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Paramedic: 'It is very hard to work'

Israeli paramedic Shai Shapiro in his ambulance:
Israeli paramedic Shai Shapiro in his ambulance: "The worst thing in the terror attacks ... is to see young babies, who have done no harm."

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EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's John Vause spoke with Shai Shapiro, an Israeli paramedic working in Jerusalem, in June 2002 and filed this report at that time. Shapiro said he had been called out to around 20 terror attacks and referred to Jaffa Street, the scene of Wednesday's suicide bombing, as "horror street."

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Shai Shapiro, a Jerusalem paramedic for five years, has stopped counting the number of terrorist attacks he has worked.

He guesses it's about 20.

Driving down Jaffa Street in the heart of Jerusalem, he gives a reporter a guided tour of grim landmarks. He calls Jaffa the "horror street" because there have been six suicide bombings there in a little more than a year and a half.

"Right here is where the bus exploded," he said, pointing toward one intersection.

Farther along: "Two explosions were here." Then: "There was an explosion right here. Luckily no one was killed.

"There was an explosion here as well, killing two."

Just driving on Jaffa Street makes Shapiro afraid, he said.

"You just drive as fast as you can, just to get out from this area," he said. "You remember bodies. You remember lots of dead bodies."

Shapiro is typical of paramedics in Israel: always on call, always the first on the scene.

"The worst thing in the terror attacks, in my point of view, is to see young babies, who have done no harm," he said.

"If they are alive, shouting, burns all over their body. They are experiencing pain, very big pain. There is no stronger pain than having burns."

When he sees a baby who has been killed, he cries.

start quoteThe rule is actually not to go inside the bus, or the zone before a policeman's clearing it for us. But we cannot do it. I cannot sit and watch a young girl or someone shouting for help.end quote
-- Paramedic Shai Shapiro

"That makes me stronger," Shapiro said. "I am not ashamed of crying."

But paramedics must deal with more than the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Often they find themselves in the firing line, attacked by stone throwers in an Arab suburb, or worse.

In some cases, the first bomb explosion isn't the last. There can be two, sometimes three blasts.

"The rule is actually not to go inside the bus, or the zone before a policeman's clearing it for us. But we cannot do it. I cannot sit and watch a young girl or someone shouting for help," Shapiro said.

Two of his team members are armed for protection.

Israeli authorities have given paramedics the option of carrying firearms, and most do. They have bulletproof vests with them wherever they go, and some of their ambulances are protected with plates of heavy armor.

'Meetings with inhumanity'

Jaffa Street in Jerusalem has been the site of so many terror attacks that Shapiro refers to it as
Jaffa Street in Jerusalem has been the site of so many terror attacks that Shapiro refers to it as "horror street."

Rony Berger, a clinical psychologist with Israel's largest trauma center, said with so much stress, on such a regular basis, many of those who are first on the scene are suffering burnout. The long-term effects on the immune system are unclear.

"Those meetings with inhumanity, death -- some people call them death prints -- do stay with us for a very long time," Berger said.

There is also the impact on the families of emergency workers. Shapiro is typical of many.

"When I am finishing a shift after a terror attack ... I don't want to talk to anybody. Not my parents, not my wife, not even my little baby," he said.

Shapiro's wife, Annie, is an operating room nurse. So when there's an attack they both can be called out. The couple constantly watch the news, waiting, and their 3-year-old daughter, Noah, already has a keen sense of what is happening.

"She can feel it," Annie Shapiro said. "She knows that there is something wrong going on. And she asks, 'Mom, mom, is there any bombing again?' "

Shapiro said his daughter spends more time with her grandparents than with her father and mother.

"It is very hard to work as an EMT nowadays," he said.

Like so many others here, Shapiro said he longs for the everyday, when his work is routine -- when he no longer has to treat the victims, the babies, the innocent lives scarred by suicide bombers.


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