Sunday, November 27, 2011

My First-Hand Experience with the Palestinian Medical System

I know, I know, I haven't posted in about two weeks. I promise I have a legitimate excuse.

I was dying.

Ok, slight exaggeration. More like I thought  I was dying. I guess there's a bit of a difference.

So let's set the scene, shall we?
I had just gotten back from a wonderful weekend in Tel Aviv. Monday was a happy, plain, normal work day. Then Tuesday was Palestinian Independence Day, and even though the name is incredibly deceiving, all of the schools and offices were closed in the West Bank. I had plans to go into Jerusalem with a friend, but she called that morning to say that she wasn't feeling well and would have to cancel. I, of course, was a little bummed, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

I decided to stay in and rest; take a lazy day doing some laundry, catching up on cleaning, and working on grad school applications. Around noonish, I started to not feel so great. Like, really  not so great. I was pretty sure that someone was taking a butcher knife to my abdomen; I had this awful, stabbing pain. Then I started to run a high fever.

"Oh my gosh,"  I thought to myself, "Sharp stabbing pain. High fever. I have appendicitis! They're going to need to remove my appendix. This is bad. I am so not a third-world-emergency-surgery kind of girl."

So what did I decide to do? Wait it out (translation: ignore it). I kept reading that if you have appendicitis, you should go to the hospital right away, because your appendix usually bursts about 24 hours after the symptoms start, and then the pain magnifies by a thousand percent. "Perfect!" I think, "if the pain gets way more intense after 24 hours, then I'll know that my appendix burst and that I actually do have appendicitis. But if it doesn't get more intense, then either I have the Chuck Norris of appendices, or it's something other than appendicitis. I'll just wait, and this way, I can avoid going to the hospital for nothing."

I should put a note in here that I really  hate hospitals. They're always cold, and they always smell funny. I hate being poked and prodded. I hate being asked stupid questions about "on a scale of one to ten." I hate that 99% of the time, the doctor says "go home, drink lots of fluids, and get some rest." I can make that diagnosis on my own, thankyouverymuch. I get flashbacks to when I was 10 years old and in the hospital for a week and a half with Pancreatitis. It's always just miserable.

This process of waiting worked really well up until about 3am. I woke up, got sick, and then tried to walk to my kitchen for some water. Well, on the way, I got light headed and dizzy, and broke out in a cold sweat. I was pretty sure that this was the end. I would pass out while trying to get water, fall onto my tile floor, and either crack my head open or freeze to death (there's a little electric heater in my bedroom, which keeps the temperature up in the 60s, but in my kitchen in the middle of the night, it's probably more around 45 degrees, but that's a whole different story). I made it back to my room, collapsed on my bed, and prayed for a swift death.

And then as soon as I could move again, I caved and called one of the other MCC service workers to take me to the hospital. At 3:15 in the morning. I definitely have the world's most fantastic coworkers!

So we head to a little private hospital in Beit Jala, the village where I live. I am the only patient in the entire emergency room, and am immediately wheeled back (oh  yeah, I got a wheelchair... so embarrassing) into the only room. A doctor and nurse, both men, come into the room and start speaking to me in Arabic. My coworker (who is Canadian, but fairly fluent in Arabic) explains that I don't speak much Arabic, but am having sharp pain and we are worried that it is appendicitis. The doctor and nurse just kind of stare at me and then ask me where I'm from, then they talk to each other in Arabic, and then the nurse starts giggling, and they leave. I was totally confused, and a little frustrated. I was in pain! I just wanted them to fix me and let me leave, but at this point, no one has touched me, done a single test, or asked me a single medical question.

My coworker, also a female, eavesdrops and explains to me that the nurse is giggling because he is embarrassed that his English is poor, and because I am a single Western woman, they are hesitant to touch me. They don't often see Westerners, especially not women (I assume that this is because if Westerners get sick, they usually go to hospitals in Israel, not in the West Bank). The culture here dictates that it is highly inappropriate (and very disrespectful) for men to touch women, and even though my doctor was a trained medical professional, it was obviously still difficult for him to overcome this deeply ingrained cultural rule.

Before long, they come back in, take some blood to run some tests, and give me an IV and some medication. My nurse put in the most painless IV that I've ever had, and I've had a few. I didn't feel anything, not even a sticking sensation! I was thrilled by his obvious IV inserting/blood drawing skills. After about five minutes, I realize that they had just given me medicine, but they didn't have any of my medical records, and they had never asked me if I have any allergies... which I do! So we called in the nurse to try to figure out what kind of medicine they gave me, but he didn't know, so he went to ask the doctor. They couldn't figure out how to translate it, but they'd never heard of the drugs I'm allergic to, and assured me they gave me something different.

We got the tests back, and the doctor said that it was not appendicitis (hurray!), but that it also wasn't viral, which meant it probably won't just go away on it's own (not hurray). So he told me to come back in for an ultrasound and some more blood tests in the morning, handed me a prescription for a drug, and gave me permission to leave.

Being me, I never went back in for the tests, but I did get the prescription filled, googled it, and found out that it is used to treat "acute abdominal bacterial infections." Gross. I took the meds. They started to make me feel better. After 6 days in bed, my fever finally broke and I was able to go back to work!

The bright side of this whole experience was that without any sort of medical insurance, my hospital stay, blood tests, IV, and medication all amounted to 100NIS, which is around $28. That just blew my mind. Also, I was in and out of the hospital in under 2 hours, which I think is an all time record for me!

Usually, people only have wonderful things to say about the hospitals here in the Middle East. Despite the fact that I was a little frustrated by the cultural differences, I'm so grateful that I am in a place where emergency care is available to those who need it - there are so many places in the world where it's not. And the fact that I can go to a pharmacy and get medication? Such an incredible blessing.

So this is my excuse for not posting in the last two weeks. I hope it's sufficient. With the Christmas season in Bethlehem fast approaching, I'm sure that I'll have many more exciting stories to share leading up to December 25th.

Stay safe, and stay healthy! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adventures in Tel Aviv

While I absolutely love living in Palestine, there are times when I think that my heart is just going to break from all of the pain and devastation here. The weekends are my prime time to mentally escape, to detox from my emotionally devastating weeks. Sometimes I do this by sleeping all day. Sometimes I watch mindless American TV shows for hours on end. Sometimes I just sit and breathe. None of these have been working too well for me lately, and this last week I felt like I was at a breaking point.

I haven't had a completely-break-down-and-sob-for-eight-hours episode yet, and while I know that it's coming eventually, I'd like to postpone it for as long as possible. Being here is devastating. It's hard. Most times I step outside my house and just feel this weight on my heart. It's difficult to live with. So often, I feel like I'm barely holding my head above this pool of emotions, and one tiny thing is all that it will take to push me under.

This past week was an especially difficult one. Working with a humanitarian organization means that I have the opportunity to meet incredible people, but it also means that I sometimes see the absolute worst side of this occupation - the ways in which it devastates families and ruins lives. Day in and day out, I deal with the human component, and it's often tragic.

Last week, I was invited to go to Tel Aviv with two other international volunteers, and I debated back and forth for a while. I mean, I really wanted to go, but it didn't seem fair that when I got overwhelmed with the situation here in Palestine, I could just leave. None of the people that I live or work with have that option.

After talking about it, a friend reminded me that I don't have the same support network here as the average Palestinian. I don't have deep family roots, and that is a huge part of how people endure life here. Plus, I am not only trying to emotionally deal with the occupation and it's effects on me (and it's much deeper effects on the people around me), but I also have the added stress of living in a completely foreign culture and trying to speak a completely new language. While it still felt like a bit of a cop out, I decided to take a mini-vacation to Tel Aviv.

Since I went on an adventure, I decided to document it for you guys, so that you could feel like you took a mini-vacation too! In the West Bank, I don't take many pictures. I live there, so walking around with my camera out like a tourist is super weird and embarrassing. Luckily though, I had no such qualms about being a mega-tourist in Tel Aviv, where no one knew me and I'd never see anyone again. Therefore, I have plenty of pictures to share!


When we left the West Bank, it was around 50 degrees, but when the bus doors opened in Tel Aviv, this incredibly glorious 75 degree air swept in! I almost died of happiness. We dropped our things off at the guesthouse where we were staying, and then we visited the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Totally awesome. I highly recommend it.

Next, we hit the BEACH! We started out walking down the majorly huge and commercial Tel Aviv boardwalk, but eventually it turns into the old port town of Jaffa (you know, where Jonah got swallowed by the whale).

Although I was dressed for winter,
 I was ecstatic to have been magically transported to this summer-time wonderland!
Tel Aviv at Sunset
Fishing boats in Jaffa's port.
Old Town Jaffa
WHALE fountain!
Tribute to the whole Jonah thing.
Fishermen on the Wharf in Jaffa

Sunset in Jaffa

When we got to the end of the Jaffa port, we started walking around Old Town Jaffa, which is more inland. By that time it was dusk, and I took some pictures of the buildings.

The next day, we decided to go back to the beach. Palestine is land locked and water is scarce, so being at the beach feels like heaven.

Clock Tower in Old Town Jaffa 

There were so many of these tiny fishing boats dotting the water. It was basically the most beautiful thing ever.

Me and my two darling mamas for the weekend.
Souher (next to me) is Egyptian, but has lived in Canada for the last 45 years. She is at the Bethlehem Bible College teaching for a year, and has taken many of her students under her wing. She is so incredibly sweet and caring, and she also speaks Arabic fluently which means that she can connect with people much more easily than most other Western volunteers.

Mary (across the table) is from England. She and her husband run the BBC Guest House. They came to Palestine after living in India for five years. They're on their second year here, and will be leaving to return to England permanently in March. Mary is adorable and says things like "jolly good" and "oh bugger!" and "right-o" that make me giggle.

My last view of the ocean before heading back home.
After an incredible weekend in the sunshine, I felt refreshed and renewed and ready to get back to work in the West Bank. Having two days without soldiers everywhere, and without having to look at that heartbreaking Wall had left me feeling almost giddy. We caught the bus back to the checkpoint, and of course, this is the beautiful sight that greets me when I walk back into the West Bank: fires in the refugee camp.

My vacation is officially over.

Welcome Home.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rain in Palestine!

If there is one thing that we are all desperate for here in Palestine, it's rain; the water situation here is quite grave. Because Palestine's water supply is controlled by Israel, there never seems to be enough to go around. In my neighborhood, the water is usually turned on for a few hours, once every 1-3 weeks.

Now, coming from a country where the water is on 24/7, this made absolutely no sense to me. At first I thought that the reasoning behind this had to do with a water shortage in the Middle East, but then I discovered that Israel has 24/7 water, as do the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. So every day, we cross our fingers that we don't run out of water, but right up the hill from my village, the settlers living in Gilo, an illegal settlement that is currently in the process of being expanded, could leave every single faucet on all day every day and never have to worry about not having enough water. Hey, if they use too much, the Israeli government can just postpone turning on the water in my Beit Jala neighborhood for a few days. Many would care, but no one would have the freedom to speak up.

I tried to figure out why the schedule for getting water is so random, and I discovered that we get water depending on... well... nothing. There is no rhyme or reason to how often our water gets turned on; the timing is completely arbitrary. I have heard that the rationale behind this is to prevent the Palestinians from relying on anything, or getting into a routine. It makes sense from an occupying force's point of view: if you never know when the water will be turned on, then you are kept on your toes. You have no way to ration your water or plan how you will use it. You are completely at the mercy of your occupiers for one of the most basic human necessities.

These tanks would be expected to supply a family of between 5-10 for 1-3 weeks.

To help avoid running out of water, every home has huge water cisterns on the roof. In the few hours that the water is turned on, the goal is to get as many of those tanks filled up as possible. Then you use your stored water slowly, and pray that it doesn't run out before the next time that your water is turned on. This is a huge frustration for people, because if you run out, then you run out. You can buy small bottles to drink, but those are expensive. So no showering, no laundry, no dishes, no flushing toilets, no cleaning, nothing until the next time the water is turned on.

It is also a big vulnerability. One way that soldiers and settlers will terrorize people is by going around shooting out their water tanks. Obviously, this is devastating for a family whose sole source of water is these tanks.

At about 3 PM the 14th of April in the old city of Hebron,
5 Israeli settlers trespassed onto the roof of a
Palestinian house, puncturing the 5 water tanks
owned by the family and draining all of their water supply.

For more information on settler violence,
Wikiepedia's articles are generally a good,
unbiased way to be informed.
Rain is such an incredible gift here, not only because it helps our plants grow, but also because it gives us the ability to collect water. Here, water falling from the sky is almost the equivalent of money falling from the sky in the States. It is treated as this incredible gift. The idea that water, something that I completely and utterly waste at home, is such a precious commodity here, is such a mind-blowing (and humbling) concept.
So this year, we've had early rain. Our latest storm came at 10pm on Thursday, and I cried. I cried partly from relief that my family wouldn't run out of water, partly from happiness that I could do something as familiar as playing in the rain, partly out of devastation that the powerful are able to withhold such a necessary commodity as water from the powerless, and partly in awe of my God who always, always, provides for His children.

I took some pictures for you guys; granted, by this point it was almost midnight, so the quality isn't too great, but I wanted you to get to experience the joy of this rain along with me:

The view from my balcony.

The road leading up to my house, covered in water!

The road leading away from my house, covered in MORE WATER!
As an American, I am used to living in a place where everyone is equal under the law, and where everyone has a platform to speak out if they feel that they are being mistreated. The fact that I now live in a place where people have no voice, no right to speak against injustice, absolutely sickens me.

Every day, I feel like I see the absolute worst side of humanity in many different ways. Today, I see an occupying force that has the ability to confiscate your wells and water sources, and then refuse to give you a portion of that water simply because you were born in the wrong village, speak the wrong language, or are the wrong color.

If you want to see incredibly blatant racism and absolutely unabashed discrimination, come to the West Bank. Palestinians are silently enduring despicable treatment that will leave you completely shocked, disgusted, and furious. You'll wonder why you never heard about any of this before; you'll wonder how this is able to be kept a secret; you'll want to do everything you can to break the imposed silence on this issue, because you, as a Westerner, have the ability to do that without fear of retribution.
You won't have to worry about having your house demolished in order to "teach you a lesson." 
You won't have to worry about your children disappearing in the middle of the night. 
You won't have to worry about being carted off to an Israeli prison where you'll sit for years waiting for formal charges to be filed.  
You have such incredible power. We have such incredible power, and it is wasted on deciding who is going to be the next American Idol, or focusing on what color is going to be "in" this season, or betting on which team is going to win the Super Bowl. 

So the next time you turn on the sink, and don't have to think twice about whether any water will actually come out of your faucet, think of me here in the West Bank, and say a little prayer for your brothers and sisters in Palestine who would give anything to have that same security.