Four days ago, the parents of Narmeen Al-Ayaseh were in tremendous distress as they watched their fatigued daughter writhe in pain.
Narmeen is a playful eight-year-old from Al-Fawwar Refugee Camp in Hebron, West Bank. When she fell ill, her parents treated her at home for a few days. But then her illness worsened. "It began with a sore throat and then it became a fever, which we unsuccessfully tried to treat with an antibiotic," said her mother Basma.
Basma took her to a few nearby clinics, but Narmeen's health kept deteriorating. Eventually she was diagnosed with pneumonia and needed a strong antibiotic as treatment. Her doctor's drug of choice was a quality medication called Ceftin, only recently donated by Americares and delivered by Anera. Ceftin is a type of antibiotic that is indispensable to the charitable hospital, which serves disadvantaged and poverty-stricken patients from across the Hebron district.
When we brought her to the hospital, she was screaming at the top of her lungs.
Pediatrician Shihab Qawasmi largely depends on this particular type of medication to treat upper respiratory distress and infections. "Because it is effective and safe, patients as young as two months are allowed to take it. So it treats a large percentage of our patients, especially during the winter season." Between the pediatric department and clinic, doctors like Shihab examine around 30 patients a day.
Today, Narmeen's mother is happy to see her face regain its color and radiance. "It's been four days since she has been receiving medical treatment and she already looks better," says Basma, lovingly looking at her daughter. "Dr. Qawasmi and his team have been quite supportive. They tried to comfort us and make us feel at ease."
Narmeen is the youngest of eight children, and though she’s only a kid herself, she’s already an aunt to her parents' five grandchildren. "She loves playing with her ‘nieces and nephews,’ blasting music on the radio and dancing. She also loves drawing—that's why I brought her some paper and coloring pencils today to cheer her up."
Narmeen’s father is a mechanic who has his own shop where he repairs tire punctures. The shop is right next to the family house as well as a military outpost and checkpoint situated at the entrance of the camp. Due to the shop's proximity to the checkpoint, business has been declining for this family’s only source of income.
That’s why donated medicines like Ceftin are so vital to the hospital and to its patients, who receive it at no cost. All they need is a careful examination and a doctor’s prescription. The hospital serves impoverished people from Hebron and surrounding villages and cities, so it’s largely dependent on donated medicines. Its patients always receive medicines at no cost whatsoever, which is a blessing to families like Narmeen’s who have many mouths to feed with limited means.
A Palestinian Doctor Finds his Calling
Dr. Qawasmi is a pediatric doctor with 10 years of experience. He specialized at Al-Maqassid Hospital in Jerusalem, and later did a one-year subspecialty in pediatric emergency. He's been working at the charitable hospital in Hebron for five years.
At the pediatrics department, the doctors are exposed to different cases that vary in severity. "Children come to us regularly with all types of illnesses, such as chest infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, viral infections like croup and meningitis, and chronic conditions like skin rashes and other diseases. We also care for newborns with potential sepsis. This encompasses a variety of life-threatening complications that can arise from an infection."
In the last few years, the experienced doctor has observed a decline in the receptiveness of antibiotic treatment among patients, and even the children he treats.”Due to the overuse of relatively-affordable, over-the-counter drugs, we've been forced to rely on higher-dosage drugs to get the needed effect,” he explains. But on the other hand, "quality medications like Ceftin bring great results, and we rely on these in our department."
Dr. Qawasmi found his calling in pediatrics during his one-year internship. He enjoyed the field so much that he quickly decided to make it his professional career. He believes that when you enjoy your job, you give it your best and that reflects positively on your life. "As doctors, we spend most of our days here and at clinics,” he explains. “Even when we go home, we're sometimes called back for emergencies. Because it takes up a large part of our lives, we wouldn't be here if we didn't find it enjoyable."
But it’s children in particular that bring this doctor the greatest joy. "There's no better feeling than treating children and watching them get better in front of your eyes. Not only are you potentially saving a life, but you're also relieving the agitation and fear that their parents usually experience. It's a type of happiness that words fail to describe," says Qawasmi.
Parenting as a Doctor, and Vice-Versa
Dr. Qawasmi has a young daughter and son of his own. Outside of the hospital, he dedicates his time to them—playing with them or helping with homework or studying for an exam. However, given the nature of his job, their outings as a family can get cancelled or postponed when there's a work emergency.
"My work consumes most of my time and I feel like it's unfair to them, so I make sure to make up for it by being actively present in their lives. My children are my motivation to continue what I do."
Qawasmi knows first-hand the turbulent feelings of having a child fall ill. "I know what the parents of the sick children feel. That makes me more tolerant and compassionate when dealing with the parents of patients, which makes my job a lot easier. They can be obstinate, persistent and insistent in their questions, even critical of us doctors, and they have every right to be."
The cases that personally affects Dr. Qawasmi the most are those of cardiac arrest in which he’s been able to successfully revive the child. "When children are brought in to you with no heart function, you must believe that they still have a fighting chance,” he explains. “One particular case that is embedded in my mind is the case of a boy who had drowned. We performed CPR on him for 20 minutes and eventually succeeded to save his life. These cases remind us that we must never lose hope."