As a second year medical student on winter break, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel for a two week medical internship with SACH. Having just finished my cardiology unit, I was excited to see real world cases of the pathology I had just studied, all while being involved in a great organization. I soon learned that beyond this, the SACH medical internship would be one of the most enjoyable and formative experiences of my life.
Still fighting off jet lag from the flight two days prior, I arrived at the SACH house in Holon for my home and hospital orientation. Entering the wooden gate of the home, I immediately felt the contrast between the quiet residential neighborhood and the lively house playground. I was welcomed by a group of dancing kids and volunteers, and it was difficult to find anyone who was not either smiling or laughing. Amongst this vibrant environment, it was easy to forget that these kids had or were about to undergo a stressful, life-saving medical procedure.
After a quick tour of the house, I drove over to Wolfson Hospital with Brianna, the SACH Young Leadership Director. She kindly showed me around the hospital, pointed out the places I would be, and introduced me to the doctors I would be following. She stressed that the schedule was very flexible and that the program would give me as much as I wanted to get out of it, and she was absolutely right. While my week was divided into days in the pediatric ICU, cardiology clinic, catheterization lab, and operating room, I had the opportunity to see surgeries on any day of the week, learn from Dr. Sion Houri about interesting cases unrelated to cardiology, and attend weekly collaborative meetings where the cardiologists and surgeons would review and discuss treatment approaches.
The medical staff at Wolfson Hospital was incredibly welcoming and took time out of their busy schedules to explain and teach. While I speak Hebrew quite well, Dr. Houri would always remind the residents to speak in English during rounds so that I could fully understand. I also really enjoyed the time he took afterwards to sit down with me and provide teaching points about medicine in general. Furthermore, I appreciated that the doctors frequently took opportunities to make me feel like part of the medical team. For example, during Palestinian clinics where kids from the West Bank and Gaza would come for cardiac echos and exams, Dr. Alona Raucher would often ask me to auscultate for heart sounds and share what I heard. This allowed me to practice my clinical skills and learn more about the patient’s physiology. Furthermore, during a case in the catheterization lab, Dr. Sagi Assa asked me to scrub in and assist with the procedure. This was one of the coolest experiences I have had as a medical student so far, as I was able to be right by the bedside and prepare the catheters that Dr. Assa threaded through the femoral artery in the groin all the way up to access the heart. In the operating room, the anesthesiologists allowed me to hold equipment while they intubated the patient and would always provide me a small area to stand at the head of the table so that I had a good view of the operation. After it was complete, Dr. Lior Sasson would take the time to explain the surgical procedure he had just preformed and answer any questions I had. I cannot thank the doctors at Wolfson enough for these gestures, as they made my time at the hospital an extremely enjoyable and engaging learning experience.
After a long day at the hospital, I loved returning to the SACH house to be greeted by the kids’ hugs and high fives. I was able to meet many kids from Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Iraq, and Zambia and while we came from different cultures and spoke different languages, we easily communicated through laughter and play. Following an afternoon spent coloring, dancing, and playing with trucks, it was great to be able to spend the evening with the kids, moms, nurses, and volunteers over an ethnic meal that the moms prepared. One of the kind mothers from Zanzibar made it her mission to make sure I was well fed and would always place a second serving on my plate whenever she saw it was nearing empty. After dinner, the kids would unanimously call for their favorite movie, Moana, to which they loved singing and dancing. As the day wound down and the kids began falling asleep on our laps, the mothers would call out for “kulala” time (meaning sleep in Swahili), and they would all rush to their rooms to prepare for sleep.
During my time at SACH, I had the pleasure of getting to know many vibrant and resilient young kids. There was Ahmed, an incredibly smart boy from Iraq who loved to help out around the house and come up with games for us all to play. After the rest of the kids went to bed, he would sometimes stay back to help clean up and we would then play Taki (an Israeli card game) over a bottle of Coca-Cola that his mom split between us. I don’t think I ever won a game against him.
Then there was Nouman, a boy from Zanzibar with the most contagious smile and charming personality I had met. Whenever I came back from a day at the hospital, he was always the first to greet me, take my hand, and bring me over to show whatever he had been playing with. He never stopped speaking to me in Swahili (not knowing that I could not understand a word) and while I very much wish I knew what he was saying, I would always smile and nod along.
I was also lucky to have my SACH medical internship at the same time as a cardiology resident from Barcelona named Lídia. We were mostly together during our days at the hospital, and I greatly enjoyed learning from her advanced medical experience, sharing lunch at the cafeteria, and talking about life in our respective countries. We even went out in Tel Aviv with her Airbnb roommate for dinner at a Yemeni restaurant called Saluf & Sons, which I highly recommend to anyone in town.
Overall, the medical internship at SACH was an incredible experience that greatly surpassed all expectations. The selfless individuals that are involved with SACH, ranging from the Israeli and Palestinian doctors, to the staff and volunteers at the SACH house, to the parents and nurses from abroad, all showed me the profound impact we can have when we work together towards a common cause. There is no cause more noble than the one SACH works towards, and I feel greatly honored that I was able to experience it first-hand.