Becoming a(n Israeli) Medic

For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been enrolled in a medics’ course in Tel Aviv. It took me ages to get here due to bureaucracy in the registration process, but I made it.

Volunteering for the Magen David Adom (MDA, like Israel’s Red Cross) is popular among both Israelis and tourists. If you want to work on an ambulance, there are a few levels of qualification: first responder, medic, senior medic, paramedic, and doctor. As I understand it, the paramedic and doctor levels are paid, and the others are volunteer positions.

*I’m going to talk about the first responder and medic levels, since I don’t know much about the upper levels, other than: medics and senior medics generally share the same responsibilities, paramedics learn intensively for 1.5 years, and doctors are, well, doctors. I’m not going to talk about army medics, because I don’t know enough about it.*

First-responder: There are 2 groups who take first responder courses: high-school age Israelis, and foreign tourists. The tourist courses are short, and are advertised to the young, pre-aliyah, gap year crowd: 1-2 weeks of training (in English) and a month of volunteering on an ambulance. It’s also expensive – at least $1,500 for the training, housing, food, and etc’s.

And yet, it’s undeniably a cool experience. In the US, you aren’t allowed to work on an ambulance until you’ve completed at least an EMT-Basic course, which is longer and more intensive than the MDA first responder program. The first responders get to ride along to real calls and assist medics (although they rarely get to actually treat patients). Not to mention, for young Zionists, experiencing real Israeli is a dream.

I, however, want to get my hands dirtier. I’m becoming a medic. This is a 5 week course, 5-6 days per week, 7 hours per day. 4 weeks in the classroom, and the final week in an ambulance! If I pass, I will be qualified to volunteer in ambulances for 3 years. I will be able to splint, bandage, and treat patients including prescribing aspirin.

Oh, and it’s all in Hebrew.

I passed the first test, with the aid of google translate and 10 extra minutes. There are only 4 more tests to go.

I’m thrilled! Mainly for 2 reasons: 1) I’ll be in real emergencies (angina, car crashes, maybe a terrorist attack), and 2) It’ll be in Hebrew.

I don’t know what will happen with either role, medic or Hebrew-speaker. Maybe I’ll be a great medic and forget my Hebrew. Maybe I’ll speak well and blanche at an open wound.

Last winter, I did boot-camp training twice a week with Israeli guys preparing to enlist. One day, our coach (a well-respected ex-officer) took us to a drained football field-size fish pond, lined 6 feet deep with thick, black mud, and told us to cross it.

It took an hour. The sun set, and we flopped and crawled and dragged ourselves through the mud. The other side never got closer. But I did make progress.

I feel like I’m back in that mud. Just dragging myself inch by inch toward a goal I can’t see clearly. It’s exhausting, but I continue because I want to be here, getting my hands dirty.

I’m not sure there’s an end, or a final goal, because nothing ever finishes up neatly. Maybe I’ll become a doctor or become fluent in Hebrew someday, but for now I’m taking pleasure in getting by.


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