The staff at Beth Israel hospital, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was treated for almost a week, are relieved that he has been moved out of the hospital, its Israeli-trained president and CEO Kevin (Ilan) Tabb told the Times of Israel, after the Boston bombing suspect was transferred Friday to a prison hospital some 30 miles away.
“At a personal level, we are relieved he’s gone,” said Dr. Tabb. “We were ready to provide care to anybody brought to our door,” he stressed. But “all the care providers — doctors, nurses, people who transport patients… they are also human beings and they have very conflicted emotions about having all sorts of different people in the hospital.”
Added Tabb: “We know we did the right thing: provided care… [But we are] relieved we can move forward and continue with the healing process here for the victims, the families and our community here.”
US-born Tabb, who immigrated to Israel at age 18, served as a combat medic in the IDF, trained as a doctor, married, and had his children in Israel, has been helming Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for the past 18 months. On Friday, a week after Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout and his younger brother was brought to Tabb’s hospital for emergency care, the 49-year-old doctor took a short break from the extraordinary rigors of the past 12 days to talk extensively to the Times of Israel, reflecting on similarities and differences between American and Israeli responses to terrorism, his admiration for his hospital’s team of medical care providers and the wider community’s support, and his hope that the Boston violence was not a harbinger of further terrorist attacks.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was relocated not because of unhappiness among the victims of the bombings that he was being treated in such close proximity to people he had tried to kill, Tabb clarified in the telephone interview, but rather because he no longer needed the level of medical expertise provided at Beth Israel. Tsarnaev, 19, who was admitted with severe throat and other injuries, “no longer requires a level of care that is provided by a major medical center,” Tabb said.
Tsarnaev ‘no longer requires a level of care that is provided by a major medical center’
Asked whether Beth Israel had saved the suspect’s life and what his prognosis was now, Tabb said that he was not permitted to discuss such specifics. Tsarnaev “did receive treatment… I am not allowed to give his prognosis.” (A report in a Hebrew media outlet on Sunday, that purported to quote Tabb saying that even if the suspect survived he may never be able to speak again, was false, The Times of Israel understands. Tabb made no such comments. In a separate instance, also in the Israeli media, Tabb was quoted as having given an interview when he had not actually spoken to the journalist concerned.)
Asked whether patients’ and relatives’ reported unhappiness at having Tsarnaev treated in the same hospital marked a difference between American and Israeli attitudes — terrorists are routinely treated in the same hospitals as their victims in Israel — Tabb said, “I’m not sure there are major differences. Having worked in Israel, and at [Hadassah hospital at] Mount Scopus, I distinctly recall the Israeli public sometimes being uncomfortable that terrorists were treated in close proximity” to victims.
What’s common to Israel and America in these situations, Tabb said, is that medical professionals put aside “personal and political” feelings when treating patients, whoever they are, and get down to work. “We treat everybody as much as they need it,” he said. “That frequently occurs in Israel. In this case also.”
He said eight victims of the bombings were still being treated at Beth Israel, and that all of them were out of danger, as were all others still hospitalized elsewhere. Beth Israel treated 24 victims from the initial explosions on Monday, April 15, he said, “with lots of different injuries: blast injuries, shrapnel to lower extremities, a number of amputations.”
US media since the blasts has been heavily focused on the Tsarnaev brothers — their friends, family, history, motivations — with relatively less attention on the victims, an imbalance that seems different to the aftermath of terror attacks in Israel. Tabb said he had noticed this and “I’m not completely sure why that is.” One factor, though, might be “that there is a requirement in this country to protect the privacy” of the victims and spare them from media intervention. He said there was “intense interest from the media not only in the suspects but also in the victims,” and “we have tried to shield them from overly intrusive attempts.”
Some Beth Israel employees ‘have been approached with offers of large sums of cash to bring the media into the hospital… We rebuffed those attempts’
He said some Beth Israel employees “have been approached with offers of large sums of cash to bring the media into the hospital… We rebuffed those attempts.” The media “would also have wanted” pictures of Tsarnaev in the hospital, but that too had been prevented.
Tabb said there are “a fair number of Israelis” among the hospital’s 9,000-strong staff of doctors, nurses and other personnel, including the Beersheba-trained chief of the surgical intensive care unit. This is “not unique to our hospital,” he stressed. It was much the same in other Boston hospitals and major medical centers further afield.
Some of those Israeli physicians and nurses, because they had trained and worked in Israel, had extremely useful experience in coping with a mass trauma event such as the marathon bombings, he said. Contrary to reports published elsewhere, Tabb stressed that hospital staff had not been given special training by Israelis in how to grapple with such incidents.
Tabb stressed the extraordinary professionalism shown by the hospital staffers. He also noted that its medical care providers “are very upset and unsettled” by the events of recent days, and that the hospital is working to help its community recover.
Tabb singled out a few small instances to highlight how the team at Beth Israel had done its utmost for the patients.
On the night of the marathon bombings, he said, “we had a young trauma surgeon who was just spectacular.” He’d been on duty since early that morning, he organized trauma care, and at 9pm he was doing his medical rounds of all the victims. “He stopped at a young woman’s bed, and asked her whether she was getting all the care she needed and was comfortable,” Tabb recalled. “She said, ‘I’m fine. Everything is fine, except here,’ and she pointed to her head. He’s a trauma surgeon, so he looked for a scalp wound. That wasn’t what she meant.”
At that point the young doctor realized, said Tabb, that “maybe we’re not doing all we can for the patients. He organized the ’rounding’ to include not only trauma, orthopedic, and nurses, but also now spiritual care and psychiatry. That had not existed here previously. He realized that was a need we needed to fill.” That case exemplified how the hospital team performed, said Tabb.
Another telling story he cited was that of a nurse who was at the scene of the marathon explosions — as a volunteer in the medical tents routinely set up near the finish line for exhausted and unwell runners who need medical attention. This nurse “provided immediate care” at the scene of the blasts, “then came into the emergency department… went home for the night, and came back the next morning. I asked her, ‘How are you doing?’ She said, ‘I cried the whole way into the hospital’ because she knew she needed to be strong and take care of the patients once she got here.”
A final instance Tabb cited was the call he got from one of the hospital’s board members when all of Boston was locked down as the suspects were tracked down. “She was worried about us. I assured her we were all fine, that there was very good security. She said she wasn’t worried about physical security. ‘I’m a Jewish mother,’ she said. ‘I’m worried you don’t have enough to eat.’” He said he’d seen more pizzas given to to care givers in the past week than ever before. “Everybody in the community has pulled together,” he said.
‘We all hope [terrorism] never becomes common here. And it’s absolutely horrific that Israelis had to experience it on a regular basis’
Asked whether dealing with the terrorism in Boston had given him a still greater appreciation of how Israel — its medical services, and its people generally — have coped with terror, Tabb said, “In this country, this sort of thing is extraordinarily rare. We all hope it never becomes common here. And it’s absolutely horrific that Israelis had to experience it on a regular basis,” he said, referring in particular to the years of the second intifada.
“I wouldn’t say Israelis are used to it,” Tabb went on. “That implies it hurts less there than here, and that’s not the case. It’s just that Israelis have had to experience it more. When you regularly experience these sorts of things, you adapt as a society and as individuals. That’s happened in Israel. Israelis are very resilient. Please God it should not be an event that Israelis have to continue” to grapple with, he said. Americans, too, he noted, were resilient.
Tabb ended the interview by saying how appreciative he was of the support the hospital had received from Israel and around the world. He was also “really grateful for the support personally from friends and colleagues in Israel. That’s part of what is so surreal: people calling [from Israel] to ask if we are okay; almost always it’s the opposite. Friends, family, medical colleagues, physicians, directors of hospitals,” all had called, Tabb said, “to ask if there’s anything they can do to help.”