The pediatric unit of Wolfson Medical Center serves a unique purpose and population: children from around the world in need of life-saving heart surgery through Save a Child’s Heart. In one hospital room, there can be a Palestinian baby, a young girl from Gambia, a teenage boy from Tanzania, and a toddler from Romania. Their need for medical care transcends language barriers, political tension, and cultural differences, and creates a pediatric ward that is just as much a community as it is a hospital.
On Wednesday evening, Andrea, a 6-year-old girl from Romania, did not feel well and I was asked to accompany her and her mother to the hospital. Bracing myself for the difficult translating ahead of me, as I do not know any Romanian, I tried to reassure Andrea and her worried mother with picture games in my notebook while we waited for the doctor. Since Andrea had a high fever, the doctor needed to draw blood, which induced scared screaming and crying, and her mother and I held her arms and feet for the procedure. Down the hall, Mama Sanusey heard the yelling, and came to help us keep Andrea still, and insisted the doctors explain in English to me what was happening. Once it was over, Andrea calmed down and fell asleep in her mother’s arms while we waited for the results. Kaddijatou, a young girl from Gambia, called me over to her bed across the hall, and I was excited to see her and hold her hand while she talked a little and rested. I visited Mama Brates from Ethiopia, and met baby Brates for the first time, since she had been in ICU for a long time. Mama Aziza, a nurse at SACH from Zanzibar, and Mama Abdul from Tanzania, were surprised to see me at the hospital, and I was very happy to be reunited with them. Abdul had surgery the day before, and his mother had several questions about his condition that she asked me to help with. I translated in Kiswahili for a while, and then went with Mama Abdul to find Fanta soda, which Abdul had been asking for. I was struck, not for the first time, with the courage and strength of Mama Abdul, even making jokes and teasing her son to make him smile a day after heart surgery.
When I returned to Andrea, the Iraqi baby we were sharing a room with had woken up, and his mother asked me to hold him while she prayed. His mother then insisted that we eat some food her relative had cooked for her, saying she had too much and offering us rice, vegetables, and chicken. Andrea’s mother and I politely refused at first, but she insisted that we eat, and I was relieved since it was almost 9 pm. Once it was confirmed that Andrea needed to spend the night at the hospital, I helped process some of the paperwork, and then waited for a taxi to return to SACH house to check in with Mama Aziza before heading home for the night. When waiting for the taxi, Fatma, the nurse from Gambia, and I drank chai together while laughing and hugging about the day.
Despite coming from different countries and speaking different languages, the mothers and children in the SACH pediatric unit of Wolfson Hospital are all here from the same reason. This common reason bonds everyone together, to look out for each other’s children, to share food and tea, and to support one another, regardless of their differences.