The local hospital where I moonlighted during my residency wasn’t exactly the safest facility in the Greater Boston area. In this neighborhood, dressed in my faded blue hospital johnnies and armed with my trusty stethoscope, I was grateful to avoid disasters most nights. In fact, as the doctor on call for approximately 76 straight Thursday nights, none of my patients ever experienced anything life threatening and there were almost no assaults, code reds, or anything “exciting” that was worth remembering.

But I’ll admit, it still felt like the Wild West — and who else would be willing to work at a local hospital in such a rough neighborhood? Well, I had my own reasons — as a resident trying to support a family and save up for our planned aliyah — but what about the other folks who were stuck there with me? Luckily, we had a decent team composed of individuals from a variety of different backgrounds. There was Terry — an old-fashioned Bostonian nurse who seemed to subsist exclusively on coffee and cigarettes, and Carlos — an Iraqi war veteran who had served as a combat medic and now worked as a male nurse. Then there were three Kenyan men who worked as orderlies: Efraim, Jesse, and Chiumbo.

Carlos and Terry didn’t care to associate much with me or anyone else in the hospital. Terry passed the 12-hour night shift with 22 cigarette breaks and brewing her six pots of coffee-flavored sludge; Carlos just wasted the hours on the Internet playing a fantasy game in which he owned a professional baseball team. The Kenyan guys loved me, though. Efraim, Jesse, and Chiumbo were always excited to show me some picture they’d found of Israel or to ask me about a random verse from Tanach they wanted explained. All of them, especially Chiumbo, held a special reverence for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. Chiumbo even had a sticker of the Israeli flag on the back of his phone and proudly showed this to me along with a wink or a thumbs-up at least three or four times a night when we worked together.

“Efraim is a Biblical name and so is Jesse,” Chiumbo would always tell me. I’d nod and then he’d tell me the follow-up statement he enjoyed as a recurring joke: “ ‘Chiumbo’ means ‘little,’ but I guess my family didn’t know I’d be over two meters tall!”

I’d jokingly tell him about the famous Talmudic sage Shmuel Hakatan who was named “small” for his humility, not for his size.

Beyond his kind-hearted temperament, it was nice to have Chiumbo around because things could get a bit serious in these parts. Finn was one such patient, and he quickly let me know it one Thursday evening when I showed up for my weekly shift. Terry handed me a chart and let me know that she thought Finn was “a real piece of work,” and “the kind of garbage that makes me need to smoke half a pack just to calm down.”

I entered the room and saw a thin, shirtless man, covered in Nazi tattoos, who looked like he’d spent most of his life in prison. His chart didn’t suggest that he had much of a mental illness, but it did indicate that he was a nasty fellow who had claimed he “heard voices that told me to go drunk driving and so that cops brought me to a mental hospital instead of to jail.” This kind of antisocial fellow wasn’t going to be too much fun to deal with and I wasn’t too happy to hear the names he was calling Efraim and Jesse as they sat across from him in the examination room.

“What’s your name, Abraham?” Finn asked me sarcastically as I entered the room. “Is it Dr. Israel? Dr. Israel and his monkey helpers are here to help me out this evening?”

Finn didn’t like the rest of my team either. “If any of your African slaves steal my stuff I’ll sue you into the ground,” he bellowed.

Having seen my share of Finn-esque patients, I was blunt as could be and laid down the rules. “Finn, we don’t talk that way here and we have a whole set of expectations and obligations. If you don’t feel like being in the hospital, then just tell me you’re sane and I’ll have the cops come back to pick you up and bring you to spend the next few weeks in jail until your arraignment.”

Finn smirked. “Do whatever you want, Dr. Israel. I don’t care at all. Anywhere is better than being stuck here being watched by your vermin,” he said, spitting in the direction of Efraim and Jesse.

“Finn,” I said, “it’s Dr. Freedman to you. One more move like that and I’m calling the cops.”

“Go ahead, Abraham, I don’t care.”

I figured any further discussion was going to be fruitless, so I decided to let him relax in his room quietly until the medical director came the following morning to decide whether Finn should be in the hospital or the local jail. “Good night, Finn,” I said, and turned to walk out of the room.

What happened next was a blur: Finn scooped up his chair and swung it unexpectedly at Jesse, who was able to block it with his arm but fell to the floor in the process. Efraim tried in vain to grab him, and Carlos the nurse came running in when he heard the commotion, but Finn was tougher than he looked.

“Chiumbo!” I yelled.

Luckily the giant of a man was already there. He used his massive frame to wrestle the chair away from Finn and restrain him in an epic bear hug. Terry — who had returned from her cigarette break — was horrified that she had to put down her coffee, but she was able to get the police on the phone quickly enough to come and take Finn to a more appropriate facility.

Finn was still cursing and spitting, but he looked like a baby doll in Chiumbo’s massive grasp. When the police arrived moments later, he changed his tune and pleaded with them, “Get this gorilla off me! Dr. Israel over here tried to have his monkeys manhandle me. Just take me out of here and let me sue him already!”

The police were reasonable enough and willing to take Finn to jail after I signed a few forms. We were all happy to see Finn go off in handcuffs toward the more appropriate setting as we sat to process the necessary emergency discharge paperwork. Terry stood over Jesse, holding an ice pack on his arm, while Efraim and Carlos were reenacting Chiumbo’s heroics.

“Chiumbo, you’re a true Chiumbo Hakatan,” I told him, and I offered to buy him a soda downstairs in the cafeteria in honor of his heroism.

Terry interjected with an offer to brew us a cup of coffee, but we all knew it was too toxic for human consumption and walked off to find some Coca-Cola.

“Dr. Freedman,” Chiumbo asked as I paid for his soda, “do you think that this is the best place for you to be? I mean, guys like Finn… doesn’t it make you want to move to Israel and be in your homeland among your people?”

Coming from Finn, I would have taken this as a bit of classic anti-Semitism. But from Chiumbo, it was an honest question from a man who knew that there was something special about G-d, the Jewish People, and the Land of Israel.

“I hope I’ll move to Israel one day,” I told him, knowing that the money I was making on these shifts would help get me there.

“I’ll visit you if you go,” said Chiumbo. “I’ve always wanted to visit G-d’s Land.” Chiumbo smiled at me and patted me on the back with his giant hands and then assured me with a massive smile, “And if Finn tries to visit you, too, I’ll make sure to finish the job next time.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 694. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.