From the front lines: nursing Palestinians back to health

Nursing at Augusta Victoria Hospital bring Tasneem Waleed Tarayrah joy. Photo Rev. Deborah Ann Taylor

Nursing at Augusta Victoria Hospital bring Tasneem Waleed Tarayrah joy. Photo Rev. Deborah Ann Taylor

Tasneem Waleed Tarayrah: Nurse, East Jerusalem

Wearing her white uniform and a brown hijab, Tasneem Waleed Tarayrah sits on a bench near the nurses’ station at Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH). She has been on the job since 7 a.m. and has earned a brief respite. The corridor in which she sits overlooks a courtyard where blooming trees and the peaceful songs of birds belie the war-torn reality of the Holy Land; an oasis of calm in a land of turmoil.

As we begin to talk, a young patient flies down the hallway and stops on a dime by her knee. She leans forward and listens with rapt attention as he relays with five-year-old intensity some tidbit of breaking news, trivial in comparison to that broadcast in the adult world of airwaves and Internet, but of immense importance in the world of little boys. Her smile warms as she listens, her hand resting gently on his shoulder. His message delivered, he darts away as quickly as he came.

Tasneem has nursing in her genes. Her father, sisters, brothers and uncles are medical professionals. Growing up amid doctors and pharmacists, she found support and encouragement to pursue her own career in medicine. Upon completing her training at Hebron University, Tasneem began a master’s degree in anesthesiology through AVH. Here, she works and studies under the guidance of William Hadweh, the director of nursing.

A TYPICAL DAY

The 100-kilometre journey from her home in Hebron to work is a complicated one. On weeks when she is scheduled for the 3 to 11 p.m. shift, she leaves her home at 8 a.m.

Two taxis and one bus ride later, she arrives at a checkpoint separating the West Bank from Israeli-controlled Jerusalem. Here, Tasneem and the other Palestinian passengers must leave the bus and stand in line for 30 or 40 minutes while soldiers examine their documents and approve or disallow each person’s entry into the city that Muslims, Christians and Jews call holy. She is uneasy in the presence of the soldiers and their guns, in these days when tension between Israelis and Hamas runs especially high.

Because of the long commute, Tasneem remains in the hospital residence during her four-day work week. She’ll then log another three days at a hospital in Nablus. Then it will be back to Augusta Victoria for another four days of work.

“Sometimes I will go for a month before I am able to go to Hebron to see my family,” she says.

Tasneem always arrives at the nursing station an hour ahead of time to study patient charts. The work ahead of her is both physically and mentally demanding. Aside from two scheduled breaks and time for lunch, she is on the go from the beginning of her shift until its conclusion. It is emotionally draining, requiring that she be in constant contact with suffering people, but the challenges bring her a sense of satisfaction.

“When the shift finishes, I am very tired, but I am happy because I’m doing my work.”

JOY IN HER WORK

At AVH, most nurses are men, but the difficulties she encounters as a woman in a typically male profession are offset by the deep sense of collegiality and support she experiences at the hospital. It is that sense of mutual concern for patients that brings joy to her work.

“Augusta Victoria is different than other hospitals I have worked in. There is a love for the patients here and respect for them. When our patients are happy and say to me, ‘thank you,’ that is what gives me happiness in my work.”

Her face lights up as she speaks. Her dream for Augusta Victoria? “More patients! Because I love Augusta Victoria! It is the best place for patients and for nurses, too.”

OVERCOMING FEAR

Tasneem’s final act of the day will be to update patient charts for the shift that follows her. She will note what treatments remain to be done and record the information pertinent to the medical needs of her patients. As evening falls, she will retire to her room and face the greatest challenge of her day—the fear that rises when one is alone in a hostile and uncertain place.

“Yesterday, I worked the evening shift. I finished at 11 p.m. and in my room I listened to the gunshots. I am far from my family and I am afraid. I am feeling very sad. Every minute I am feeling that I will die. From violence. I live always aware that I could die. With my family I am not afraid and when I am with my colleagues I am not afraid and when I am working with our patients I am not afraid. But when my shift finishes and I go to my room to sleep—there when I need to rest— I can’t. It will be 4 a.m., but I can’t rest.”

Tasneem dreams of a day when she can go to work without fear and fall asleep without the sounds of violence. Her studies give her courage and her work a sense of fulfillment and meaning as she waits and hopes for peace in the land she loves.

The hope of peace is a treasured commodity in these troubled days. For patients at Augusta Victoria Hospital, hope takes tangible form in a young woman in a white uniform and brown hijab who pauses amid her daily routine to listen with rapt attention to the excited chatter of a little boy in a hospital corridor.

May hope abound. May there be peace at last.

by Pastor Deborah Ann Taylor

from CLWR’s Fall 2014 Partnership newsletter

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