The RHUH Patients: Their Stories
For thousands of vulnerable Lebanese as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees across the country, accessing emergency medical care is a matter of luck. Their access to health care is dependent on whether they have money and, in most cases, if they don’t have at least 20 US dollars, they are refused entry to the emergency room.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), through a partnership with AVINA STIFTUNG and the Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH), aims to improve access to emergency healthcare services for vulnerable patients.
The RHUH in Beirut, one of the largest public hospitals in Lebanon, admits all people in need of medical assistance regardless of their status or financial situation. However, due to the influx of 1 million refugees and an overstretched health system, many patients are falling through the cracks.
Through collaboration with AVINA STIFTUNG and the RHUH, the ICRC seeks to support Lebanon’s public health system by providing emergency care services for Lebanese citizens, refugees and migrants. Each patient in the ICRC’s ward at the RHUH has a story to be told. Some have even travelled for days to reach the emergency room — many while injured.
These are their stories.
Aya: As old as the Syrian crisis
10 hours and four hospitals. That’s how long Aya’s family travelled and how many hospitals they visited before the six-year-old finally received the medical care she urgently needed. By then, it was too late to save Aya’s injured arm. She lost three fingers in her right hand.
Aya, who is as old as the Syrian crisis and has known no life other than that of a refugee in Lebanon, lives with her family of eight in al-Qaa, a town on the northeaster Lebanese-Syrian border. While playing in the farm her family lives in, she severely injured her hand in one of the grass-cutting machines.
“I can’t think of a worse situation for a mother. I was carrying her bleeding child for 10 hours and rushing from one hospital to another. I was told repeatedly ‘we can’t admit your daughter unless you pay $4,000’”, Aya’s mother Zouhour, who is with her at the RHUH said. “How can you watch a child bleed and not help them? How can you watch my Aya bleed but ask us for money instead of doing something about it?
“Here (at the RHUH), there were no questions. They just took one look at Aya and rushed to help us.”
Abdul-Majid: “I contemplated suicide”
For seven months, Abdul-Majid’s family thought he was dead. His two children stopped asking about their father because they thought he had died in an explosion while buying bread from a shop near their home in Homs, Syria.
“I was in a coma for seven months before someone who knew me saw me in the hospital and said: ‘he’s alive!’ and rushed and to tell my wife,” Abdul-Majid said as he described his ordeal in Syria, “I was operated on seven times and there’s still shrapnel stuck in my back and legs. Despite the pain, I left Syria and came to Lebanon thinking it’ll get easier. It didn’t. The pain kept me from working and I couldn’t afford the rent. One day, just like that, my two sons, my wife and I were just standing in the streets of a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on our backs. When my kids asked me what we should do next, I cried. They cried, too. I contemplated suicide and even went up to the seventh floor of a building. Seven months, seven surgeries, seven floors — I guess seven isn’t my lucky number.”
“And just like the miracle of my friend finding me in the hospital in Syria, I found my way to the ICRC. I’m being treated here and the pain will go away, I know that for sure. But then there’s the heart break. Physical pain comes and goes but after my ordeal, my family’s ordeal, I don’t think anything can repair my heart and my mind.”
Hussein: Five years without his daughter
Hussein’s daughter is now six years old. He last saw her when she was one. She is with her mother and his parents, in Raqqa, Syria.
“Now, in this hospital bed, all I want is for them to be by my side. It’s one thing to be hospitalized, it’s another to go through this ordeal with no one by your side,” Hussein said, “When I got injured, my first thought was: I can’t afford this! My second thought was: if only they were here to hold my hand…”
Fatima : “I deserve to be treated as a human being”
Fatima, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, wants to tell you about her life in Syria.
“I used to have a roof over my head and food to eat when we were in Aleppo. Just because I’m a refugee now doesn’t mean I’ve always been one,” the 50-year-old grandmother said, “Yes, I deserve to be treated and admitted to an emergency room. Yes, I deserve to be treated like a human being. It’s heartbreaking to have to tell another person that you, too, are a person. Your granddaughter, your son, they’re people with rights, too. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Shirine : “Our lives seemed worthless”
The Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Helweh in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon has been described as one of the most dangerous places in Lebanon. It’s the largest Palestinian camp in the country and, even though it’s only 1 km2 in size, it has become home to nearly 100,000 people. High levels of unemployment, poverty and drug abuse have pushed thousands of the camp’s young men towards extremism.
For Shirine, the camp is her home; she was born and raised there. But an increase in violent clashes between the different factions in Ein el-Helweh has made the conditions for thousands extremely difficult. And for some, like Shirine, the situation even became life threatening.
“The camp is a ticking time bomb. People are always on the edge. Even a small argument between children can escalate and become a full on battle”. Shirine, who’s currently at the ICRC’s ward in the RHUH said, “The clashes erupted between two men and all of a sudden thousands of bullets were flying over our heads. I was shot in both my legs while in our family shop simply because I was there, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why? Why did I become a target? What’s worse is that in the camp, we could be shot at any moment. Outside, we won’t even be allowed to enter any emergency room if we don’t have enough cash to pay on the spot. Inside or outside the camp, our life seems worthless. Here, it’s different. I’m a human being, with rights. It’s not about how much money I have or what country I’m from, it’s all about my right as a person to being treated as a person.”
Abboud : “Escaping the war in Syria was hell”
Abboud hadn’t seen his 1-year-old daughter in a month and, when he finally managed to see her, he could only wave to her from his hospital bed while she stood outside.
“My wound was infected so I can’t have my daughter around me but I couldn’t stand to live another day not seeing her face. I told her mother to bring her even if I can only wave to her from afar,” Abboud said.
“They travelled more than 120 km to be here with me in Beirut. I was injured in a motorcycle accident in Al-Khiyam, a town on the southern Lebanese borders. But being a refugee here means you’ll have to knock on several doors before you can find something that is supposed to be provided for everyone with no exceptions: proper health care. Escaping the war in Syria was hell, but so is living with the idea that your health is compromised as a refugee.”
The ICRC’s staff, who work hand-in-hand with the RHUH medical personnel, shared their stories as well:
Miho: “I will never forget him”
“Imagine being a refugee living away from your family, with a broken hip and an amputated leg and yet, you still make the effort to learn English so you can better communicate with your nurse. How can you not be moved by such a person?” said Miho, a nurse currently working in the ICRC’s ward at the RHUH, “This is one of our patients, Atieh, a lawyer and a refugee from Syria. I have never seen anyone go through so much and yet smile and work hard to learn a different language. I will never forget him.”
Benny: “I saw the difference we are making”
For Benny, the head nurse in the ICRC’s ward at RHUH, working on this project was anything like he expected.
“I’m not used to the health system here in Lebanon. If you can’t pay a minimum amount, sometimes even $20, you probably won’t be seen by a doctor or a nurse,” Benny said. “In my first week here I saw the difference we are making. If the AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC — RHUH partnership wasn’t here, people — whether Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian or migrants from elsewhere — would not get treated.”
Mireille : “It is as if we are on the front-lines”
“Together with RHUH staff, it is as if we were on the front-lines, fighting to get to those who need to be treated,” Mireille, the ICRC’s social worker in RHUH emergency room said, “It’s a battle, a constant battle to get the most basic right for the most vulnerable. Our collaboration with RHUH staff, who work relentlessly to provide the best treatment to all patients, is showing me humanity at its best.”
Fleur : “No money, no doctor”
“As an Emergency Room nurse, you know that what you do is life-saving. But as an Emergency Room nurse here at the AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC — RHUH project, you are also a savior for people who have been repeatedly turned away,” Fleur, a nurse working with the ICRC team in RHUH’s emergency room said. “Once, a child came to us after he had consulted two other hospitals that had rejected him. When I got to his bed he was telling another nurse ‘but we don’t have money! We don’t have money!’ This was a child who was barely 11 years old. Despite his age he knew the sad truth: no money, no doctor.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been present in Lebanon since 1967 and has carried out its humanitarian work through different periods of conflict, including Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war from 1975–1990.
For more information on our activities in Lebanon, please click here.
For more information on the ICRC’s health-related activities, please click here.
Patricia Rey, Communications coordinator
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