Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Pain and privilege: the gift of shared suffering

Nedaa Al-Abadlah | 12-11-2019

With one of my burn patients

Every day, I meet people living their most vulnerable and painful moments. I feel their suffering and their agony, and each day, I gather all of my strength to hear and see their screams, blood and tears. It is my job. I joined the administrative team for MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders) in July 2018.

Since March of last year, MSF has intensified its work in the Gaza Strip in response to the swelling number of people injured by sniper fire and teargas in the Great Return March—weekly protests by the Israeli border to call for Palestinians’ freedom. Today, most of MSF’s work is emergency care, as well as physical and occupational therapy for burn patients.

My job is to receive patients and their families when they first enter the clinic. And it’s simultaneously the most satisfying and painful experience I have ever had. I share the desperation, fear and hopelessness so obvious in the eyes of parents as they face the mortality of their injured children, I feel the pain of people with burns that have caused their skin and tissue to literally melt down to the bone. I imagine the phantom pain felt by young men whose legs must be amputated and are shocked when they still experience agony in the empty space of their missing limbs. Every day, when I go home to my family, a lingering shadow of that pain stays with me.

I will never forget the day I saw a man in the clinic crying and cradling his 2-year-old son, his whole body shaking. When the electricity shuts off, as it does for an average of eight hours a day right now, many families make small fires to cook or for heat. His son, Adam*, was deeply burned in his groin area. The little boy had already developed septicemia, an infection that spreads rapidly throughout the body. He was referred immediately to the department MSF operates in Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.

Me and the MSF team

We called Adam’s father every day to check on him, but it was hard to hear his voice through the man’s tears. Several days we transferred the boy, Adam slipped into a coma. When we called his father with the news, he begged, “Please, pray for him.” When Adam died, I too was in shock. “How can he die?” I asked myself, knowing there was no answer. What I remember most about that day is the man voice when he told us, “You did what you can do, and I am so thankful for that.” I was speechless. I wished then that I had supernatural powers and could change reality. A part of me died with Adam that day. I think it is the part that used to believe that children are immortal; they don’t suffer, cry or die!

But, even as a part of my heart died that day, I found reason to hope through Milaina al-Hendi, a protester in the Great Return March who had been shot in her leg by an Israeli soldier on the western border of Khan Younis. Milaina is a wife and mother of six. She told me her son and her husband had been shot in the protest as well. When she returns to the clinic, she responds to my obvious concern about her limping gait with a smile in her eyes that inspired me to smile back. Despite Milaina’s complex injury, she continues with her daily chores for her family. And still she protests at the border, demanding her right to return to her ancestral homeland. I once asked, “How can you keep going on with your daily routine? How can you live or even sleep with pins in your leg?” (Her treatment included what is called “external fixation,” performed to immobilize fractured bones and allow them to heal properly. Pins or screws are driven into the bone on both sides of the fracture, then secured together using external clamps and rods.) It was obvious to me that she was in pain, yet Milaina said, “This is nothing. I can deal with it easily.”

Milaina is a strong, determined woman, and in those qualities, I see beauty. While some die of pain, others discover their own strength.

Despite the fact that my work is exhausting, I like it so much. The best part of my workday is soothing the fears of the burned children, distracting them from their pain while their wounds are dressed by blowing up balloons.

Working with MSF also has given me an opportunity unique among most Palestinians from Gaza: to meet and work with internationals from around the world during their missions here. They add to my character and I add to theirs.

Last year, at Christmas, we organized a small goodbye party for Jennifer, the nursing manager for the MSF office here. It was only a couple of hours, but during that space of time, all borders, nationalities, religions and customs that stand between people melted away; we forgot who we are and where we “belong.” I forgot that I am imprisoned in Gaza, and that is quite a gift.

* To protect the family’s privacy, his real name is not used.



Posted: November 11, 2019

Mentor: Adiel Suarez-Murias

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