Diplomate, Board Certification of Emergency Medicine
Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine Ma'ayenei Hayeshua
Vacation in Israel is a special treat. Many vacationers come
during the summer, and visit the holy sites and perhaps a
museum. Others, like myself, are enchanted by the unique
outdoor sites -- the fresh mountain air of the Golan, the
sunsets over the Jerusalem hills, the allure of the desert
oases in the Dead Sea, and the mystique of the badlands in
A few weeks ago, five religious girls decided to visit the
Flour Caves; a maze of subterranean caves that cause the
visitor to exit the cave covered with fine flour-like dust.
I've never been there, but I heard it is a lot of fun. After
all, that is what vacations are all about. Israel was having
one of its sharavs at that point, and when the girls
arrived in the Sodom area where the caves are located it was
above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
While it is a short trail to the caves, something went wrong.
The five were lost in the unrelenting heat in a desert that
had closed in on them. They split up to look for help. Only
four of them were successful.
Not all of us enjoy the outdoors, but if you do, you must be
attuned to basic safety rules. Never go swimming or hiking
alone. When traveling even to popular places, let someone
know where you are going. A basic first aid kit, containing
bandages, a snake bit kit, waterproof matches, water
purification tablets, iodine, and flares is a must. Canteens
and a hat are a must in Israel.
If you get lost anywhere, find shelter and stay put. Waiting
for a rescue team is always the best bet. If you aren't
rescued, then sending someone for help is all right, but he
should leave some signs of his path every few feet, so that
people can find him or you. A pile of rocks is fine for this
purpose. Maps are a must on all hikes. Cellular phones can be
life saving. A knife is also very helpful.
Many hikers in the Golan and Scotland for example, climb
hills for beautiful views, but once above the tree line (in
Scotland), if you slip, there is nothing to grab on to. A
rope may be helpful for rescues, but if used to steady a
group of people on a hike, then if one falls he could pull
the whole group down.
Respect the wildlife. Bears are common in many places, as are
snakes, and occasionally leopards or wildcats. These animals
can be dealt with safely by learning about them. For example,
sudden moves are not a good idea with snakes. Reaching into
dark surfaces such as under rocks can uncover snakes and
Deserts and badlands have few landmarks and getting lost is
fairly easy. Combine that with the impaired judgment of
dehydration and the mirages that one sees in the desert, and
you can understand how the tragedy of that group of girls
occurred. A guide is important in these cases.
Do not drink untreated water unless you really have to. Never
drink sea water (it will make dehydration worse), and don't
eat plants -- especially mushrooms -- in the wild, unless you
are 100% sure. Mushrooms are easily confused and, while toxic
effects can sometimes take time to appear, poisonous
mushrooms can destroy the liver.
We see some really bad sunburns, and suntan lotion must be
reapplied every time you go into the water. People driving in
the car can also get severe sunburn. Be especially careful at
the beach, where the sun's rays are often not felt to be as
strong as they really are.
In Israel it doesn't rain in the summer, but in the winter in
Israel and in the American West, flash floods are quite
common. Rain in Jerusalem, for example, can lead to a flash
flood in the Dead Sea areas despite it being very warm and
sunny. Flash floods can wash away an automobile. Don't take
chances. Get to high elevations, or avoid areas like this
altogether during danger times.
Don't ignore ranger warnings. Don't overdo it. Hiking is
enjoyable, but serious heart and muscle problems can occur to
people who aren't in condition for it, especially at higher
elevations. This isn't only for mountain climbers. Visitors
to the American West, Peru, Ecuador, the Alps, and Mexico
City, all areas of high altitude, can have problems with this
without even leaving their hotel room.
I love the outdoors and get lots of chizuk from seeing
Hashem's world in all it's glory. You should try it. If done
safely, you'll really enjoy it. Write me in care of the
A message Glaxo, sponsor of this column: It may be a
little early to speak about flu season, but the medical
literature is still bubbling with excitement over the new
antivirals, of which Relenza is Glaxo's product. While
immunization is still the best idea, Relenza will help if you
didn't get the shot. Last year's flu was devastating and
people were out of commission for at least a week. This
winter, remember Relenza and forget the flu.