’t home. The child could have disappeared without anyone knowing where he went. Moments later, when they noticed he was missing, they all would have gone to search for him. They would probably have gone to the big park, checked the nearby buildings, announced his disappearance with a loudspeaker from a car cruising the city streets. Meanwhile, the child would have lay unconscious below, sprawled on the hard concrete, and, G-d forbid, his life would have slowly slipped away.
My wife phoned Hatzalah and ran screaming to other neighbors for help. At first, the Hatzalah volunteers who arrived stood there, helpless. The family from the first-floor apartment wasn’t home and they could not be reached. The volunteers could not go through their apartment to reach the child. Five meters of wall distanced them from the wounded child. After quickly arranging the logistics, they carefully slid down the wall to the ground. They found Yedidya crushed, bruised, bleeding and unconscious, with a serious head injury.
The volunteers began doing resuscitation and CPR. Hunched over the concrete floor, they strapped him to a back board and a medical collar, and in a complex operation, succeeded in raising him up to the yard, sedated and on a respirator.
Everyone on the street held their breath. Residents of the area stood nearby and kept praying until the ambulance finally left the spot with a howling screech of tires and screaming siren, on its way to the hospital. Large blood stains on the sidewalk remained as sole witnesses to the trauma, along with the many chapters of psalms whispered among the buildings now making their way to the only One who could help.
The ambulance arrived at the entrance of the Beilinson Hospital Emergency Room. I was the first one to run up, open the doors, and rush my son out. One look was enough to understand everything.
“I did not wait there alone. One of the wonderful Ezer Mizion people was waiting there already. So many times had I been on the other side of the ambulance but for the first time, I grasped what the presence of a trained volunteer does for the patient’s family — the calming effect of their just being there, their unspoken support. The reassuring knowledge that you are “in good hands,” the hands of G-d’s compassionate and responsible agents, who will seek the absolute best for you and will never tire of doing the right thing. When an Ezer Mizion employee is there, you will not feel alone. It is like a warm elixir for an icy, chilled spirit.”
Yedidya was wheeled into Intensive Care in critical condition. The nurse, who has seen much over her years at the hospital, bit her lips when she saw him. A deep silence hung heavily in the room. All you could hear was the steady ticking of the medical machinery, pounding along with our hearts, beat after beat. Pipes surrounded his little, exposed body, and his sweet face was swallowed up in the huge bandages.
The esteemed professor leafed through the notes. He leaned back on the wall and looked at us gravely. “We don’t know,” he summed it up in one brief sentence. “He may lie like that forever, he might wake up. The brain injury is very severe and it is too early to know its full extent at present. Chances are that if he wakes up, he won’t see, could be he won’t hear, probably he won’t move. It is impossible to know if he will remember or be able to think or understand. Walk? Very slight chance.”
He regarded us with a long look. For years he has been meeting with parents. Too often, he is compelled to give them bad news. Does he realize the weight of the cement block he is dropping on our young heads?
The Ezer Mizion volunteer squeezed my hand. I held on tight.
“Pray,” he suggests.
“We did all we could,” the doctor promises sincerely. “What happens from now — is not in our hands.”
The doctor steps out of the room, leaving Yedidya and us, and G-d whose Presence never leaves the distraught.
You sit next to him and count the grains of time creeping by on the attached monitor. How will Yedidya look in another eight and a half years, by his bar mitzvah? Will he be alive? Will he be conscious? In a wheelchair? Will he understand anything? This sweet, wonderful child, who we dreamed we would raise … His gushing exuberance, replaced in a fraction of a moment by a horrible pallor. The busy, beautiful routine, sharply torn from our lives. The pain, the pain that fogs your view and dampens your eyes.
How long will we be here? How many years will it take?
Where…Where do they bury little children? Harsh thoughts keep rising in my mind, and I try to banish them.
After long, blurry hours, we suddenly remember that there is a home, and in it, thank G-d, are another five children, frightened, searching for their parents, anxious about Yedidya.
Is it suppertime now? Morning? Is there school? Oh, work! Somebody has to inform my place of work! But not me. I don’t have the emotional strength. Someone. Is there really a world outside? People going to the office as usual, attending school, slicing bread, buying milk? There are people who turn the key to lock their door, just like that, and go to sleep, complaining about the laundry they did not have a chance to fold or the pail that was knocked over by a cat?!
Within the hospital walls, the world outside loses all meaning. The Angel of Death stretches out his hand from behind the wall, and normal life suddenly seems so unreal. Even when you leave the hospital for a spell and return home, half your heart- and your entire mind- remain there.
We know that things have to get done. Suppers. Baths. Homework. Laundry. But they don’t seem real. Reality is here. Here in this edifice that houses fear, paralyzing fear and bad thoughts…thoughts like…
Ezer Mizion is on hand, as always. Rejuvenating sandwiches, a hot lunch, along with a good word and all-encompassing empathy. They are able to enter our world. They understand. Their warm hug offers strong support as we hang there floating in this strange reality. They offer food. We know we need it. We have to be there for Yedidya. And for our other kids. Tough decisions will have to be made. But we – should eat – now? Our Yedidya is in critical condition!! The world has come crashing down!! Who can think of a tuna sandwich? But in the end, the hunger and physical weakness force us to eat. The meal is setup attractively. Someone cared to make it nice. It feels good. We feel connected to those anonymous others at Ezer Mizion’s Food Division and to the kind angel who delivered it. Their compassion strengthens us as much as the chicken cutlets. With renewed vigor, with the homey warmth and pleasant caring, we find a magical energy, a source of empathy, affection, support and acceptance rushing through us. Somebody thought of us. Somebody took the trouble to relieve us of worrying about these trivial things in the strange, agonizing planet called a hospital.
The next moment, I feel tears welling up in my eyes. A calm, sated voice within me is surprised that I forgot. There is a Master to the Universe. He thinks about me and embraces me all the time. He wants me to be taken care of. He sent me the Ezer Mizion angels. He Himself comes down to collect our tears.
At this moment, invigorated by the meal and by the love shown by those who care, I utter my first real prayer. You, G-d, are here with us in Intensive Care. And you are also with our children at home. In your compassion, You gave us Yedidya four and a half years ago, a healthy baby boy.
We did not ask then, ‘Why were we chosen to have a healthy child?’ Some people wait many years for a child, in vain. Some families receive the gift of a brain-damaged child. Some individuals who walk the earth have no family at all.
We did not ask then, ‘Why were we chosen to have a hale, healthy child?’ It seemed to us to be normal and self-understood.
“So now too, Dear Father, now too, we ask no questions.”
For the first time since that fateful message, I feel calm.
The Fight for Survival
The next weeks were tough, in a thousand different details, large and small. There are children at home. Someone has to be with them. Someone has to explain to them what’s happening. Someone has to give them breakfast. Put sandwiches in their backpacks. Prepare lunch. Do the laundry. Make the beds. Pick them up from preschool. Be with them in the afternoon. Put them to sleep.
Transportation to the hospital is not available at all hours. If you linger an extra minute with the child, you missed your bus. At home, little children are waiting, starved for a tiny slice of Mommy.
Long hours of wakefulness. Lengthy shifts in the hospital. Work is tossed at the wayside. The choking worry, the tension, the agonizing thoughts.
And the practical needs: Who will do the ironing? Who will shop? Who will take the children to school? When we come home, we are wiped out, yet try to give a few minutes of quality parenting time to the little children, to make up for their long absence. We try to calm fears: What happened to Yedidya? Where is he? Will he come home? Why? When? What? I want you, Mommy! Why do you go just to Yedidya? The teacher says that I have to review. Tomorrow I have a test, Abba…
Thousands of different needs pulling us in thousands of directions. This is where the finest hour of beautiful trained volunteering comes to the fore.
Ezer Mizion extends a helping hand to cover every need. Their sensitivity and dedication formed a heart-warming lifeline for us those difficult days.
“Ezer Mizion was with us in all their glory. As an Ezer Mizion man myself, I, of course, embrace the ideal and the mission. But I never before felt in all my bones how very critical is the role that we play. They were there with meals for us, the parents, always lovingly prepared. They came to do homework with the children, they babysat, they brought meals, they cleaned, did laundry, they even took the kids out for fun trips. They provided necessary medical equipment for Yedidya and sent volunteers to sit with him to give us, the parents, a much-needed break. And they talked. To us who so badly needed a shoulder to lean on and to the children who were bewildered, worried.
The area so close to my heart – the transportation division. Never had I realized what my role as an Ezer Mizion driver actually gives to the distraught patient.
Going to the hospital by public transportation is an unbelievable waste of time, at a period when every minute is packed tightly and used to the utmost. Waiting at the bus stop, the time it takes to pick up passengers and let them off, the infrequency of the buses, and some hospitals, like Sheba in Tel Hashomer, do not even have any direct bus line from the city at all. The problem repeats itself day after day and also becomes a serious financial burden. And even more. When going by bus, you have to take charge. What time should I leave? Where do I switch to the next bus? Don’t fall asleep, you might miss your stop. But with Ezer Mizion, you can relax. Someone else is worrying about those little details that loom so big when you have no ‘gas’ left to handle even the slightest burden. And you can even talk your heart out to the driver who really, really cares. Never had I realized what tremendous good I was doing for all those others when I would drive them to their destinations.
We had to get to and from the hospital 5-6 times a day, exchanging shifts around the clock. For someone without a car, this is a heavy, exhausting challenge, at a time when the crisis situation is already threatening to finish you off.
Those Ezer Mizion drivers-I can’t believe that I am so fortunate as to be one of them-were just one of the lifelines that kept us going.
The hospital staff was devoted, professional, and very empathetic. Every day, they tried detaching the respirator. The pipe was gently pulled out, while we all stood by, waiting tensely. The suspense would fill the silent room until the shrill beeping sounds would disturb the stillness. Not yet. Yedidya was not yet able to breath on his own. He lay on the bed, silent, wan, without movement, our sweet flower, our little boy, a four-year old child. Are you a parent? Do you understand?!
But one morning it happened. We waited expectantly for the beeping. Nothing. The doctor gaped. The nurse checked the machine. And we-we daavened-a lot! The respirator was detached and Yedidya was breathing. On his own.
It was a good sign, but the situation was still very serious. He lay in his bed without moving a muscle. His arms and legs were like thin, white sticks. He did not turn over, did not move around, did not speak or smile, did not scream or cry. Just a dark, agonizing silence. Only his eyes were open. “Does he see me?” Yedidya’s mother asked the doctor, excited.
“I don’t know,” the doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe he sees and maybe not. He certainly is not following with his eyes at all. And even if we grant the slim chance that he sees,” he said uncomfortably, “most likely, he does not remember anything and does not recognize you.”
“But I’m his mother!”
“I know,” replied the doctor, playing with his white collar.
He could breathe. A miracle in itself. But would he speak? Would he hear, Would he walk Would he understand?
“Pray,” they kept saying, and that is indeed what we did.
“One night,” relates Avi Sorias, his voice ripe with feeling, “my friends from Ezer Mizion, led by Rabbi Chananya Chollak, organized a heart-rending prayer at the Kotel. The eyes that saw so much suffering shed copious tears- they all shared our pain, and their joint plea rose heavenward, united and hopeful. We scattered silently, dabbing at the tears, and strong in our belief that G-d hears our prayers.
“From Jerusalem, I went straight back to the hospital. It was late at night. I sat beside my little boy’s bed. Four weeks had already passed since the accident. No change was seen other than his ability to breathe on his own. I thought about the home I left behind, the children. Our Yedidya. I felt as if my heart would break.
And suddenly… suddenly somebody near me hesitantly utters in a soft, sweet voice,
I looked around and discovered my Yedidya.
He looked at me with concentration, and in his eyes were all the wonder and love in the world. “Abba?” he said again, and then he lay back, exhausted.
He saw, he recognized, he remembered, he spoke.
I ran to the phone to call my wife and then we both uttered the same word as Yedidya, “Abba, Abba, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Like Yedidya, we sank back in utter exhaustion, so full of joy, so full of gratitude to the One who had heard our prayers.
Then came the tough days of rehabilitation. We were transferred to Tel Hashomer, to an excellent ward. Once again, we sat with him all hours of the day and night, accompanying him in a repeat cycle of his original development, a slow, agonizing process as he relearned what he had learned in infancy.
At first, he began moving only his right arm in slow movements. Two weeks later, his left arm allowed itself to move a centimeter or two. A few weeks later, Yedidya began moving his legs. Of course, he did not yet walk and could not even stand up. It was a long, painful journey until he began taking steps.
He needed the support of a walker. I remembered that Ezer Mizion had a medical equipment division. We asked. Yes, a professional therapist will be down to fit him with a special child-size walker. We knew they’d come through. For a long period after he was able to finally walk on his own, he still wore a bicycle helmet on his head, because he would often lose his balance without advance warning.
“After a long hospitalization and a long rehabilitation, Yedidya was finally released. No, not for the entire week. At first, he came home just for Shabbos. On Sunday, at eight in the morning, he had to be back there.
Yedidya came home in a wheelchair. He still was unable to walk. The children were horrified: Why doesn’t he get up? What is that strange pipe coming out of his nose? Why does he look like that? Here he finally comes home — and this is how he comes…?
Parents who are bone tired, happy and sad at the same time, try to answer to the best of our small minds. Yedidya listens too. The children, at a range of ages, seek clarity.
Our grandmothers used to say, may G-d help us never know how broad our shoulders really are…
So we try.
Friday night, Yedidya comes with us to the beit Knesset. Sitting in his wheelchair, he sways back and forth, holding a siddur, his eyes closed. He doesn’t yet know how to read, of course, but, like any Jew, his soul knows how to pray .
“What did you pray for?” I ask him when we leave the beit knesset.
He looks thoughtfully into the clear night air. Neighbors and friends are happy to see him, and they come over excitedly.
The Elad street is tranquil and velvety. A tiny tear hangs at the corner of his eye.
“I prayed for the children still there in Schneider Hospital,” he says, and remains silent for long minutes.
After long months, the time came for outpatient care, meaning that we had to come to the hospital every morning and go home in the afternoon. Traveling with a young child in a wheelchair, making sure someone was there to get the other children out in the morning, since we had to leave very early, and to receive them in the afternoon. Encouraging him and nurturing his patience…day after tension-filled day. Rehabilitation is tough, arduous, and only someone who was badly injured discovers how much we have to be thankful for the simple actions that every child does so easily.
Ezer Mizion was with us every step of the way.
“Throughout this stormy period, I thought to myself, I used to always be on the other side. In the course of my work, I come into contact with the population of sick people. I come to their homes, feel it all from close up. I feel the pain of the seriously ill: patients on dialysis, with CP, cancer, CVA, people who are paralyzed, debilitated, in rehab. Old and young, men, women, and children. People who go through tunnels of suffering and experience piercing pain and torturous doubts, crushing handicaps, black moments, despair and shame, sorrow and struggle. But I admitted to myself, that in fact, I never really understood them fully. I respected them, had compassion for them. But there are some things that you have to go through yourself, in order to know how much you did not understand before.
Now G-d sent me to the other side of the fence, to experience sleepless nights in hospital hallways, moments of tension, fear and doubt. All the tough decisions we had to make, a long hospitalization. I never knew how critical the support, assistance and loving embrace that Ezer Mizion offers at these times is for the patient and his family.
A year has passed. Yedidya has returned to preschool, hale and healthy, happy and in full function. He sees and hears, plays and runs, perceives and understands, speaks and plans. We walk him every morning, and then stand outside for another moment, on the green, clean Elad street, raise our eyes Heavenward, and simply say, ‘Thank You.’
He’s a cute kid, our Yedidya. The doctors and nurses would often talk to him. I glowed when I overheard the following conversation:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
“I want to be like my father,” he immediately declared, his eyes shining, “and work in Ezer Mizion.”
“And what will you do there?” inquired the doctor.
“I’ll help sick children,” Yedidya announced confidently.