At Augusta Victoria Hospital, medicine transcends politics

At Augusta Victoria Hosp

augusta victoria 248.88 (photo credit: Abe Selig)
augusta victoria 248.88
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
Every morning, a big Mercedes bus pulls up outside the Augusta Victoria Hospital and its passengers make their way through the old steel gates. Some are elderly men who walk hunched over with the support of a cane; some are wheelchair bound but younger; others are hospital employees - medical professionals who help treat the same people they've just made the commute with. All are Palestinians from the West Bank, and in many ways their lives depend on this east Jerusalem hospital near Mt. Scopus - either for medical treatments that their local hospitals cannot provide, or for a paycheck. "This is the only place that offers the treatments these people need," William Hadweh, the hospital's director of nursing, said on Thursday as the arriving patients and employees made their way past. "Many of these people are suffering from kidney failure, and there is no hospital in the West Bank that has dialysis machines. Others are suffering from cancer, and we're the only place for Palestinians - from both the West Bank and Gaza - that offers radiation therapy." Additionally, said Hadweh, the hospital is a source of livelihood for hundreds of West Bank Palestinians who make the commute to east Jerusalem from various cities. Leading the way inside the hospital, Hadweh showed off the radiation therapy ward, a shiny, state-of-the-art facility where some 1,200 radiation sessions - for both adults and children - take place each month. From there, it was on to the dialysis ward, which is split between a ward for children and a ward for adults, all of whom come to the hospital at least three times a week. "This is Bushra," Hadweh said, directing his attention to a shy, brown-eyed girl who was in the middle of one of her treatments. "She's has been coming here from Hebron for seven years." Hadweh then explained that dozens of patients undergo these treatments every day. "We have in-patient and out-patient treatments," he said. "And right now there are 38 children who are included in that." None of this would be possible without Dalia Bassa and the Civil Administration, who coordinate checkpoint crossings and entry permits for both the hospital's patients and employees on a daily basis. "It's really about cooperation," Bassa, who is the Civil Administration's West Bank health coordinator, said on Thursday as she walked through the hallways of the hospital. "We work in full cooperation with the hospital and the Palestinian medical services. I think that what we do is proof that medicine transcends politics." Bassa explained that on Thursday, the Civil Administration had facilitated a visit of more than 100 Palestinian doctors from the West Bank to the hospital, where they were to learn about new methods of treating diabetes and breakthrough technologies that had been developed in recent months. "Just as we want to ensure that people are arriving here for medical treatments, we're also interested in raising the level of professionalism in their local hospitals," Bassa said. But Bassa, who must coordinate the entrance and transportation of hundreds of Palestinian medical patients every week, she said dealing with the children was still a difficult part of the job. "It's hard to see them on the dialysis machines and in wheelchairs," she said. "I think about their daily lives, and while I know that we're doing all we can to help them, it's always hard to see sick people, especially children." Bassa added that while politics were not at play in her daily work schedule, her job on a larger level did contain political implications. "I see this as a bridge to peace," she said. "We work together with Palestinians, and while the connection is professional, not political, I think the results speak for themselves."