My girlfriend is currently volunteering in Gaza. I asked her to send me the odd email with her observations as a way to share an on-the-ground view of what life is like in this embattled place.
It took a few minutes of observation in the Al Shefa ED to shred my plans and revisit how I can be of most use here. Aside from teaching by giving a few nursing-focused lectures at the university or at the hospital (for the future, on topics that they can really use), I know that what I can do is learn as much as I can from them and bring back their stories to share — raising more awareness about the Palestinian cause, and as far as health is concerned, knowing a little better what it is that we can share with them given their situation. It serves no purpose to go there and teach them the “American way” — things do not change in a few weeks, and their realities are what they are.
My days are spent in the ED, observing what they do and how they do it. The chaos is incessant, yet the staff seems oblivious and goes about its business; they see close to 700 patients per day there (families not included). While at home we strive for data and make decisions with data, not so much here. How can you when you have so many patients to care for. Care for? Not certain this is the right term. Overcrowding, sorely lacking resources, and a system that has no system.
Drug shortages seem to be an issue, or maybe it is culture? Pain medicine is limited to intramuscular tramadol or Diclofen. Patients just do not get pain relief the way you do in America. You can be in writhing pain, and nurses will be oblivious. I had to beg a few times that a patient seems in true agony before they summoned the doctor to ask for an IM order. Vital signs in the ER are not recorded and seldom taken. Gloves are used as tourniquets, and hardly anything else.
Handwashing is not part of the nursing care. The CT scanner has been broken for 6 months — at Gaza’s main ED (so here, where I am), patients needing a CT scan have to get it at another hospital. I’ve ridden the ambulance through town with the patients– near misses at every corner of the road. Probably the one and only public good I did so far was to convince my ambulance driver to wear his seatbelt ( Inch’Allah he wears it tomorrow…), and I held the hand of a very scared and brave 9 year old badly injured patient.
Otherwise, the falafels are out of this world, and I could eat them every day. The guy making them wants to marry me… of course. So I get them for cheaper. He tries to impress me by dipping his hand in the boiling oil — no pain, no burns. I am impressed! Their sweets are also out of this world, and I make it a habit of trying a few everyday.
There are no tourists here — what a surprise. I walk around the block — most of the time with someone else, but today I did a long walk to the “beach” on my own.
The Gaza people are very welcoming and very kind. Today, several mentioned the Boston marathon bombings and expressed their sorrow to us. What a resilient and truly generous people.
I already feel at home here — I know I will be back.
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[catlist tags=Gaza, Iran, Iraq]