One year ago during the High Holidays, Sam Dorshow was fully prepared when he entered Congregation B’nai Amoona.
“I had my tallit in one hand and my trauma bag in the other hand,” he said.
A trauma bag is standard equipment for a first responder like the Dorshow, 32. He brought the kit along just in case there was a medical emergency while the synagogue was filled to capacity.
“The bag has tourniquets, gauze, bandages and chest seals, and if G-d forbid something would happen, I wanted to be there and be ready to respond,” he said. “So now when I go to services, I bring the bag. It’s a crazy world out there.”
That extra level of medical expertise was certainly welcome, said Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, senior rabbi at B’nai Amoona.
“We have doctors available, but it was wonderful to have an EMT with that kind of training available as well,” Rose said. “It was a level of comfort that he provided to our community, which is a wonderful thing.”
Preparedness is part of Dorshow’s workday as an Abbott Ambulance emergency rescue service team member. He often handles uneventful transportation responsibilities during a shift, like making sure a dialysis patient gets to treatment and back home. Some calls, though, are anything but routine.
“We don’t get a lot of crazy action, but we had a guy overdose at a Metrolink station under Grand Avenue this past April,” Dorshow said. “Paramedics weren’t available, and St. Louis city ambulances weren’t available. We were the closest unit. The patient was a 35-year-old male who was shooting up heroin. He was unresponsive, his lips were blue, his heart rate was 130 and his oxygen level was a dangerous 40%.
“We got him into our ambulance, and I put an airway in his mouth and we started ventilating him with oxygen. We had to breathe for him, and we got him to St. Louis University Hospital to get treatment, and he survived. There was stuff I’ve never done on a call before until then, so I broke through a couple of barriers that day.”
Quick thinking and decision-making are mandatory skills for an EMT, as are taking the wheel of a 13,000-pound vehicle at high speeds with sirens blaring.
“Our role is to get patients to a higher level of care,” Dorshow said. “It can be tricky if you’re working a cardiac arrest, and if you need to breathe-pump a patient while the ambulance is running and you’re weaving through traffic. You might have to start an IV or give fluids and you’re getting tossed around so you just hold on to something.”
As if the job weren’t tough enough under normal circumstances, working as an EMT during a pandemic brings an entirely new set of challenges.
“With COVID, in the beginning they were putting extra personal protection equipment on every truck, like eye protection and gowns,” Dorshow said. “Every time we go to a nursing home, we have to gown up, have our temperature taken and fill out a questionnaire. One unusual aspect of the pandemic was that for a while our call volume dropped because we didn’t go to the hospital for routine procedures.”
Dorshow’s father, Richard, jokes that his son may have found this line of work attractive precisely because he gets to drive fast. Sam confessed that he did covet Hot Wheels and model cars when he was growing up. As a teenager and young adult, he embraced Judaism with the same enthusiasm. He was a B’nai Amoona camp counselor, a volunteer for the Senior Olympics and the Jewish Food Pantry, and he coached a first-grade Jewish basketball team.
After graduating from Parkway North High School, Dorshow worked in sales and the restaurant business for a few years, but he was attracted to a career as a first responder. Helping people and being on the go struck him as a good fit. For the past two years, he’s been an EMT, and soon Dorshow will be certified as a paramedic. Jobs are plentiful in the field, as private ambulance companies and municipalities are frequently short on staff.
Richard Dorshow also works in the medical field, as the founder, president and chief scientific officer of Medibeacon, a local company whose products monitor organ function. Sam’s brother Nate works in the military, and his mother, Gayle, is a religious school librarian and a Hebrew tutor at B’nai Amoona.
In time, Dorshow is considering more specialization, possibly as a paramedic firefighter. Right now, his priority is getting a medic license and continuing to learn and develop his skills. He already has a good handle on one important aspect of the job: empathy.
“I think in my capacity, I play a small role in the progression of people getting better,” Dorshow said. “You have to have respect for the people you treat. What gets in my head sometimes when I’m on a call is that I look at these patients and I’ll see my parents or my grandparents. Or, after a hospice call, I’ll call my grandma and say, ‘Hey I just want to talk to you.’ ”
The most rewarding part of job, Dorshow said, is playing a part in helping patients on the road to recovery.
“Like getting someone to the hospital, we’re the link in the higher level of care,” he said. “Our job is get on the scene, stabilize the patient, monitor them on the way to the hospital and don’t overlook any obvious problem. For example, if someone has trouble breathing. And it is rewarding when someone is discharged from rehab, when we get them back home. We play a little role in that.”
Sometimes, Dorshow transports other precious cargo in the form of organs.
“We’ll get called to Spirit of St. Louis Airport, and they may have a medical team that just arrived, or a set of lungs or something that needs to go to Barnes Hospital, or SLU hospital. We run kidneys, livers, lungs, hearts. There could be some kid waiting at Children’s Hospital waiting for that organ, and he may have been waiting three years. I’m a piece in the chain, and I play a small part in making it successfully to the hospital.”
Being an EMT is physically demanding and often emotionally draining. But Dorshow has the qualities that make for an effective first responder, Rabbi Rose said.
“He does definitely have a level of maturity and a sense of obligation and responsibility to make a difference in the world,” Rose said. “Those are really special things. I can’t say enough nice things about him and his family. He seems to have his priorities right, he wants to be of service to the community, not just take advantage of things that are out there but rather insert himself, which I found to be wonderful. Both Dorshow boys are very dedicated to make a difference in their community and their country, which I think is exemplary.”