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First Hand Account From Israeli-Arab Doctor Providing Relief in Wake of Morocco’s Earthquake
By Dr. Fakhry Dirbashi
For the past seven days, I, together with the 14 other members of the medical team from United Hatzalah, have been setting up medical clinics in the Atlas Mountain region of Morocco. This was the region that was the hardest hit by the recent earthquake. In collaboration with local authorities, each day we pick a new village that has not yet received medical support, head there, and provide the local residents with medical care, medications, psychological first aid, and humanitarian aid. My task as one of the two physicians on the team has been to treat the injured and ill, prescribe medication, and help whoever I can. Most of the time our team has been successful and we have proceeded each day to one or two villages often treating hundreds of people at a time, with little issues. The work is challenging and exhausting, but rewarding.
But Sunday was a particularly challenging day. Our team embarked on a journey southward into some of the lesser populated villages in the mountains, approximately two hours from Marrakech. We headed to a village that we were informed was in dire need of assistance.
Upon arriving at one of the first villages, we discovered that other organizations had already deployed sufficient medical teams to attend to the local population. In this particular village, situated near a lake, NGOs had established mobile clinics staffed by doctors and nurses, in an operation very similar to ours. We paused to assess the situation objectively and understood that in spite of our previous instructions, our services here were not needed. We decided to redirect our efforts elsewhere for the day. In spite of our strong desire to help, we had to recognize that our presence would not have been beneficial there and it may have even been detrimental and take away from the work the other NGO was doing as they already had ample medical personnel on-site.
As we began our journey back, somewhat disheartened by our inability to provide aid, fate intervened. We encountered a local desperately seeking shelter. He did not want medical care. Although it wasn’t our primary mission, we engaged with this person, repeatedly offering assistance, which they declined. Instead, we reached out to a humanitarian organization operating in the area and connected them with the individual in need. While it may have been a small gesture, it reminded us that our day hadn’t been entirely in vain. We are there to help everyone with whatever they need, and that isn’t necessarily what we set out to do. In the field, especially in disaster zones, one needs to improvise. In this case, that meant connecting this person with the best resources we could find, which was a different organization. So that is what we did.
We continued our journey back to Marrakech. On the way, we noticed the sign for Amizmiz, one of the villages hardest hit by the earthquake. We had already been there on our initial day of operations a week prior. However, since we hadn’t been in the vicinity in a while, I instructed the driver to head in that direction to see if there were still people who needed help. We ended up stopping near a village adjacent to Amizmiz where we found people in need of medical assistance and we jumped into action.
This was an unplanned stop, so there was no prior communication letting the locals know that we would be setting up a medical clinic. No one was waiting for us when we arrived. This operation needed to happen differently as the people, unaware of our presence, weren’t going to come to us. So we went to them.
We went from house to house, for the ones that were still standing, and from tent to tent, for those whose homes had been destroyed. We engaged with children and provided initial treatment to those requiring medical assistance. We found quite a few people suffering from serious medical ailments and we treated them, sometimes we made a little kid smile…both are needed in times like these. In total, we treated approximately 30 individuals in the village that had probably less than 250 residents. DVT (deep vein thrombosis), pneumonia, and diabetes; the ailments were diverse. I felt a sense of satisfaction, especially when I observed the smiles on the faces of the families and children we assisted, not to mention the smiles on the faces of my fellow team members. Even though it started out on a downward note, it turned out to be a fulfilling day of service, beneficial to the local populace.
It’s precisely for these moments that I chose to become a doctor. When I had doubts about life as a doctor, I was inspired by organizations like Doctors Without Borders. This is why joining United Hatzalah shortly after obtaining my medical license was a natural choice. And when I heard about the earthquake, it was obvious that I was going to help in any way I could.
Dr. Fakhry Dirbashi is one of the two physicians who are part of United Hatzalah of Israel’s emergency response team in Morocco following the earthquake. He is completing his residency in the intensive care unit of Beilinson Hospital located near Petach Tikva in Israel. He lives in the town of Ramle, and is a Muslim Arab volunteer who drives one of the organization’s iconic ambucycles and responds to medical emergencies whenever they occur in his vicinity.