HANIN … MY LITTLE ANGEL

I have the desire to share this story with you … a story which will never leave me, which will always be a part of my life! I will try to keep it short as it could easily fill a book but in wake of the limited space, I will do my best to contentrate on the main situations.

It is about Hanin. I will never forget her! She was a most wonderful little girl with big dark eyes, long beautiful, slightly curly shoulder-long dark brown hair, very skinny though – seven years old. She was my little angel, the daughter I never had, someone who influenced my life in a very significant way, far wiser than an average seven-year old. To her I became a second mom. Hanin was from Gaza, had very loving parents and siblings … and she was dying from cancer.

It was in spring 1997. I met Hanin for the first time together with her mother at the recovery-room of Tel ha’Shomer Hospital in Tel Aviv. It was purely by chance but appeared to me afterwards as if it was supposed to happen this way. I had sent off my last patient to the department and was free for a few minutes … when she was wheeled out of OR, still unconscious, emaciated almost to the bone, with deeply sunken-in eyes, the i.v.-fluid slowly dripping in her tiny arm … and her mother Amal*, dressed in an OR-coat, her head covered by a hijab, gently bent over her, softly stroking her hair, whispering reassuing words in her ear. It was a picture of pure love which is engraved in my soul … a picture of a mother who is desperately clinging to the last straw, ready to do everything to find a way for her daughter to beat the deadly disease and return to life and her loving family.

I headed straight to them to assess Hanin and give her the usual post-op care and asked nearby where they were coming from … when Amal* briefly looked up and uttered in a rather shy way “we’re from Gaza”. Her eyes started to shine when I responded with a smile in my face “I have been there, nice to meet you!” From that very moment the ice was broken and gave way to a wonderful and deep, though for local circumstances very unusual friendship, defying all odds, proving beyond doubt prejudices to be most stupid and superfluous, based only on honest and deep human feelings, care and compassion.

Hanin was fighting like a lioness for a long time on the intensive care department where I went to visit her every single day. She received excellent treatments and warm and loving care by the staff but the recovery was very slow, utterly painful and pushing everyone psychologically to the very edge.

One day, Amal*, who stayed day and night with her daughter, pulled me aside and told me, she had to go back home to Gaza for a few days to see after her other children whom she hadn’t seen in more than a whole week (her husband was taking care of them). She knew I would come and visit Hanin as long and often as possible and she would be taken care of. What happened a very short time after Amal’s* passage into Gaza though, nobody was prepared for … a large explosion inside Israel shattered the tense political calm and instantly triggered a total closure of the boarders with nobody being allowed to get in – nor out.

I sat in Hanin’s room, stroking her hand, trying to calm her. She was crying, refused food, didn’t understand nor speak Hebrew nor English. All she wanted was her mom. How could I explain her, her mom was trapped in Gaza without a way out and she would not see her for quite a while … I just couldn’t do that. It broke my heart to see this little innocent girl suffering … it was a picture of utter misery. I decided I HAD to do something to enable the mother to get back to her, military closure or not. I didn’t care … the issue was not politics but a little girl who was gravely ill suffering from cancer … who HAD to have her mom to be with her. It was a purely humanitarian cause …

I waited till Hanin was asleep, left room and hospital still wearing my green OR-outfit, ran to my car .. and headed straight down to Erez checkpoint, the main checkpoint in- and out of Gaza. I HAD to at least try to do something to help, I just couldn’t sit still and watch the despair of this little girl rising … I knew instinctively, the mother felt just the same way.

It was around 16:00 when I arrived there after an good hour drive slightly above the permitted speed limit. The area around Erez was deserted, I couldn’t see anyone except heavily armed Israeli soldiers – but they didn’t deter me from approaching. I parked my car and went straight to the checkpoint, telling the first soldier what I was her for and what I wanted … and got as instant answer, that was impossible due to the explosion which had happened. I responded I knew but was there for a little girl … which did not seem to impress him as he repeated, there was no way and I should return. Well, I was not about to take NO for an answer and flatout told him, I would not move away from there till the moment, the mother would get the permission to leave, I’d stay … and wait.

To make a very long story short … nobody really knew what to do with this seemingly crazy RN. I sat there alone, determined and stubborn, in my green OR-outfit, defying one after the other attempt to convince me to return. I would not move an inch. After some three hours of sitting on one of the benches – it had gotten dark already – I was suddenly approached by a soldier and informed, her aunt (who lives at Jabalia refugee camp) was on her way to Erez and had received permission to return with me to remain with Hanin. I was alright with that solution, after all, my objective was to make sure, she would not be alone during the night-hours in particular and had someone familiar by her side. A short while after that the aunt appeared on the other side of the checkpoint and we happily smiled at each other.
The moment she had passed, we triumphantly hugged, walked to my car and returned to the hospital. I was happy … humanity had won, had defeated the military-machine. She had been the ONLY person to receive permission to leave the Gaza Strip on that day … and on many more days to come.

Hanin recovered to a point that it was believed the cancer had disappeared entirely and was discharged. Nobody can imagine the happiness, the incredible feeling of relief. She had lost her hair due to chemotherapy but we draped a colorful scarf around her head. She carefully checked looking in a mirror and like what she saw … and this way, together with her mother who returned after having been allowed to exit the Gaza Strip again, she went home to Gaza. Both were beaming from happiness – and I was happy for them. I went to visit them a short while after that at their home and her dad and I proudly went, together with Hanin, strolling around in Gaza-city … it was a sheer delight to see this happiness, this burning zest for life in their eyes!! I will never forget this afternoon … it should be our last together.

Alredy some two weeks after that, Hanin started to complain again about tummy-ache and we all knew what that meant. She deteriorated quickly and, instead of returning to “Tel ha’Shomer” (the PA wouldn’t pay the treatments for a second time), she went to Amman … where she sank into a semi-coma. Nobody had informed me, they all felt so sad and once I had found out, she was about to be returned to Tel ha’Shomer where she was diagnosed as incurable and transfered back home to Gaza .. only to die.

I went to visit her a last time at “el-Nasser Hospital” in Gaza-city … and couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. What had become from my little angel?
All her family was there. She was barely conscious with deeply sunken in eyes. Her skin had turned brownish and her abdomen was huge. It was obvious she was in great pain. She still managed to recognize me and took my hand, whispering “I love you“. These three words were last I ever heard from her.
I felt devastated when I left, something had shattered inside me … it hurt so terribly. The worst was the feeling of helplessness – there was nothing I could do for my little angel anymore.

One week after that I got a phone-call and heard, she had died. I headed right away to Erez and wanted at least to be with the family during the funeral … but when I arrived at the checkpoint, I was told, she had been buried already. It was April 17th, 1998.

Hanin will always remain a part of my life. Already at her tender age she was a GREAT teacher! She taught not only me that obstacles are there to be overcome, boarders to be opened, that humanity is stronger that any political powers … that there is NO GREATER FORCE ON THIS PLANET THAN LOVE!

I’m sure she’s looking down from heaven … twinkling at me! YES honey, I will keep on fighting for human rights as there are MANY MORE children like you who need help, have a zest for life, for a just peace and freedom … but you know me – I do it MY WAY!
I promise you!!

I wish those in power would care – and understand …

*the name of the mother was changed to protect her identity.

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