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Volunteering near the Dead Sea: compassion amid refugees


A mere week following the events of October 7, I heeded the call to volunteer at a medical facility nestled on the shores of the Dead Sea. As a medical practitioner, my sense of duty compelled me to extend my expertise to those in need. What made this mission truly distinctive was the presence of my 15-year-old daughter, Hadar, who had taken on the role of clinic administrator. An exceptional circumstance introduced her to the world’s deepest point, the Dead Sea.

In the early morning hours, we inaugurated the medical clinic, and the flow of patients began. Among them were mothers who had recently given birth, families with young children, elderly individuals who had left behind essential medications, otherwise healthy visitors grappling with minor ailments, and those with chronic conditions bewildered by their medication regimens.

Uniting them all was a common thread of distress, anxiety, and exhaustion. Detached from the comfort of the five-star accommodations where they had been housed since October 7, they yearned for the familiarity of home.

Most encounters concluded without a prescription but with a generous dose of compassionate support and prolonged human connection. These individuals sought not medicinal advice but the assurance that their experiences were witnessed and understood. They craved a glimmer of hope.

Parents bore the weight of guilt, questioning their decision to bring their children to this harrowing place. They wondered about the lasting impact on their offspring and the duration of their refugee status. How could they endure such grief without succumbing before their children?

And then, there were the children.

The innocent and impressionable children recounted stories of lost friends and an abducted playmate. They desired another place to call home but missed the laughter and camaraderie of the friends they had left behind. Would they ever be reunited, and what of their dog left behind?

Their narratives revealed their fears during prolonged stays in emergency evacuation zones, fearing they might never return.

Elderly individuals expressed a profound breach of trust, grappling with their exclusion from essential care. They pondered the grim prospect of attending further funerals and yearned for a sense of belonging. Their heartfelt cry was unanimous: “I will return; I have no other home.”

These stories of despair left me sleepless, my eyes brimming with shared tears. I prescribed medications to alleviate the insomnia and night terrors, providing a semblance of respite.

In my quest to support those with chronic conditions, I delved into medical records, seeking ways to enhance their care even marginally. I reached out to colleagues for consultations on medical inquiries that, regrettably, they could not complete.

I offered guidance to a young mother struggling to breastfeed, her milk drying up as her tears flowed.

I extended comfort to a single mother whose 14-month-old son cries non-stop and refuses to go to sleep since a missile landed in their yard.

An elderly woman plucked from Sderot- where she has lived since immigrated to Israel as a young child. Just after her surgery, she discovered herself in a heart-wrenching state of seclusion, confined to her bed within the inaccessible confines of her hotel room. And there, in her solitude, she lay, vulnerable and aching, while a tender hand moved with a compassion that defied words, bathing her frail form and ardently shielding her from the ominous specter of pressure sores.

I offered solace to a mother whose 6-year-old daughter wetted the hotel bed and to another whose 1-year-old son rejected solid food, surviving on only two bottles of formula per day.

In my relentless pursuit of hope, I endeavored to secure a comprehensive assessment for a mother and her precious 16-month-old child who had to be diagnosed with suspected autism in a hospital that was destroyed in a missile attack.

The profound sorrow I encountered served as a poignant and heart-wrenching reminder that within the tapestry of these horrendous narratives, there exists an alternative realm of unbearable anguish. It is a realm where, in Gaza, the hearts of young mothers ache with the weight of immeasurable loss, where innocent orphaned children yearn for the warmth of parental love, and where elderly souls endure relentless torment. In this realm, the cries of thousands of wounded civilians and families without shelter.

I crafted balloons from disposable gloves, each adorned with playful faces, and fashioned throat sticks into whimsical characters, all in a heartfelt effort to coax radiant smiles from the lips of these young children to precious respite from the weight of their somber circumstances.

One poignant statement resonated deeply within me: A young mother of a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, whose husband, a dedicated police officer, had ventured forth to protect their community on October 7 and had yet to return. She sought a prescription for birth control, remarking, “There is no way I will bring any more children into this world.”

Three days later, on Friday, after many hugs, my daughter and I left the lowest place on Earth, our tears adding to that salty sea, the water of death, as we headed north.

Dikla Agur Cohen is a family physician in Israel.






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