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Un garçon de huit ans se rend à la clinique de soins postopératoires de MSF dans la ville de Gaza pour faire changer son pansement. Palestine. Septembre 2018. ©Alva Simpson White/MSF


“When I sleep, it feels like knives moving through my leg”

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Since 30 March 2018, weekly demonstrations in Gaza, known as the Great March of Return, have been met with lethal force by the Israeli army. During the last six months, over 5,000 Gazans have been injured by Israeli bullets. MSF has treated almost 40 percent of the gunshot wounded. 12 percent have been under the age of 18. Our youngest patient with a gunshot wound was just seven years-old. These are some of the young patients we meet in our post - operative clinics.

    Mohammed and his dad were injured by the same bullet.

    On 13 April 2018, Mohammed and his father went to watch a Friday demonstration. As nine-year-old Mohamed and his father stood by, violence broke out. A bullet fired by the Israeli military shot through his father’s hand before hitting young Mohammed, entering behind his knee and exiting out of the front.

    The father’s thumb was amputated and Mohammed, who has already had multiple operations, needs further surgery to try and repair the nerve damage to his knee. The injury has left him with drop foot – which means he cannot walk unaided. The young boy also has a lot of trouble sleeping because of the pain.  Mohamed’s father used to be a driver but losing his thumb has made it difficult for him to work. Mohammed says he would like to be an optician when he grows up. Father and son come to the MSF clinic in Gaza three times a week to receive extensive physiotherapy.

    “When I sleep, it feels like knives moving through my leg”

    Twenty-two year-old Eyad was shot in the leg during the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations in Gaza on the 14th May – one of the deadliest days witnessed by MSF teams in the six months of protests. He needs a bone graft and limb reconstructive surgery which is not currently possible inside the Gaza strip.  Eyad’s case has been accepted for treatment at the MSF’s specialist surgical hospital in Amman, Jordan – but for people living in Gaza, requesting the authorisation to leave from the Israeli authorities is a lengthy, difficult process which often ends with a refusal. He tells us his story.

    “I still remember vividly the day I was shot: the bullet entered my leg like an injection and then I felt a hot sensation on my other leg. I looked down and saw lots of blood, and I realised I had been wounded. I was in so much pain. After the bullet entered my leg I started to shake, and it felt like I had electricity coursing through my body.  At first, I was stunned by what I saw. I thought I was going to lose my leg and become an amputee.

    I was shot on the 14 May 2018. Like a lot of Palestinians I was shot in the leg. It just goes to show how barbaric the Israeli army was towards us that day. I went to the demonstrations because I love my country and I am trying to defend it. I wanted to show everyone that we have the right to our lands and the right to have our homes back. The demonstration was peaceful. Then the Israeli army started shooting. I knew it was going to be dangerous, so I went alone. I didn’t want to see any of my friends injured or killed. I wanted to free our land, our home, our sacred places. Israel can take all they want; I just want them to give us back our land. My mother tried to convince me not to go and begged me to stay at home. She called my grandparents to try and persuade me. But they could not stop me. I had made up my mind.

    Ever since I was shot I’ve had trouble sleeping. When I sleep, it feels like knives are moving inside my leg and electricity is coursing through my body. I don’t move around a lot, I don’t go out; only if I have to. I prefer not to move around a lot because it is just so painful.

    My parents and siblings are caring for me – they take good care of me. They bring me whatever I need. All I hope is to be able to walk normally again.”

    “My hope for the future? I don’t have hope.”

    Twenty-eight year-old Mohammed was shot during the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations in Gaza. He currently waits to find out whether he will be able to travel to Jordan to receive further treatment for the gunshot wound on his right leg. The surgery he needs is not currently available in Gaza. Without it, he may not regain the full function of his leg and could face a lifetime of disability.

    “I was injured during the ‘Great March of Return’ protest on Friday 6 April. I knew it was dangerous to go, but I went to the protest anyway – everybody did. I was on my way to work and then at the last moment, I changed my mind and decided to go to the demonstration. I was with friends and one of them also got injured. But not as badly as me.

    I was just standing there when I got shot. It felt like the bullet shattering my bone. My friend tried to find the missing bits of bone, but he couldn’t. I was shot in the right lower leg. Now I have nerve damage and bone missing in my leg.

    I’ve had six operations so far, including debridement operations and an operation to close the wound. Then I was told I might need to undergo an amputation after closing the wound. At the start, I was coming to the MSF clinic daily to receive treatment. Now I go three times a week for physiotherapy and to have the dressings changed on my leg. After receiving physiotherapy, I feel better. The spasms decrease and moving my muscles is easier.

    At first, when I got shot at the protest, I didn’t let anyone come near me because it was too dangerous. Then the ambulance arrived and they took me to hospital.

    I used to be a waiter in a restaurant.

    I live with my parents. It was different when I was working, I had some money and could contribute. But now they care for me as best they can. It’s tough.

    I haven’t been back to the demonstrations: I don’t move, I can’t move. I stay at home.

    It has been four months since I have been shot, and I hope to get a visa to go to MSF’s reconstructive surgical hospital in Amman, Jordan. And then I need permission from Israel to leave Gaza for the treatment.

    In Amman I will be able to have a bone graft, where surgeons will replace the missing bone by taking one from my ribs or leg.

    Everything comes in flashbacks when I look at the injury.

    I’m an insomniac now: I sleep for a few hours and then I am woken by the pain. If I can have my leg back as it used to be, then maybe I can go back to work and have a future. But if not... then I have nothing. My only wish is to have my leg back.

    My recovery will take more than a year and half. I still have bullet fragments inside my leg. It’s really difficult and I feel hopeless. I don’t know my future or what is destined for me. If it will be better or worse... I feel kind of hopeless.

    Why was I protesting? I am like every Palestinian – we have been though a lot of conflicts with Israel, and it is never-ending. I went to protest at the border because it is our right and this is our land. I went there only for this purpose.

    I would prevent any friends or family from going to the Friday protests, because of everything I have been through.

    I enjoy trying to cheer people up with music. That’s the job of musicians in Gaza. I play the organ and the drums. My uncle is a singer and we used to play together. But we don’t anymore. Not until I recover.”

    The bone in Mohamed’s right leg has been shattered into multiple pieces. Fractures of this degree occur after high-impact trauma and considerable force. The soft tissue has been destroyed and the bone shattered. He has also had a skin graft. But the most complicated thing about Mohamed’s injury is that his common peroneal nerve is completely cut, making his foot drop, which means he is not be able to walk properly and might be disabled for life. He will have to use a walking stick to keep his foot up. The nerves are also infected in his leg. The physiotherapy is very painful for him, but vital to avoid joint stiffness and to move the muscles.

    Abu Hashim, MSF physiotherapist in Gaza

    Header picture: an eight year old boy attends the MSF post-operative care clinic in Gaza city to have his dressing changed. Palestine. September 2018. © Alva Simpson White/MSF