From ITC: First responders experience a unique struggle: care for those they are responsible for while simultaneously caring for themselves and their families.
In today's environment of nearly daily terror attacks, first responders and caregivers are under extreme pressure. They must care for others while simultaneously taking care of themselves and their families.
Our experience working with caregivers and first responders has taught us that constant exposure to traumatic events and the intensive work with victims can quickly lead to professional burnout and secondary traumatization.
As we are now in our third month of the recent terror wave, caregivers and first responders are of particular concern to ITC; we ensure that the people who work tirelessly to take care of our citizens are also receiving the care they need to face trauma every day.
Zaka is a humanitarian organization, coordinating over 1000 volunteers in Israel and also helping Jewish communities worldwide. They respond to tragic incidents like terror attacks to help rescue the victims capable of being rescued, and recover, identify and bury the dead as well as any other human remains.
Yossi Frenkel, pictured above (right) has been an active Zaka volunteer for over 13 years. Most people find this sort of work gruesome and repelling, but not Yossi. He saw the opportunity to consistently distribute kindness that could never be repaid. That's real chesed... true giving," explains Yossi.
It does, however, expose him continually to trauma. Yossi manages the trauma by compartmentalizing the experience. "When I receive a call, I'm no longer Yossi. I'm Zaka until I'm back home."
"But some calls are easier to detach from than others. we are, after all, human beings with emotions, and compounded exposure to evil, destruction and death takes its toll."
For help detaching emotionally and moving past each experience, Yossi phones his mother after every single Zaka mission to review the entire incident, even if it's in the middle of the night. "It gets the experience, the horror, the images - away from me." He encourages all the other Zaka volunteers to go to the counselors and debriefings, but Yossi's mother is the most effective for him.
The other ingredient that keeps Yossi grounded is focusing on the positive in life. Instead of "there was a terrorist attack", he reframes it as "the terrorist is no longer on the street - no longer a threat." Yossi delves into his outlook further, "You can take ANY incident and find strength in it. I draw strength from this rather than allowing it to drain strength from me."
It also helps that Yossi owns a restaurant. "When I return to the restaurant from a Zaka call, people are having fun and living life." This scene draws Yossi out of the world of Zaka and back to the everyday world - underwriting his positive transition back from Zaka to Yossi.
Yossi would never dream of giving up his volunteering. "II appreciate life more because of my work in Zaka, and my appreciation of life motivates my work for Zaka."
Over the years Zaka volunteers have received psycho-social care and support from ITC experts.
The Trauma Unit at Jerusalem's Shaarei Tzedek Hospital provides care for major traumatic injuries resulting from falls, car collisions, fires… and terror attacks.
Dr. Ofer Marin is the Deputy Director General and Director of Trauma Services at Shaarei Tzedek.
The Trauma Unit is a very intense place to practice medicine. Medically, patients are in critical condition and their injuries could cover different medical specialties. Dr. Marin’s staff is fluid.
“We assemble teams and borrow specialists from the relevant departments in the hospital. We can have over 50 staff members under my direction at one time when a terror attack brings in multiple casualties, like it did this week.”
Dr. Marin schedules ongoing professional education for his staff to ensure that patients receive the advantage of the most up-to-date technology and methodology.
Working in the Trauma Unit is also intense emotionally for the medical staff, especially over the past few months as victims of intentional traumatic attacks were almost a daily occurrence. Not only are the staff members exposed to this trauma daily, they live in the area, so they are affected on two fronts. Often, a trauma nurse will hear of an attack seconds after it happens, so she can prepare for the arrival of trauma patients. Simultaneously, however, she is thinking of her husband and children who live in the area, checking her phone, in the dark about their whereabouts. It’s an incredible and constant struggle.
Dr. Marin and the staff under his direction including nurses, doctors and surgeons manage the emotional impact proactively.
“We speak about these topics regularly, and that helps a lot,” Dr. Marin explains. “We also have a psychologist on staff who specializes in PTSD. We’re the only trauma unit in Israel that has one, and it’s a tremendous benefit.”
The trauma-specialized psychologist works with patients and their families, but also works with the doctors and nurses who inevitably feel the strain from constant exposure to trauma. She gives direction and tools to all trauma unit staff to use with patients and in their own self-care.