A Doctor's Duty in a Palestinian Prison Camp in Israel

Ishay Lev, MD

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Friday/Saturday

"Doctor, doctor! Get up, doctor!" The time was 2:00 am and the medics were beeping me. I answered from deep within the sleeping bag -- "What?!" -- not daring to stick my nose out unnecessarily. "We have work. Minor head trauma is coming in from Cell 5. Come quick." "Conscious?" I asked. "Yes, yes -- no biggie." I put on my dusty uniform and went up to the clinic tent, rubbing my eyes.

In the dim, 24-W light, I saw the prisoner, who looked conscious, lying on the examination bed with the stitching kit already open beside him. Above the prisoner, another prisoner was standing -- the prisoner's cell representative or "Shawish." The Shawish was shouting at him in Arabic about something that I could not understand fully, and the prisoner looked like a small child being told off by his parent.

The Shawish told me how the prisoner had slipped in the shower. He also added that he thought the prisoner should go to the hospital for a computed tomographic (CT) scan and suturing -- so he learnt from many other Israeli doctors before me. This explanation for the cut seemed a bit strange to me, as the injured man was fully clothed (in dry, blood-stained clothes), but I went on with my examination.

On his head, I found a 10-cm-long sharp, deep cut. Palpation did not reveal any obvious fracture of the skull. As there were no complaints of loss of consciousness, headaches, dizziness, etc, and no suspected findings on the neurologic examination, I went ahead with the suturing.

I put on the headlight that I always carry in my pocket and started with the local anesthetic.

The familiar sense of excitement of the manual labor of suturing creeped in as I lost all sense of time.

The rest of the month in the camp repeated itself, and as time went by, I started making personal friends among the soldiers and the prisoners. Small talks, Turkish coffee, personal jokes, and chess dominated my days. Slowly, the basic conditions in the camp improved, mainly for the prisoners and partly because of mine and other physicians' doings. When I went back to my home clinic in the civilian health service, I felt as if I had never left. My old-time, regular patients started paying me the welcoming visits, and we talked about my reserve service, their army time, and their urgently needed cholesterol checks. My experiences in the camp seemed quite similar to those at my home clinic but at a bigger dosage: I was taking care of things that can rarely be fixed, and my job was mainly maintenance and support. Did I learn this medicine in medical school, I must have!?

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