'The bullet in my chest is still in there. I don't feel it'

Heroic nurse was shot by Hamas terrorist as she treated wounded at Zikim IDF base

At base with rabbi husband and eight of their 10 kids on Oct. 7 to celebrate holiday with troops, Michal Elon bravely left protective shelter to help injured soldier

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Nurse Michal Elon was shot by a terrorist while helping wounded soldiers at the IDF Zikim base on October 7, 2023. She spoke to The Times of Israel at Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem, October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)
Nurse Michal Elon was shot by a terrorist while helping wounded soldiers at the IDF Zikim base on October 7, 2023. She spoke to The Times of Israel at Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem, October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)

Michal Elon’s nurse at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem wanted her to rest.

“No, I am ok. I want to talk,” Elon said when a reporter came to visit her in her hospital room to hear what happened to her and her family at the IDF Zikim training base just north of the Gaza Strip on the morning of October 7.

With a heavily bandaged left arm and hooked up to an intravenous drip, Elon, 44, recalled how she, her husband, and children arrived at the base on Friday, October 6 from their home in the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashahar.

That evening, she and her family enjoyed Shabbat dinner with soldiers and officers. None could have known that the next morning, six young commanders and one new recruit would die defending the lives of 120 people and preventing the takeover of the base by Hamas terrorists. Others would be wounded, including Elon, a nurse who was shot by a terrorist after she left a protected area to treat a wounded soldier.

Elon and her husband, Rabbi Omri Elon, often volunteer to spend the Sabbath on military bases, allowing IDF rabbis a break. This time the Elons brought eight of their 10 children. They ranged in age from one year and eight months to 20.

“We create a family environment. We talk to the soldiers. We bring board games and play with them. We lead activities,” Elon explained to The Times of Israel.

“This time Friday evening was particularly festive because it was the Simhat Torah holiday and the cooks prepared many special dishes. The soldiers were very happy,” she said.

The Elon family was provided accommodation in an army barrack with 12 bunk beds. At around 6:20 Elon woke up to the sound of an explosion.

“I thought, that’s weird. I didn’t think they would be doing exercises on a Shabbat and holiday,” she recounted.

Then the incoming rocket sirens went off and she and her husband quickly woke the children and told them to dress in case they had to run for shelter. Although her husband doesn’t usually use his phone on Shabbat, it was an emergency so he called the base rabbi at home and asked if the structure where the family was staying was designed to withstand rocket attacks.

Before the rabbi called back, a soldier came running and asked what the family was doing there.

Illustrative: Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command’s search and rescue units clear debris during a large-scale exercise in Zikim near the Gaza border on July 3, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“He said, ‘We’ve taken all the soldiers to the protected structure. You need to run there. It’s not safe here.’ So we ran to the shelter as the sirens blared,” Elon recounted.

The Elons sensed something was highly unusual when they saw that the commanding officers had left the shelter and had not returned. The family was left in the shelter with all the trainee soldiers, who had been drafted only two months earlier.

No one in there would be aware until later that some 2,500 terrorists had burst into Israel from Gaza by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people — mostly civilians — and seizing at least 212 hostages of all ages, all while bombarding Israeli towns and cities with thousands of rockets.

At nearby Kibbutz Zikim, the civil defense team protected the community from attack. The shot at terrorists as they tried to launch a shoulder-launched anti-tank missile, grenades and improvised explosive devices in a bid to break into the kibbutz.

As the Elons and the new soldiers waited in the shelter, someone arrived saying that a female soldier had been hurt. They said they thought that perhaps she had fallen. It later became clear to Elon that the soldiers had not brought her into the fortified area or said anything about her condition so as not to scare the others.

“I said I was a nurse and that I could come out and see if I could help. I had no idea what the situation actually was,” Elon said.

“She looked horrible. She had been shot in the face. The bullet entered her nose and got stuck in her skull. She had very serious head trauma,” she said.

Rhoda Smolow, president of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, visits Michal Elon, who was injured by a Hamas terrorist at the Zikim IDF base on October 7, 2023. Hadassah Medical Center, October 19, 2023. (Ariel Jerozolimski)

Elon moved the soldier to a room in a building close to the shelter and tried to care for her as best as possible.

“She wasn’t bleeding very badly because the bullet had not exited her head. It was very confusing,” Elon recalled.

Several soldiers were with her, and she sent them to bring water and any medical supplies they could find. Before they could leave, one of the soldiers — who was standing at the door — was shot.

“Suddenly we heard shots and this soldier fell into the room. He was shot in the head and bleeding all over. There was nothing I could do,” Elon said as she choked back tears.

“The other soldier asked me if they could do something. I told him I didn’t think we could help him. I thought maybe I should hide under the bed. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand. I thought it was only a rocket attack. I didn’t know that terrorists were running around the base,” she said.

Seconds later, someone else appeared at the door. Elon recalled not being able to make sense of what she was seeing. On one hand, the person looked like a soldier, but there was something amiss about his uniform.

“He looked me in the eye, raised his gun, and shot me. He hit me in my arm, stomach, and chest. I didn’t know what to do. I felt my hand falling like it wasn’t connected to my body,” Elon said.

View of Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem on August 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

She quickly removed the headscarf she wears as a religiously observant woman and tied it on her arm as a tourniquet. She was determined to get to the shelter to learn whether her her husband and children were okay.

She staggered to the shelter and fell on the ground close to its entrance. Her husband stepped out and dragged her inside, where she told him what happened and instructed him on how to staunch her bleeding wounds.

“The soldiers were amazing. They took off their shirts, and he took the shirts and he pressed the wounds so I wouldn’t bleed. I kept bleeding but thank God, I’m here. So everything was okay in the end,” Elon said.

She told her husband she was bleeding and couldn’t feel her arm and needed to get to a hospital, but it was impossible to leave or for ambulances to get in because of the intense rocket fire and gun battles.

Elon remained conscious and after about three hours an army ambulance managed to get in and evacuate her and two other soldiers — one who was shot in the leg and and another with stab wounds to his head. The female soldier who was shot in the face whom Elon was treating survived by playing dead when the terrorist entered and fatally shot the soldier in the doorway, and then shot and wounded Elon.

Elon was taken to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, which was inundated with those injured as a result of the devastating attack by Hamas. She was transferred to Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera, where she underwent initial treatment. A week later she was transferred to Hadassah in Jerusalem for specialized surgery to repair nerve damage in her arm.

“The bullet in my chest is still in there. I don’t feel it. They decided to leave it because it is close to critical blood vessels and it isn’t safe to try to remove it,” she said.

Michal Elon (second from right) with her identical twin sister Yael Weissman, mother Rachel Alpert, and husband Rabbi Omri Elon at Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem, October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)

As she sat seriously wounded and and propped up against the shelter wall, Elon stayed calm and tried to smile to reassure her children as they huddled waiting to be rescued. After she was evacuated by ambulance, the IDF took her husband and children — all of whom survived uninjured — off the base.

She said the children are the heroes. “They were so brave. They did a lot there. I feel they’re strong,” she said.

This horrifying experience has brought all of them closer, according to their mother.

“They used to always squabble about who would sleep together in which room and who would get a room of their own. After this, they all slept together in one room. None of them wanted to be alone,” she said.

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