steampunk heart

Inside RAM 2, the IDF Medical Corps unit that cares for hospitalized soldiers

The first thing Lt. Col. (res.) Yonit Malkai does when wounded soldiers arrive at the emergency department, conscious and able to talk, is to put them on the phone to tell their parents they are alive and in the hospital.

  • “This quick ‘Hi, Mom!’ can change the whole picture for a family,” Malkai told The Times of Israel in a recent interview.

Malkai is the commander of the IDF’s RAM 2 unit at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, located in Ramat Gan just outside Tel Aviv. In existence since 1982, RAM 2 is the unit within the IDF Medical Corps that treats soldiers who are hospital patients. It is the interface between these soldiers and the medical staff, as well as between the soldiers and the IDF while they are in the hospital.

Since Israel does not have separate military hospitals, injured and sick soldiers are treated in civilian medical centers.

  • There are RAM 2 units at all major hospitals to take care of soldiers and their families. Since the war against Hamas in Gaza began on October 7, these units are larger and busier than ever. Usually administered by soldiers doing mandatory service and a commanding officer, the units are currently mainly staffed by reservists. Notably, both in peacetime and during war, RAM 2 soldiers are primarily women.

According to Defense Ministry statistics released on February 12, slightly more than 2,880 wounded regular and reservist soldiers have been hospitalized during the war.

  • Of those, 1,326 were hospitalized since the ground offensive began on October 27. There are currently 344 soldiers still in the hospital. (None of these numbers include the thousands of soldiers who were injured but did not require hospitalization.)

At Sheba, Malkai commands around 50 mostly reservist soldiers in the hospital’s RAM 2 operation. She is assisted by Major (res.) Noam Zinger, Cpt. (res.) Nitsan Cooper, and Master Sgt. (res.) Rotem Suissa.

  • “We dropped everything on October 7 and rushed to be here. We have been here for months and we will be here as long as needed,” Malkai said about being called up to emergency reserve duty.

During a recent sit-down with The Times of Israel at the RAM 2 office at Sheba, Malkai explained that some RAM 2 soldiers have medical backgrounds and some don’t.

  • For example, Zinger is a cardiac ICU nurse at Sheba and Malkai works with healthcare institutions on emergency preparedness. Suissa, although she did her regular army service with RAM 2, works in children’s theater production.

Malkai explained that the job of RAM 2 is to make sure that everything a hospitalized soldier and their family needs is taken care of. To make this happen, the RAM 2 unit is divided into many sections, with each responsible for a different aspect of the support and services provided to the soldiers and their families. The care is extended to the huge influx of war-wounded soldiers, as well as to soldiers who are hospitalized more routinely due to illness, accidents, or injuries resulting from security incidents unrelated directly to the war.

One group of RAM 2 soldiers is responsible for meeting incoming IDF helicopters as they land on the helipad with wounded soldiers. Another receives the soldiers in the emergency or trauma room and establishes contact with them if they are conscious and able to talk. After that, those RAM 2 members meet the families when they arrive at the hospital.

  • “We don’t leave the family’s side in the first hours when there is so much uncertainty and time moves so slowly. We make sure that the doctors and nurses meet with the family as soon as possible to update them on the soldier’s condition and what treatments they are receiving,” Malkai said.

Suissa recalled an occasion when a soldier came in in critical condition. He had been identified and his parents were already on their way. Suissa and her colleagues waited for and received them.

  • “They were in a very bad emotional state. The younger sisters were especially distraught,” Suissa said.
  • “What I think RAM 2 is really good at is being with and embracing the family because the doctors are busy working on the patient and they are not free at the moment to calm and speak with the family. We were able to lay out the situation to the family, telling them that their son was indeed in difficult shape, but that he was alive, and reassured them that we were there with them,” she said.

Malkai spoke of an instance when a 20-year-old soldier arrived with a severe face injury that made it impossible for him to speak. Malkai connected with him in the trauma room and was able to get him to spell out his name by indicating to her to stop on specific letters as she recited the alphabet. As the doctors worked on him, she discovered that he could move his hands well enough to write his identification number.

  • “We looked each other in the eye and I told him that they were taking him into surgery, that he had to gather all his strength, and that I would be waiting for him when he came out,” she recalled.

Malkai visited the soldier a couple more times as he recovered. Even when he couldn’t say much, he formed a heart with his fingers to express his gratitude to her. Malkai reported that as she turned to leave, the soldier’s mother thanked her for being there for her son, saying that what she said to him as he entered surgery got him through it.

One section of RAM 2 comprises IDF medical staff (usually nurses) who are responsible for liaising with hospital medical staff. While they do not have any say in the management of patients, their job is to report back to the IDF the soldier’s status and treatment plan. The information must be correct and updated in the military’s system for view by the soldier’s commander, doctors who treated them in the field, and others allowed access to the information.

  • “We want to set things up so that the right medical care is provided to the soldier within the army’s medical system later on,” explained Cpt. Tatiana Akulov, an IDF nurse who had been the RAM 2 commander at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva and was seconded to Sheba during the war, serving under Malkai.

The RAM 2 system also involves mental health officers who visit, assess, and work with the injured soldiers.

Members of another section of RAM 2 take care of practicalities for the families, such as accommodation on the Sheba campus for those who live far away. If families or soldiers need rides somewhere, they arrange for that. They make sure that families get free hospital parking and are reimbursed for expenses. If the soldier needs orthopedic equipment for when they are discharged, this section of RAM 2 deals with that.

“RAM 2 has been there for everything I have needed — every hour, every day, and without complaint. They have taken care of me just like my mom,” said Amit Alon, a 20-year-old Givati Brigade soldier from Jerusalem who was hospitalized at Sheba for nearly three months as a result of leg injuries from shrapnel.

Other RAM 2 sections are staffed by soldiers from the IDF Spokesperson’s Office and the Defense Ministry. The latter coordinates with the RAM 2 medical staff for the transfer of responsibility from the IDF to the Defense Ministry for a temporarily or permanently disabled soldier who is unable to return to their unit.

“We also have people from the IDF Rabbinate on our team. It’s their job to identify the soldiers if they come in unconscious and unable to give their name. This was the case with actor and singer Idan Amedi, who was sedated and intubated when he was brought in. It was impossible to know that it was him,” Malkai said.

  • “The IDF Rabbinate uses a fingerprint device and we have an identification in half an hour or less,” she said.

From making sure hospitalized soldiers’ weapons are securely stored to supplying them with toothbrushes, some of the work of RAM 2 is logistical and mundane. However, Malkai said that overall this IDF unit serves an extremely important mission.

  • “Being there to hold a parent or soldier’s hand or be a shoulder to cry on is critical. These kinds of things shouldn’t be downplayed. They make a difference and the connections that are made are forever,” she said.

Source: TOI