Dear Friends,

It is almost incomprehensible to think that it’s been only a week since we last updated you.
Beyond our hospital having been forced to change in countless ways that we will elaborate upon below, the entire world has been transformed.

Today, recognizing the enormity of our challenge, Shaare Zedek’s principle focus is now firmly on corona preparedness and response and investing for what lies ahead.

As of this morning, we have 21 corona patients hospitalized and we continue to project that the number of serious cases will rise considerably in the days ahead. We have already created a Corona B Unit adjacent to Corona A with an additional 25 beds. A Corona ICU Unit has been prepared with 12 dedicated stations. We also have over 200 staff members in isolation and 3 of our colleagues diagnosed with Covid-19.

The stark reality of what we are facing became ever clearer on Friday evening when Shaare Zedek experienced Israel’s first direct loss of life from this pandemic. Aryeh Even z”l, 88 years old with many background diseases was a Holocaust survivor and a member of our nation’s founding generation. While our staff worked tirelessly to stabilize his condition, pre-existing complications compounded with this relentless virus resulted in this sad outcome.

Below, please find a moving testimony written by a nurse in the Corona Unit.

We also share with you the description from our senior nurse Levi Levin who appeared on television speaking of his interaction with one of the seriously ill patients. “Three times in one-night shift, after observing a patient struggling to remove his breathing apparatus, together with the assistance of my fellow staff members, I donned my full protective gear, received approval from the immunologist and dashed into the treatment area to alleviate the patient’s discomfort.”
We have already re-allocated as much respiratory equipment as was available and have placed many new equipment orders. With close coordination between our microbiology and genetics labs and through the significant investment in new equipment, we are quickly positioning to become a major Corona test center in Israel.

While the situation remains tense and uncertain, there are also moments of hope that shine through. On Thursday afternoon, an impromptu national initiative called for people to come out of their homes to express thanks to medical staff and first responders. We were deeply moved watching via our video monitors, as patients in our Isolation Unit all came together and applauded towards the cameras in solidarity with this effort. Those two minutes reminded us of the importance of our work and the integral service we are blessed to provide for our nation and its people.

As mandated by the Ministry of Health, our ability to provide the wide variety of services that define Shaare Zedek has been curbed. Effective yesterday (Sunday), like in all Israeli hospitals, the vast majority of our elective activities, including non-emergent surgeries and outpatient clinics, has been postponed indefinitely. This measure is critical to reduce the flow of patients and visitors throughout the hospital, while also allowing us to allocate human resources and equipment for corona response.

In addition to changing the atmosphere of the hospital, this has a very significant impact on our financial wellbeing. Our fiscal health is dependent on all levels of revenue, ranging from our largest income stream from the health funds for medical activities to parking fee proceeds. All these channels are expected to be very heavily impacted in the coming days and weeks.

Like many other public and private entities, we are forced to take drastic action. Due to the situation a percentage of staff not directly involved with this crisis is being placed on “vacation without pay”. Such action is unprecedented in our hospital’s history and is deeply painful for an institution that prides itself as a family.

In order to alleviate the pressures on our staff during their shifts, we have established an educational framework for their children located nearby.

We have been encouraged by the level of support we have received from around the world. Along with countless emails and texts that have come in over the past week, we have been witness to an unprecedented display of generosity by Israeli institutions, foundations and individuals as well as by donors from abroad, some of you amongst them, at a time that we know is so challenging for all of us.

Please know that we don’t take it for granted but be fully aware that without you the obstacles would be that much more overwhelming.

We pledge to continue to provide you with updates in the coming days and weeks and take this opportunity to wish you, your families and communities only the very best of health and continued strength.

Sincerely yours,

My heart is broken.

On Friday night my worst fears were realized as I watch my beloved patient, Aryeh Even take his last breaths on earth. By the grace of God, two patients angels rush to his side. With tears in my eyes, I watch them instinctively place their hands on his eyes and recite the “Shema” prayer. They comfort him and say goodbye as his holy soul enters the gates of Heaven.

I know what the next step is, and I’m already dreading it – Misrad Habriut has prepared us with instructions on how to deal with the deceased COVID-19 patients. We are the first hospital in Israel to implement this protocol. Similar to causalities in a biological war, our treatment of the body needs to be done in a way that will not טהרה endanger anyone else who will come in contact until the burial. Because of this, there can be no purification process. This Jewish ritual is sacrificed to protect us and everyone else who will come in contact with him. His soul is already so pure. Me and the other nurse Michal are responsible for identifying him for burial, we will be the last ones to see and care for him physically.

My dear Aryeh, you survived the horrors of the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel, established a magnificent family and your extraordinary journey ends here, in this new ward we hoped we would never have to open. The circumstances of your hospitalization did not allow for your loving family and caretaker to be by your side. For us and them, this was heartbreaking. We did our best to go in as often as possible. From the outside, we monitored you as closely as we could. In the unit, we were in awe as we watched the other patients care for you, keep you company and helped you however best they could. They so badly did not want you to ever feel alone.

Aryeh, I want to ask you for forgiveness. I’m sorry for how we were required to handle your body, we did our best to preserve your dignity and respect you based on the circumstances. I know that it was done to protect us. It was a tremendous zechut and honor to care for you in your final days. You’ve touched my heart, the staff, and the patients that surrounded you. I know your life will inspire the rest of Am Yisrael as well

Go in peace, go to your resting place in peace. Look out for us from above.

Love Rachel Gemara