A Palestinian Child Story 4/14/01
I wonder why I did not notice the drawings on the ceiling until this morning. After all, they are bright, colorful and nicely made to fit on one of those large (3x3 foot) panels that cover all the pipes and wires. The drawings are of flowers, bears, huge numbers (1, 2, 3) with bright red, blue and green colors. The pictures hang like Michelangelo's paintings in a cathedral ceiling. They give a sense of serenity and homeliness as they pear over the children's beds. If you look at the drawings for a while, you may even forget that you are in the intensive care unity at Yale Children hospital. But only for a moment because the sounds and beeps and action drags you back to the reality of the fragile lives occupying those beds.
This particular bed has a Palestinian girl who is 15 months old. She is in the ICU following open heart surgery to fix a VSD (ventricular septal defect, a hole in the wall of the heart). Her name is Hala. Her 10 kg body is barely visible with all the tubes and bandages and monitors. The most noticeable is the big elongated bandage covering the chest were the ribs were cut to operate. Two large draining tubes come out of either side. When Hala cries, the feeble voice escapes through gurgling lungs, a narrow throat, and dry and chapped lips. The voice is weak in all sense of the word except for the piercing pain that hits the pit of your stomach as you wish it was your pain instead of this innocent child.
The nurses and doctors come and go: poking, prodding, measuring, occasionally explaining through translations to Hala's mother. Herself almost a child, she was married at 15 and had her first child a year later- Hala's sister is now 3 1/2. The teddy bear at the foot of Hala's bed also gets to move around as doctors and nurses rearrange things. But it appears to be a stubborn bear and no one seems to have thought of completely removing it from the small bed. Perhaps because it is a gift from the surgeon or perhaps because of the reassurance it provides (more for the caregivers than for Hala). But then again, I think Hala is the most patient and stubborn girl around. She is not going to let this thing beat her. She wants to make it. You could tell it in her pursed, dry lips and the determined (though questioning) look in her dark big eyes. Her look captured and haunted me from yesterday.
The mother was told the risk of such an operation if done in Palestine is 5-10%. They waited for a few months because there was supposed to be teams of surgeons from Denmark and Belgium coming to Gaza to do surgeries. This never materialized this time for heart surgeries (a team came for orthopedics). One child died waiting. Hala was finally connected through her doctor to PCRF (Palestine Children Relief Fund) with Yale surgeons. Local Palestinian-American families (Wageeh, Faten, Mohammad) are hosting her. This is the second family that members of the Palestinian community in Connecticut hosted. Actually, Hala's mother brought letters and symbolic gifts from Hiam's family in Gaza. They did not know each other before but its seems Palestinian families sharing tragedies and triumphs come together. I wish we in the diaspora learn more from them. The Connecticut community raised some funds for PCRF through a recent benefit banquet. These visits have been a blessing to all concerned in CT in helping us get together. To every cloud a silver lining.
Hala has been very, very lucky so far. You see, the odds of success for these operations at Yale are very high (almost the reverse of the numbers in Palestine). Having also made it through the first 24 hours post-surgery, Hala is now even in much lower risk. This is the second day post surgery and if she continues to do well, she will be out of the Intensive Care Unit tomorrow (Sunday) and into a regular hospital room. A nurse tells me in passing that "Easter Sunday will be a blessed day" as Hala leaves the ICU. All the mother could say when offered the translation is "InshaAllah" (God Willing).
If all goes well, Hala may even be ready to go back to Gaza in a week from Tuesday. InshaAllah.
Please keep this family and all Palestinian families in your thoughts and prayers.
Al-Awda Connecticut Chapter