Saturday, June 9, 2007

"I am responsible for my actions, not my cousin's or someone else's actions."

May 29

Left: Some of the doctors and nurses I work with in the al-Ahli emergency room. I won't name names, for obvious reasons.

Before I got there a three-year-old boy had been brought in after being hit by a car. I found him in the x-ray room, naked and bandaged up, crying a little.

His scalp had been peeled back off his left frontal and parietal bones, I think it's called scalp eversion. The damage to the skull was minimal, though, they found a very small fracture and no brain hemorrhage. The poor kid also broke both his legs at the distal fibula and one of his arms. I think by “road traffic accident” the doctor meant a car had run the kid over.

I helped one of the younger doctors suture twice today. I just cleaned the sutures and cut them when he told me to, but it was interesting. The first time was on a young kid, probably two or three with a small cut to his right forehead. I don’t know anything about which lacerations need suturing and which ones don’t, but it seemed to me too superficial to suture. Regardless, we put two stitches in it. The little guy was flailing around so hard that we often lost control of him. When we left his dad was comforting him. He said something to me and laughed a little. I figured he was saying he’s a strong little kid. It was a funny thing for a dad to be proud of in that setting.

The second time was on a middle-aged lady who’d fallen and somehow gashed her head open. It wasn’t bleeding much anymore but she was cut all the way to the bone. It’s interesting to see how much control we gain over ourselves; the little kid flails so hard he almost rips the stitches out of his own head, while the woman in just as much pain (maybe more, she needed quite a few stitches) lies calmly and grits her teeth when the needle goes in. She was continuously praying under her breath and muttering “yarabee”, I think it means “oh my God”, or the equivalent.

Another work accident came in, he narrowly avoided a complete disaster. The patient was a young male, probably in his late teens. He came in with abrasions to his left back that looked as if he’d fallen on concrete without a shirt on: not a desperate emergency but quite painful. The shirt he was wearing had been ripped almost completely off. He said he’d caught his shirt on some sort of mechanical twirling axe, which had swung him around, then ripped the shirt, and then he’d gone flying and landed on his back. Abu Nidal and I cleaned him off a little. Abu Nidal applied a silver ointment and sent the kid home, he said the best way to treat wounds like this is as though they were second-degree burns.

I also saw a bone set for the first time today. Another young kid came in, probably 15 or 16. I’m not sure what happened to him but his right arm was broken quite badly. The fracture wasn’t compound but (without telling me he was going to do this) the casting nurse (a big guy named Fawzi, see below) grabbed the kid’s wrist and twisted it around, sending the guy almost off the table before I got my hands on his shoulders. Fawzi looks at me and says “torsion”, then chuckled to himself as I jumped on the kid.

Fawzi is a tall heavyset nurse who loves to talk about anything that comes to his mind in the most vulgar way possible. After casting the kid’s radius he said “come, I invite you to my office to have coffee.” We went to his office and he proceeded to tell me his entire life’s story (he’s 51 years old): how he went to work in Saudi Arabia at a “military hospital” run by Whittaker Corporation (Saudi military hospitals are often run by American corporations, Whittaker in particular, like most of Saudi’s security infrastructure); how he met an Irish woman named Linda whom he married and then divorced; how he moved back to Hebron with their three kids; how he raised the kids for two years without a job or money; how he used to take care of his “needs” without a wife (use your imagination, he was explicit); how he met another woman whom he’s married to now and has had seven children with; how he came to be a nurse at al-Ahli; why he’s not religious; etc. This all took almost two hours, during which I just smiled and nodded for most of the time. It was interesting; the conversation wasn’t a waste by any measure. I just thought it was funny that this total stranger was telling me about all of these things totally unprompted and in a foreign language.

Dr. Ahmed, a young doctor working in the ER at al-Ahli, was asking me about how moving to the US works. He said he’s studying for the Step 1 and 2 exams and will travel to Chicago in a few months to take them both.

He said he wants more information about work visas, green cards, etc., and that he’d contacted the American consulate in Jerusalem for more information. They told him he’d need to come into the consulate to discuss applying for a work permit, they wouldn’t do it over the phone. So he applied for a permit, and “I was shocked,” he said, “that they told me no.” The justification was the usual one: security. Dr. Ahmed said he spoke to a border police captain when the permit was denied. He asked the captain why he couldn’t travel to the American consulate and what security threat he posed. The captain told Ahmed he can’t go because his cousin was once involved in a security violation (which can mean anything from exploding a bus and killing a dozen people to resisting physical assault by a settler).

Ahmed insisted to the captain that this is unfair, that he can’t possibly be held responsible for what his cousin does. “I am responsible for my actions,” he said to him, “not my cousin’s or someone else’s actions.” The captain said that was too bad, and this is the way the security procedures work.

Of course, Israeli settlers up to their necks in illegal weapons smuggling, illegal harassment of Palestinians (even under Israeli law), destruction of property, assaults on foreign nationals in Israel and the territories, human trafficking, kidnapping, political assassinations and murder of children are not only free to travel wherever they please, but they are also protected by the Israeli Army (when they aren’t serving in it) while they travel, while they illegally smuggle weapons and harass Palestinians and burn crops and assault human rights workers and enslave Eastern European women in the brothels of Tel Aviv and on and on.

Two systems of law for two people based on ethnoreligious identity and enforced by a single authority controlled entirely by one of the ethnoreligious groups: apartheid at its worst.