It was a dark and stormy night… No seriously, it was a typical cool Jerusalem night and I was on one of my first nights shifts on a MDA ambulance. At about midnight we were called to Ethiopia Street, which (as the name doesn’t suggest) is located in the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox center of the city. Control informed us that there was “Danger to Human Life;” in other words the health of a patient behind locked doors was in question. In such situations, all three services are called; The BLUES – to give authorization to knock the door down, REDS – to knock the door down, and EMS – to treat whoever lies behind the door.
Barreling down the street on the way to the call, the first thing I did was phone my cousin Rafe. He lived nearby and I knew that he would be eager to see me in my new uniform tearing down the street with lights and sirens. As expected, he was waiting for us when we arrived. I jumped out of the ambulance with much glamor and finesse. I’m pretty sure I saw him roll his eyes. Jealous lad.
As usual, we were on location before police or fire. We waited. And waited. The police finally showed up and started investigating. The address was an old Ethiopian church, as the street name would suggest. The patient in question was a priest, a generally unwell man who hadn’t been seen for a while. His friend assumed he was in his room in a small outbuilding connected to the church. Problem: He wasn’t answering his phone.
The first hurdle we had to overcome was the towering wall surrounding the church, locked from the inside. The wall was soon scaled by a fireman who had suddenly turned up, out of the
blue red. He opened it for the rest of us who were not quite so adept at climbing 9 foot tall gates. We surrounded the little room, also locked from the inside, and began yelling the priest’s name, but to no avail. One of the nuns who had been awoken by our banging and screaming came running anxiously towards us, her habit slightly askew. We explained the goings-on and soon the whole compound was in an uproar. A superfluity of nuns appeared out of nowhere; Prayers were said, candles lit, incense offered – and I was chatting with Rafe.
Eventually Father Habtamu was seen through one of the windows, lying motionless on his bed. Now that we knew for certain that he was inside there were two options. Either he was in grave danger, clinging to life or worse. Alternatively, he was in a very deep sleep.
Blues, Reds, EMS and Nuns, screamed his name; still no answer. By now everyone was getting genuinely nervous. I quickly ran back to the ambulance to get the defibrillator, preparing for the worst. In tandem with me was a young fireman running to his truck. As I exited with the AED, he exited with a large sharp disk, designed to cut through (almost) anything. We ran back to the room where the nuns now stood chanting and swaying, holding hands. With a loud whirr, the firemen began cutting the bars of the window.
Sparks flew, tears fell, and amidst the chaos, Father Habtamu lifted his head and said, in a voice choked with emotion,
“What’s goin’ on out there? Ya crazy man, why are ya cuttin’ my window?”
All the nuns began shouting “It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle! He’s alive!” and, as if on cue, burst out into joyous gospel. The priest opened his front door, well and healthy, and asked that everyone tone it down a bit – he was tired.
We left the singing, clapping nuns + one slightly befuddled priest, and headed back towards the station, hoping to get a decent night’s sleep.
But alas, it wasn’t to be …