Home as hospital: Gaza families struggle to care for the wounded

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by Alyona Synenko

Omar was wounded on May 14. He is now waiting for follow-up surgeries. The healthcare system in Gaza is overwhelmed by the scope of the needs and until now doctors have been unable to say when the surgeries will take place. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Omar was wounded on May 14. He is now waiting for follow-up surgeries. The healthcare system in Gaza is overwhelmed by the scope of the needs and until now doctors have been unable to say when the surgeries will take place. Alyona Synenko/ICRC

The pain is unbearable, but I try not to scream because I don’t want my family to spend more money on drugs,” said Omar, a 25-year-old fisherman wounded in the recent upsurge of violence in Gaza.Omar’s bandaged leg is propped up against two pillows. Metal rods and pins protrude from the bone. A plastic bag filled with pills is hanging on a window latch next to the bed. A simple room in the family house has been turned into a makeshift hospital ward. It’s an improvisation that has become a familiar sight in many houses in Gaza.

Violence escalated in the border area of Gaza at the end of March, resulting in dozens of deaths and thousands of wounded, many by live ammunition.

Hospitals, overwhelmed by a series of injured people, have already reached the limit of their capacity. Medical staff are constantly faced with the dilemma of either discharging patients early or having no space to receive new ones.

The burden that hospitals could not handle fell on the shoulders of the families, adding emotional, financial and logistical stress to already difficult lives.

“Somebody has to be with him 24 hours,” said Abdallah, Omar’s brother.

Abdallah earns a living as a construction worker, but has been spending most of the time caring for Omar since a bullet hit his leg on May 14. He shares the task with Asmaa, Omar’s twin sister, who had to make her own sacrifices.

Omar, who looks thin and exhausted, said he knows the burden he is placing on his family: “I feel like I have paralysed the lives of two people.”

While Omar’s family is struggling to give him the best care they can, the financial hardship is becoming more pressing. Gaza is experiencing the worst economic crisis since the war in 2014 and almost half of its population is unemployed.

Meanwhile, injured and handicapped men have now become part of the urban landscape in Gaza. They sit in front of hospitals, but also in the street and at the markets. The surgical device used to stabilize fractured bones of many young men is now referred to as “Gaza leg” locally.

Dr Gabriel Salazar, health coordinator in Gaza for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said there are over 1,300 with health complications due to injuries, while some 400 remain with a temporary or permanent disability.

Asmaa, Omar’s twin sister, has been spending her days by her brother's bedside since he was wounded. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Asmaa, Omar’s twin sister, has been spending her days by her brother’s bedside since he was wounded. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
An aspiring photographer, Asmaa used to participate in youth projects and take photography classes. She now dedicates all her time and effort to her brother. 'I watch over him at night. He hardly falls asleep because of the pain. When he does he wakes up from nightmares. I am afraid he can hurt himself.' [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

An aspiring photographer, Asmaa used to participate in youth projects and take photography classes. She now dedicates all her time and effort to her brother. ‘I watch over him at night. He hardly falls asleep because of the pain. When he does he wakes up from nightmares. I am afraid he can hurt himself.’ Alyona Synenko/ICRC
Asmaa keeps the family's children away from Omar's room out of fear of the trauma seeing him may cause. But the house is small and it is difficult to contain Omar's screaming to a single room. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Asmaa keeps the family’s children away from Omar’s room out of fear of the trauma seeing him may cause. But the house is small and it is difficult to contain Omar’s screaming to a single room. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
Omar’s brother and nephew sitting on his fishing boat. Omar is a fisherman and one of the main breadwinners for the family. After his injury, the family’s earnings went down and expenses increased. They have to purchase medicine and hire an ambulance to take him to hospital for outpatient treatment. Everybody’s dream, to send Omar for medical treatment outside Gaza, is beyond the family’s financial means. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Omar’s brother and nephew sitting on his fishing boat. Omar is a fisherman and one of the main breadwinners for the family. After his injury, the family’s earnings went down and expenses increased. They have to purchase medicine and hire an ambulance to take him to hospital for outpatient treatment. Everybody’s dream, to send Omar for medical treatment outside Gaza, is beyond the family’s financial means. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
Since Mahmoud was injured in the border area and released from hospital, his family cares for him at home. 'We try to help him the best we can,' Mahmoud's mother said, 'but everybody is confused and we don't always know what to do.' [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Since Mahmoud was injured in the border area and released from hospital, his family cares for him at home. ‘We try to help him the best we can,’ Mahmoud’s mother said, ‘but everybody is confused and we don’t always know what to do.’ Alyona Synenko/ICRC
A father of three, Mahmoud is the main breadwinner for his family. Since he was injured, Mahmoud cannot work and he worries he will not be able to pay the rent for his barbershop next month and his family will lose their main source of income. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

A father of three, Mahmoud is the main breadwinner for his family. Since he was injured, Mahmoud cannot work and he worries he will not be able to pay the rent for his barbershop next month and his family will lose their main source of income. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
Mahmoud’s young assistant has been running the barbershop alone. The business has lost many clients. Doctors have forbidden Mahmoud to work. His standing job may compromise his recovery. He still goes to his barbershop to lend a hand to his assistant and try to bring his customers back. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Mahmoud’s young assistant has been running the barbershop alone. The business has lost many clients. Doctors have forbidden Mahmoud to work. His standing job may compromise his recovery. He still goes to his barbershop to lend a hand to his assistant and try to bring his customers back. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
Baha had been working in his brother's mechanic shop until he was injured in recent violence. He still needs follow-up treatment and may face additional surgeries in the next six months. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Baha had been working in his brother’s mechanic shop until he was injured in recent violence. He still needs follow-up treatment and may face additional surgeries in the next six months. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
Raad, Baha's brother, is now running the mechanic workshop alone, while caring for his brother and trying to cover all the medical expenses. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

Raad, Baha’s brother, is now running the mechanic workshop alone, while caring for his brother and trying to cover all the medical expenses. Alyona Synenko/ICRC
A client brings a car to the mechanic workshop for repairs while Baha sits outside. [Alyona Synenko/ICRC]

A client brings a car to the mechanic workshop for repairs while Baha sits outside. Alyona
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