The Palestine Entries: Touching blood without gloves in Al-Shifa Hospital

// Entry #26

We live just blocks from Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s largest hospital and medical facility. During a visit with my uncle in 2004, medics rushed in a bleeding civilian injured in an encounter with an Israeli soldier. Between 2008-2009, Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert led a team of international doctors that graced the hospital with experience and medical expertise as they treated thousands of Palestinians injured during Operation Cast Lead. This summer, I walked with another uncle through the hospital grounds as he delivered paperwork for a transfer to an Israeli hospital for chemotherapy. I promised then and there to join the skilled physicians at Al-Shifa as soon as I can.

But I’d first have to earn my medical licence and, assuming everything goes without interruption, that should take no less than six years. I couldn’t wait that long so my family and I decided to donate blood. It’s the easiest way to help a medical institution still recovering from a military invasion two and a half years ago.

Unlike hospitals in the United States, you can walk through almost every door in Al-Shifa. We took the back entrance into the hematology building and entered every office and patient room on the floor until we found Dr. Abdo, the lady we were referred to. She kindly escorted us to the room where doctors prepared to draw blood for preliminary testing.

As I sat in a torn green dentist chair, a doctor quickly drew 10 mL of blood and ran it through a machine to determine the sample’s hemoglobin level. The doctors agreed that it was safe to draw more blood so they attached a blood bag to a tube and inserted a new needle into my other arm. Another doctor dabbed at the site of the first needle and tossed the bloodied cotton ball into the exposed trash bin.

By now, I had lost complete focus of the blood being pumped into the pouch to my right. All I could think of were the grave errors committed by every single one of the doctors. I am not a physician nor do I claim to have even an ounce of the knowledge and experience these doctors have, but I’ve been drilled countless times that blood, even in a hospital setting, should never be handled without protection for fear of contracting blood-borne pathogens. The entire procedure had been performed with only one glove — the one tied around my upper arm to put pressure on the vessel. The doctors used their bare hands to collect, test, and clean my blood.

Later, I learned that the glove they tied around my arm would be used for the next few individuals donating blood. The physicians themselves have no gloves to work with. The only supplies they have are plastic tubes, needles, alcohol swabs, cotton balls, tape, and blood bags — all in limited quantities.

I gave my blood bag another glance and found a label that read “300 mL capacity”. The doctors had collected 450 mL of blood and the bag appeared ready to burst. The hospital’s blood bank was running out of available blood as well as empty blood bags and this was the best the physicians could manage.

It’s crazy how we blow latex gloves up like balloons during our spare time while physicians in the Gaza Strip perform complete medical procedures without finding enough latex to cover even the tips of their fingers.

Luckily, a firefighter friend of mine in Chicago foresaw this dilemma and donated a box of 100 nitrile gloves to be used by doctors and health professionals in Gaza. Two days after donating blood, I returned to the hematology lab bearing the small gift. I couldn’t find Dr. Abdo so I handed the donation off to another doctor. It was just one small box of gloves but the physician’s reaction made it feel so much bigger.

He explained how he would go weeks without ever touching a glove, how he’d have to travel to other hospitals just to find a pair of gloves to work with. Remember, this is Gaza’s most prestigious hospital. If it’s not found here, it probably isn’t found anywhere else within these borders.

If you’re reading this, Sam, the physicians in Al-Shifa Hospital thank you for your donation. May you be rewarded with the same kindness and thoughtfulness you consistently show toward the occupied people of Palestine.

Sami Kishawi

There are 5 comments

  1. Carole Monica

    A very interesting post, especially since I am currently reading EYES IN GAZA by Drs. Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse. The book is very engaging, as well as heart-breaking. A question: How did the firefighter transport the box of gloves to you in Gaza, Sami? Did he somehow get into Gaza with them? Another question: What would happen if hundreds of Americans were to mail boxes of gloves to “Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza, care of Israel”? Since the flotilla was stopped, and the “flightilla” was hindered, what about a “mail-tilla” or “post-tilla”?

    1. Sami Kishawi

      All of those are great ideas! He gave the gloves to me directly and they came through with our luggage. Mailing things to Gaza is difficult (and almost impossible) since there is no mail system at the moment

      1. Carole Monica

        Sami,
        I am an active member of Friends of Sabeel and also of DC Riders for Peace (which recently ran a poster on Washington’s subway trains calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel). So I am always looking for ways to bring the injustice against Palestinians into the public eye. What if the various organizations (Friends of Sabeel, U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and literally scores of other groups, both national and local — perhaps even a hundred groups) organized a nationwide campaign to send letters of solidarity to Gaza, all on the same day? We would produce a huge congestion in the U.S. Postal Service, and it would bring publicity. Spokespersons for the movement might even be interviewed. Would Sami or anyone else be willing to give me an opinion? I will also talk to my Friends of Sabeel group. But please reply!

  2. 48Refugee

    How thoughtful and generous of your friend to donate the gloves. I pray that you reach your goals and can join the staff of a Gazan hospital as soon as possible 🙂 I’m incredibly impressed and proud that there are Palestinian-Americans willing to move to Palestine to help their people and the national cause

  3. Sam Holloway

    Hello, Sami. Thanks for posting this. I’m literally in tears right now, and not afraid to admit it. I passed those gloves on to you because it was such an incredibly easy thing for me to do. It was just a gesture of friendship and solidarity on my part. You and your family did the tough job of getting them there. I suppose on some level I logically thought they might make even a tiny practical difference, so thanks for putting it all into perspective and context for us.

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