Egypt Memories - Page 2

With the setting sun swathing the desert with pink and purple hues, the monastery loomed ahead, barely visible in the darkening horizon. As we landed near the spot, illuminated by a few flares lit by a district field nurse, we could see a small make-shift stretcher holding a boy who, when I got close, I could see was covered in a measles rash and was severely dehydrated and delirious with fever. His father looked at me as the nurse explained who we were and I said my “salam aleykim” greeting as the boy was prepared for the flight to Eilat, where we had arranged for his treatment. I managed to get an intravenous into him before loading him into the Bell helicopter knowing how difficult it would be to successfully undertake such a maneuver with the jolting, undulating and bouncing movements, once the helicopter was in flight.

Santa Katarina Monastery with the Sinai range in the background, Egypt

The father followed in after the boy, his eyes wide in wonderment. The flight did not take that long and I felt the comfort of the dripping of the intravenous into the boy’s arm and anticipated that he would be fine once he received enough fluids. This was confirmed the next day when the hospital was contacted for follow-up so I could complete my medical evacuation report.

It would have been nice if my associations with Egypt, which had just recently made the front pages of newspapers, computers and television world wide, as the population successfully revolted against its dictator Hosni Mubarak, could have been more positive. While trying to empathize with those demonstrating in the streets I could not suppress my negative experiences as the air base medical officer who had to bear witness to the Egyptian military treatment of two of the pilots from my air base whom they had captured. As the television news continually showed the mounting political crises, I happened to be reading David Grossman’s latest book To the End of the Land in which one of the main characters recalls his torture and suffering at the hands of his Egyptian captors and another character describes the terror experienced by the soldiers left in the bunkers on the Suez Canal’s Bar Lev Line, having learned that massacres had occurred to their colleagues in bunkers that had been overrun by Egyptian soldiers who had crossed the waterway at other junctures at the beginning of the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

My first actual associations with Egypt related to Israel, occurred during the early summer of 1967 after I had finished a 5 month internship in obstetrics and gynecology at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. This followed a 6 month internship in Aberdeen Scotland which took place after my graduation from my medical school in Dundee Scotland in June 1966. I left Israel in late May 1967 to visit my sister who was a Peace Corps worker in Tunisia. As I left Israel during those late days in May and arrived in Tunisia in early June, the atmosphere in Israel was foreboding as Egypt’s president; Abdul Gamel Nasser amassed his army in the Sinai Peninsula and closed the Straits of Tiran, choking Israeli’s water access to the Red Sea. Within two days of arriving in Hammam Sousse, a small Tunisian village where my sister was developing a pre-school program, the Six-Day War broke out on June 5th. For three days the only radio contact I could get, using a battery powered old short-wave radio, was local Arabic broadcasts which my sister could