“I am sorry to tell you that you have to check him out and go home,” the doctor said, with a look of pity on his face. “Nothing can be done for now.” The medicine my father needed after his injury has not been available in Gaza for a long time.
Mom started to cry. Then she took a deep breath and asked the doctor, “What can we do? Just wait?”
The doctor replied, “He will have physiotherapy sessions and wait until the medicine is available.” He added, “Keep praying for him and stay optimistic.’’
Mom shook her head and kept silent, as if she was waiting for this nightmare to come to an end.
My father is a very talented football player. It has always been his favorite sport. He used to play it every day with his friends. Football helps the men in Gaza relieve their stress. On a day with a clear sky, my father began playing with his friends as usual. This day, however, he did not do a warm-up, and he started playing very vigorously. All of a sudden, in the middle of the game, my dad collapsed on the ground as he was playing with force that tired his feet. Another player saw that he needed help, and my father leaned on his arm to get to his car. But he realized he couldn’t drive. My father phoned his dearest friend Mohammed, asking him to leave the game and drive him home.
“Hey, dear Mohammed! I feel a little tired, could you please come and drive me home? Could you also take me to the hospital to check my leg?” my dad asked gently.
Mohammed kindly answered, “Okay buddy, let’s go.”
When they reached the hospital, they called us, and my mother and I rushed over. It was overcrowded and chaotic. The medical staff was under tremendous pressure. I remember I saw a young girl crying in pain as the doctor tried to patch up her forehead wounds. Seeing the sick and injured little girl made me feel so upset, I almost felt like I was suffocating. I wished for safety for my father and all the patients.
After half an hour the doctor came to show us the x-ray. My father had a cut in the tendon of his foot and he needed surgery the next morning. We were shocked by the unexpected news.
The next morning, my mind was overtaken with my father’s surgery, but I had to do my exams, as it was my senior year in high school. My eyelids were about to close, my limbs were numb, and at one point I felt like I had lost feeling in several parts of my body. I felt helpless. My father, who is the greatest man for me, is having surgery and I could do nothing to help him. Despite all that, I tried to focus and answer all the questions. When half of the exam time passed, and when I was allowed to hand over my paper, I gave it to the teacher without even checking my answers. I rushed to the hospital, leaving everyone and everything behind.
I reached the gate of the hospital and I was looking around at all the patients. I felt scared and I just wanted for my father to get well and to go back home as soon as possible. I felt as if I was in a strange, dark room, trying to find the door. One more minute in this place would kill me. At that moment, tears fell down my cheeks as my mom held me between her arms and told me, “Thank God! The surgery went well.”
As soon as my father woke from the anesthesia, the doctor came to my mom and said, “I am sorry to tell you that you have to check him out and go home. There is nothing more we can do for him now.”
My father was discharged after he woke up because they needed the bed for another patient. Gaza's hospitals lack medical resources, even the simplest resources such as beds. My father would have to rest at home until his medicine became available — if it ever did. That is the way Gazans live, with uncertainty and lack of confidence in the healthcare system.
A chronic shortage of medical supplies
According to the World Health Organization, the Israeli blockade and restrictions on the movement of people and materials, including medical supplies, have led to serious deterioration in the availability and quality of health services in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza health sector suffers from chronic shortages of certain equipment and supplies, including antibiotics and chemotherapy drug stocks. Nineteen percent of necessary medicines is lacking, primarily those needed in surgery and in emergency cases, antibiotics for initial care of children, and cancer drugs. Thirty-one percent of vital medical equipment is lacking too. There is also a grave shortage of replacement parts for equipment and of disposable items, such as bandages, syringes, and plaster for casts.
Reports from the Palestinian Ministry have shown that healthcare facilities in Gaza are already on the verge of collapse due to the Israeli-imposed closure of the Strip. Israel controls equipment, services and medical drugs, making the local capacity in Gaza overburdened. Even patients who need specialized health care in more advanced facilities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel face restrictions. To access West Bank and Israeli hospitals, patients and their companions require permits from the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza through the Erez checkpoint. In recent years, patient permit approval has declined more than 90 percent. Patients here in Gaza feel that receiving their medical treatment is a privilege not a right.
The day after his surgery, my father — a very active football player, passionate employee and my role model — came home in a wheelchair. Doctors had given him some instructions: he had to stay home and use the wheelchair to move around, have physical therapy, and wait for his medicine to become available. It was very hard for my father to stay home and not go to work. Even worse, if his medicine didn’t become available soon, he might not fully recover. It was possible he would never walk again. He felt that his luck had been ruined.
At first, my father was optimistic, but as days passed by, he began to lose hope. He lost any hope of being able to walk, play sports, or hang out with his friends again as he always did. He also thought that he would lose his job forever and wouldn’t be able to work again. As negative thoughts grew in my father’s head, his psychological state deteriorated. He was transformed from a calm, sociable and gentle man to an angry and a lonely one.
At that time, I was on my summer vacation, the last vacation before becoming a university student. I describe it as the hardest vacation in my whole life. I kept having negative thoughts and questioning why this happened to us. At times, I feared that my father would stay this way for the rest of his life. But at other times, I was deeply sure within me that God would preserve and take care of him. I said many prayers and supplications, which gave me some hope.
After two months of struggling, the medicine was finally available in Gaza and my dad went back to the hospital and continued his recovery. All the staff in the hospital considered him to be lucky, as he could fully recover now.
“You have to be patient and strong and believe that you will recover and be able to walk again,” the doctor said.
As my father started his rehabilitation process, his state of mind improved more and more. Two weeks later, he was able to walk by using crutches. He slowly managed to go to the washroom alone and walk inside the house and around the neighborhood. After forty-five days of treatment, my father’s life went back to normal. He was able to walk alone without using any help, to use the stairs, to hang out with his friends, to drive and to go to work without any difficulty.
However, the sad reality is that he won’t be able to play sports again for the rest of his life. He can’t push himself too hard or put too much strain on his foot. Football is my father's favorite sport, and it is the most popular game among Gaza residents. He used to practice it about three days a week for long hours with his friends. In Gaza, young people rent stadiums to spend their spare time playing football. Today, my father sits with the audience watching others play. He used to be one of the professional players. Nevertheless, he is very athletic and multi-talented, and he recently turned to table tennis, as there is less foot movement in it. He loves it and enjoys it, but he prefers football. We will never know if his future would be different if his medicine had been available when he really needed it.
The horrible truth is that here in Gaza many people die either from bombs and wars or because of the lack of medical treatment. Others have their lives changed forever because of lack of resources. The continued blockade of the Gaza Strip affects us in all the aspects of our life. And the bleak picture that the occupation paints for our future in Gaza is that survival, itself, is a challenge. They try to make us accept the pain without complaining. The only way to get all our rights back is to struggle with our painful reality and demand an end to the military siege, no matter the pain or the passing of time, so Palestinians in Gaza can enjoy a safe and secure future.