Palestine

Physical Rehabilitation in Gaza

man in hospital bed

School teacher Awad in Al-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, Gaza City.

January10th 2003

Many people who have been injured by Israeli shelling and gunfire are cared for by the staff of Al-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza City. Here are the stories of a few. They are treated either as in patients, as out patients, or, if they live in the south of the Gaza Strip, by an outreach team which visits their homes because hold-ups at check points make it difficult for them to visit the hospital regularly. After five hours at a check point anyone feels tired - what about a severely disabled patient? The soldiers often do not give priority to those who are ill or in need of urgent medical treatment, but make them wait like everyone else.

Fourteen-year-old Fadi, from Mughazi, was shot by a soldier when returning home from school in June. A bullet was removed from his brain and he remained unconscious for three months. All four limbs were completely paralysed, but he now has some power in his arms and can feed himself with help, but he remains doubly incontinent. The rehabilitation plan is for him to regain independence in feeding and in writing. A speech therapist is helping him and he is to have a modified wheelchair.

Awad, a 50-year-old school teacher (pictured above) now much missed by his community, was shot in his home in the largest refugee camp in Gaza City in April 2002. A bullet entered the left side of the jaw, fracturing it, and then fragmented in his brain indicating, a senior doctor at the hospital says, that it was a dum-dum bullet. Such missiles are illegal according to international law because they are designed to break up in the body so as to maximise injury. All his limbs are paralysed and he is incontinent. The limit of his communication is to follow the physiotherapist with his eyes. In spite of excellent care, he is deteriorating.

Nafe, an 18-year-old hospital worker, was injured on 7 Oct when a helicopter fired on the hospital during an Israeli incursion into Beit Hanun, close to Gaza City. After a bullet entered his temple, a scan showed shrapnel and bone in the brain. He is incontinent and completely dependent. It is hoped he may be able to use a wheel chair in due course.

Also on 7 Oct, a tank entered one of the streets near the centre of Khan Yunis, fired a shell and then withdrew. People came out of their houses to tend two caualties and see what damage had been done. A helicopter which had been flying away from the town unexpectedly turned back and fired a rocket into the now crowded street. Six people were killed. The youngest was 3 years old. When the body of another child was picked up it disintegrated into three parts. A child’s hand and wrist were found at the side of the street the following morning. Between 60 and 70 were injured, one of whom was Mahmoud. Shrapnel entered his skull above the left ear. His arms and legs are paralysed but he can swallow. This attack was witnessed by one of the hospital staff I was talking to who says that the Israelis have used this tactic on a number of occasions - apparently withdrawing and then attacking people who had come on to the street thinking they were safe.

Last April, Zena Abdulsalam Falit, 45, mother of eleven, was sitting in her garden near Deir el Balah. A tank came into view and a soldier with binoculars appeared to be looking at her. She told me he then started shooting the tank’s machine gun at everyone he could see. When the first bullet hit her, she lost the feeling and power in her legs. Another entered the right flank and came out just below the sternum. A third passed through her left breast. There is another bullet still in her back. She needed emergency surgery for liver and kidney damage, followed by extensive spinal surgery. With intensive physiotherapy she has made remarkable progress. She can now stand fairly well in spite of foot drop on both sides, and has begun to walk again. Six weeks before she was shot, her house was attacked with rockets fired from a tank, and the Israelis seized the family’s 6 dunum (4 dunums = 1 acre) small holding. After an army bulldozer had destroyed their trees and vegetables, the ruined farmland was fenced off from the house by coils of barbed wire.

This is an amazing place where the care and treatment are of the highest standard. I have not seen a cleaner hospital. The staff’s attention and devotion to their patients are remarkable. It is evidence of their Muslim faith in action.

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