Small Israeli hospital getting its fair share of terror victims

Meir Hospital, located in Kfar Saba, is in the narrowest portion of Israel, just a five-minute drive from Kalkilya in the West Bank.

"You can see the houses from the hospital roof," said Dr. Ehud Davidson, CEO of the hospital.

For that reason, the 700-bed hospital — — gets its fair share of victims of terrorism.

Davidson, who was in San Francisco recently for a conference of the International Hospital Federation, recalled the first night of Passover 2002, when a bomb exploded in a hotel in Netanya, killing 29 people at a seder.

Davidson was in the middle of his own seder at his brother's house in Givatayim when his beeper went off, as well as the beepers of most of the hospital's doctors.

"We all rushed back, that was the most horrible night I remember," he said, with some 130 casualties being rushed to the hospital in one hour.

"Being prepared for such mass casualties coming all at the same time means preparations for years," he said.

In another memorable case, the young victim of a terrorist attack provided the hospital with an opportunity to achieve a medical breakthrough.

A 14-year-old boy skipped school one very hot day to go to the public swimming pool and boarded a bus to get there. A terrorist also boarded the bus, detonating a bomb. The explosion killed one man, and the boy was severely wounded, with shrapnel lodged in one of the most important blood vessels, preventing blood from reaching his brain.

Usually, doctors would perform a highly risky operation on the neck, which could easily lead to paralysis. But instead, they did an experimental procedure in which they introduced a metal device inside the blood vessel that stops the bleeding.

"This boy who was on verge of death is very well and decided not to skip school anymore," said Davidson. "This was the first time this procedure was performed, and we've presented the case in a lot of medical conventions."

In addition to treating victims of terrorist attacks — which have been happening with regularity for the past several years, the staff of 2,400 has also been trained by the Israel Defense Forces in how to deal with chemical warfare.

"There are exercises that are held by the army in all the big hospitals," Davidson said. "Last October there was a very big exercise held in Meir Hospital where we were trying to see whether we are prepared to get 300 people injured by chemical weapons. That was right before the war in Iraq, and we prepared for half a year."

Renovating the intensive care unit is next on the hospital's agenda. Davidson said he was struck recently by how much the hospital population reflects that of Israel in general: There were five patients lying next to each other in the intensive care unit — a soldier who was shot in the West Bank, an Arab man from Tirah who was stabbed in a fight, an elderly Jewish man who had just come through major surgery and a teenager with a severe illness.

"This is our lives," he said. "Civilians and soldiers, Jews and Arabs all getting the assistance they need." Davidson said 15 to 20 percent of the hospital's staff are Arabs, as are the same percentage of patients, reflecting the general population. While there are some Arab doctors on staff, there are many more Arab nurses.

"I think we are really an example of coexistence," he said, noting that the Arab staff members always volunteer to work on Jewish holidays and vice-versa. "In the last 2-1/2 years there have been no problems."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."