Treating Trauma, As A Jew And A Doctor

11Jun10

Tending to terror victims and terrorists: Dr. Avi Rivkind heads the shock trauma unit at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

New York Jewish Week
by Steve Lipman

As head of the general surgery department and the Shock Trauma Unit of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, which has earned an international reputation for its state-of-the-art techniques, Dr. Avi Rivkind has treated, by his own count, at least 10,000 victims of suicide bombings, war, traffic accidents, tsunamis and other disasters. His patients have included soldiers and civilians and Palestinian terrorists. A Sabra, he has done his life-saving work in such countries as Kenya, Argentina and Sri Lanka. At 61, he has trained a generation of physicians and nurses, and also taught at the University of Southern California. Dr. Rivkind spoke with The Jewish Week in New York last week.

Q: Why did you choose such an emotionally draining medical specialty?

A: I’m the son, the only son, of two immigrants from Poland, Holocaust survivors. It was very important for them that people should survive. In the army, I was in a special unit — a doctor described to me [his duties]. I was fascinated by what he was doing. I came home and said, “I’m studying medicine.”

Do you have nightmares; do you get burned out?

Not yet. Every day is another person [to save].

What was your hardest case?

A [bomb] blast in Jerusalem. This girl, a beautiful girl, blonde, long hair, came by ambulance, she spoke with me. I could see that something was wrong. From outside, pristine, nothing. But I could see from how she spoke, something was fishy.

Then we went into the operating room. She died on the [operating] table. Her sister was a medical student in our school. I had to go and tell her that her sister died. It took me more than a half hour to overcome my emotions. I cried.

You’ve treated terrorists, who may have Jewish blood on their hands. Are you ever tempted to turn around and just walk away?

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