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Chapter Two: The long Nightmare

Vigil, I kept on the field that night,

dropt that day

Walt Whitman

Our son was discharged from the American hospital after six weeks still in an extremely serious condition but they said that individuals in a condition like his which has stabilized when  nothing in terms of surgical interventions or some complicated medicinal regimes are non-options, the problem would be one of careful nursing and attentive observation, this is ideally done by a team who have the capability and the expertise, the team should  focus on preventing infections and maintain a healthy physical state, this will often include preventing  pneumonia and thwarting bed sores and preventing permanent muscular contractions and deformities of the bones joints and muscles that would limit recovery for those who might be lucky enough to emerge from the unhealthy state,  and providing balanced nutrition and to provide regularly and periodically all his medical and nutritional needs, another very important thing is to watch him very carefully because he is liable to have some very sudden very serious and critical conditions, the hospital official finished by saying doing all these things will be difficult and might take a very long time , but if

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you are not prepared to accept the challenge we can  if you allow us, to stop his life saving devices and let him go.  This was a very unexpected and a totally unaccepted option so I told him without much thinking about it, we are going to take him home and do whatever needs doing whether that will take months years or centuries so we took him home, but I could never have imagined at that time the enormousness of the challenge which we have accepted.

We took him first to a small private clinic in Baghdad which belonged to one of my relatives for few days and then we took him to his own house, in the beginning we were coping reasonably well with the help of some relatives and friends but he was in a very serious condition , he was  in a fairly advanced vegetative state, breathing through a tracheotomy, fed by a Naso-Gastric tube and urinates through a catheter, he had to be watched twenty four hourly for possible crises or sudden deterioration in his condition, but after few months we were in trouble, his twenty four hour a day care was costing a great deal of money, his nutritional requirements and his drugs were brought from abroad from places like the UK and the US  and very often from next door Jordan because they were  very specific and were not available at home .

But we were managing reasonably well, we have settled in my son’s house to where he had asked us to take him when we were contemplating his discharge from the American hospital before the dialysis catastrophe, we had my wife and myself moved there from our own , also moved there was my daughter who had stayed with him during his days at the American facility, with her husband and young son, in fact my daughter was becoming a completely indispensable part of our team as result of the experience she had collected when she was staying with him in the hospital, the girl was so good the senior neurologist at the 31st , a colonel in the army medical corps Jamie grimes, told

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me one day when we were there that if she would at any time need a nurse she would very much want this girl to nurse her, we were also able to engage the service of a young very good Iraqi physiotherapist to come three times a week for the necessary massage and other physiotherapeutic requirements, the higher medical expertise was no problem, we had an extremely valuable medical help from a very large number of my old colleagues in neurology, pulmonary medicine , plastic surgery and rheumatology.

One day at about 4 PM he started to have a very severe bout of coughing, few minutes into the attack he was so strained and tense he threw the NG tube out which was really frightening , it was the first time we were faced with something very serious and worrying, so my daughter started calling some of our medical friends and relatives and within a very short time the house was full of them who were able to insert another one a spare we have been provided by the American Hospital when we left them.  As I have just mentioned we were managing reasonably well but during incidents like that which were  piling up they were adding to the tensions we were storing on top of the worries over the cost of the care we were providing.

His nursing care and his physiotherapeutic regime were costing a fortune, we were not rich and I have not been doing any work all these last weeks of the tragedy and to make things even worse the situation in the country had by that time disintegrated intolerably, there was no security, no electricity, the health care system which was until very recently one of the best in the whole middle east was almost dead and it was summer which is pure hell in Iraq with extremely high temperatures , to make things worse the atmosphere was getting terrible with the city enveloped in massive   layers of thick  brown dust  which was making breathing extremely difficult even to  the young and

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healthy, all of this was having very damaging effects on the condition of our son, so everyone, our friends, our colleagues and relatives were suggesting that we take the boy to Jordan, things over there were much better, but we were almost bankrupt and then something truly amazing happened, a great, an incredible relief arrived unexpectedly from a stranger who offered us a very generous gift which allowed us to move the boy to Amman in Jordan which we reached on the first of July 2005.

It was during the last week of June 2005, I was staying at home, I have been back from Jordan few days earlier were I had my left eye operated for a cataract which was becoming very advanced and was giving me a lot of trouble, it was a Tuesday and at about 4PM two young girls [sisters] I have never met before came into the house, they said they were friends of Nazar, they have known him for the last 5 years and during that time he was always very helpful to them and their family with lots of small things when they needed them, the elder one said she is now working in Erbil the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish authority in the northern part of the country, she said she was practicing cosmetic dermatology there a new medical craft she has learned in  the clinic of one of her relatives when she was working with him some time ago and during her time in Erbil she became acquainted  with the family of one of the high officials of the Kurdish authority who was a nice and a very  kind  man, they have told him our story and has expressed a very sincere desire to help and has suggested that I go and see him to try and find out how he could best help with our mounting difficulties, I was really delighted by the gentleman’s gesture but I told the girls that I cannot go because I was still recuperating from the eye surgery,  my daughter who was sitting and listening to our talk jumped up from her seat and said I am going .

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Next day [Wednesday] at six AM there was a fairly new American car at the door with yesterday’s two young girls who were joined by my daughter, her husband and their young son they left to Erbil immediately, I did not hear anything from my daughter for all of Wednesday and most of Thursday, but on Thursday around 5 PM my daughter called from Erbil, she said I am at the airport, I am going to Amman to arrange for the transfer of my brother to Jordan. I was extremely surprised and wanted to know what was going but she said I am in a hurry but I want you to give me the name of someone who could help with the medical aspects of the transfer, I am going to tell you everything when I come back and she was gone. She came back from Amman four days later , she was able to find a very good  accommodation in one of Amman’s best suburbs nicest and has with the help of the doctor I gave her his name earlier who was a very good friend, an anesthesiologist in the big hospital where I was working –medical city- before my retirement in 1989,  who was now working in Amman to arrange the necessary hospital and specialist appointments which we had to have before actually arriving, by then I was even more enthralled but she continued, she said;  when we arrived in Erbil we were taken by the girls to see the high official who told her that he knows about Nazar’s ordeal and  wanted to know more about our predicament and she told him everything  and when she finished she said he was extremely  unhappy and really said and he said I am going to bring you 5.000  us$ go take your brother to Jordan and he started to get up, but before leaving his eyes were glued to a big brown envelope which we used to carry with us we were to meet government officials and members of the various American bureaucracies who were variously  involved in our problem which contained some medical and other reports and few pictures which were taken during various stages of  the boy’s condition , she handed him the envelope and for

 

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few minutes he was eyeing the pictures and when he finally handed her the envelope she said he  was extremely anxious and troubled , he left them and few minutes later he came back and gave my daughter  40.000 . Sometime later when we were in Amman, I was interviewed for the BBC by one very nice and intelligent young woman, her name was Emma [had forgotten her full name] and I told her the  40.000 dollar story and when I finished I thought in spite of the distance between us  that she was entertaining some doubts about what I have told her, so I said look  Emma, I wouldn’t  feel offended if you didn’t believe me because I personally sometimes think that this story  has not happened , but believe me , what I told you was not a fabrication it is real, she didn’t say anything for few seconds but she finally said I am very sorry, but I believe you. Few days later we were in Amman.

We have been in Amman for two weeks and I have neglected the blog, so I wrote the following piece on .July 14, 2005. In which I said,

My family and I have been embarking on quite a daring journey, we were moving our Nazar to Amman/ Jordan hoping for a better medical care than what we’re providing him ourselves at home for the last 15 months. Our move to Amman was made possible as a result of an astonishing extremely generous gesture from a man I have not known or heard of him before, his help allowed us to make the move to Amman. I have not had the honor to meet him yet, because he still insists on a total anonymity.  I owe him a tremendous debt, I wish him and all his loved ones the best of health and prosperity and above all God's blessings and guidance.

Iraq the land and its people have been tragically drawn into a nasty struggle between very powerful and extremely selfish forces.  I have on more than one

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occasion talked about the situation there, a terrible situation which is to a very great extent the result of the failure of the naïve and short sighted policies the Americans have pursued in Iraq and the colossal blunders and mistakes they have committed there.  The promises of helping in the rebuilding of the country and the rejuvenation of its moribund institutions and infrastructure have been nothing but a mirage.  Saddam has been toppled and his rotten regime dismantled, but it was not replaced by anything that is worth talking about.

Saddam and his regime were corrupt and rotten, but they were able to provide a reasonable degree of security, a few essentials and some services, which are lost now.  The situation in Iraq is creating a very serious backlash against the Americans.  In the beginning of the war, there was a good deal of goodwill and support to their move in Iraq against Saddam and his tyranny.  Nowadays, the Iraqi people are becoming increasingly disappointed and disillusioned with the Americans and their plans.

There are increasing numbers of people who are claiming that even Saddam and his cronies and his murderous regime were better than what is happening in our homeland now.

The failure of the Americans to establish a credible alternative to the Baathist regime has resulted in a total political and administrative vacuum, which has degenerated into a state of total chaos and almost total insecurity.  A complete failure in providing the essential services and the mediocre political structure which has been put in place after the fall down of Saddam Hussein and the dismantling of his regime.  This current situation is terrible, no security, no water and no health services, which was the reason we had to take my very sick son to Amman with the hope that something could be done about his

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condition. The journey was a very difficult undertaking, the distance between Baghdad and Amman is five hundred miles across a non- ending desert, but we finally made it and were able to deliver my son to one of the city’s best private medical facilities there.

Amman is a very young city; fifty years ago it was nothing but a big village.  Amman started to grow very rapidly during the Iran Iraq war years, Jordan provided the only inlet into Iraq of most of what it needed during the war years which brought into the kingdom a lot of cash in custom duties, insurance and many other services which Iraq needed during the long war years.  The money was spent very sensibly and cleverly under the guidance of the late King Hussein, which allowed the city to grow very rapidly and intelligently and is still growing city.  Nowadays Amman is one of the best cities in the whole Middle East; clean, well provided for and very sensibly and efficiently administered.  The city's two million inhabitants are made up of an extremely diverse mixture of ethnicities, religious and political affiliations, the two most important groups are the original Jordanians and the Palestinians who arrived there after their ejection from their homes during the early years of the Arab Israeli conflict, there are some very definite problems, but these problems are being kept very cleverly under the surface.  The Jordanians seem to have learned very good lessons from the tumultuous years of modern Arab history, the value and the need for compromise.

I have not mentioned the situation at home, because I have been totally engaged in the problems that were associated with the transfer of my still very critically sick son to Amman and I am finishing this update of The Hanoudi Letter with a personal message which I received on July 7, from an excellent colleague and a very dear friend, the neurologist who was in charge of my son

 

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when he was under treatment form his injury in the American military hospital in Baghdad. Dr. Jamie Grimes.

Dr. Grimes is a very dedicated, an extremely efficient physician, I very sincerely hope that she wouldn’t mind sharing her message with you, in her letter she said,

Hello, Dr. Hanoudi,

I did get your email message, sir, but just before I went on vacation with my family and erred in not writing back, forgot once back to unending work at the hospital here.  My deepest apologies,  to you sir, I do so admire your family. I don’t know what you’ll do if your angel daughter relocates to America but I am confident you have this all worked out.  I was amazed to read Ms. Lyden’s note that Nazar is waking up more, seems to interact and respond to jokes; the brain is an amazing organ, nearly as amazing as the eye. But tragically he is still dependent in all things on you and your family.  I think of you and your incredible family every day it seems, especially when I listen to the news on NPR about Iraq but also when I talk to ophthalmologists at work, when I give my youngest son a bath and when I reflect on my great life experience in Iraq.  It is so tragic to hear that the violence is increasing there in Iraq and I honestly don’t know how you and your family were able to bear the strain.  I have to believe that those that continue (and commit) the violence in Iraq are people without families or loved ones, as violence, destruction, murder, maiming accomplishes nothing good and destroys all hope for Iraq to return to being a desired place to raise a family, earn a living, pursue a profession, pursue an education, have a healthy, joy-inspired life.  I am sad to hear your frustration with the authorities there in the Green Zone.  I am so sorry to not have kept

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better in touch; it is not a reflection of your (and your family’s) importance to me,

Sir, you have endured more than I could bear, and still you extended your hand in such sincere friendship and trust to me.  I did recently show the picture of you, your daughter Nadia, and myself taken in the 31st ICU at a talk I gave at my church.  I want you to know I am so proud to have met and helped care for your son, I wanted to share your Strength and faith with my fellow church members whose lives have never been touched with tragedy such as yours has.  You have the strength and faith of Job.  Please let me know what I can do for you.

God bless you and your family.

Very respectively,

Jamie

We stayed in Amman from July I, 2005 to November 14, 2007. Ffor most of that period life in Amman was  a great improvement on what we had in Baghdad, we settled very nicely in the accommodation which we rented from its owner, our land lady who was in her mid-sixties was an extremely nice and intelligent woman, she was greatly interested in people who had a problem like our’s because one of her grandchildren had some minor brain problem from birth, we were all involved in the care of the boy, we were becoming more adept and skilled in the various aspects of his nursing routine, we had a young very energetic Indonesian girl who was doing the usual chores of a busy household, we had a young male nurse who was working in one of the best hospitals in Amman who used to come three days a week and whenever he was needed,

 

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another extremely wonderful development was the increasing role my friend the anesthesiologist was having in the care of our son, the doctor would continue his involvement until our last day in Amman, he was absolutely astonishing and  amazing  ,  which left my wife to enjoy her two most important hobbies, cooking and watching television, my daughter was concentrating on her son’s studies , our financial situation was very satisfactory thanks to the generosity of our great supporter, and we settled into a very acceptable routine which was greatly helped by the generally stable condition of the boy, I was trying to make the best of a shattered life, I was missing my friends and students and my practice,  I was reading a lot and trying to put some my experiences during the time we were under Saddam and some about what had happened to our country after its liberation and those of my  more recent ones, and then I had another very great surprise.

It was early February 2006; one of my oldest friends, an extremely capable ophthalmologist with whom I have worked for many years was leaving his home his hospital job and his private clinic and fleeing to the north because he was receiving repeated threats to his life which was happening to doctors very frequently, he suggested that if I would be willing to take the great risks associated with living in Baghdad at that time I would be welcome to have his private clinic and go and do some more ophthalmology, I was becoming in fact in spite our  good situation in Amman, I was never tentative or debated about my role in the boy’s suffering but  I was becoming tired and bored with what I was experiencing in Amman, I have turned out to be a fatalist so I went, it was the beginning of march 2006.

The conditions in Iraq during 2006 were the worst of a real and a very grim deterioration of everything in the aftermath of the invasion-occupation of the

 

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country, there was an almost total collapse of the country’s institutions and services, there was practically no electricity and the Iraqis were relying on small diesel fuel power generators, thousands of them which were make the air un-breathable, the health care system which was one the best in the area was in shambles, everything was in a terrible state , but the most terrible thing  was the almost total breakdown of security in the whole country , there were terrible random killings and murders because of religious animosities, the specialized and highly trained persons in all walks of life, doctors, university professors, engineers , artists and scholars and the Christians were individually targeted and thousands of them were killed , abducted, held at ransom and tortured and almost all those that remained untimely fled to the Kurdish area in the  north or to one of the neighboring countries, 2006 saw the highest numbers of  killing, murders and violent incidents like explosions, highly organized attacks against mosques churches and government offices  compared to what has happened before and to what would happen later. I was living in that paradise and faced some serious life threatening situations myself, but I was enjoying the great load Of professional work I was doing, the restoration of my old friendships and the kindness of my students and old colleagues, but the thing which I relished most was the greatly satisfying feeling that the work I was engaged in was greatly needed, from the big cadre of highly experienced and foreign well trained ophthalmologists, there remained only very few. I stayed in Baghdad until February 2007 when I had another surprise.

One of my American friends in Amman who was working in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee’s office [UNHCR] phoned me from Amman sometime around the beginning of march 2007 whilst I was in Baghdad and

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said that the American government have initiated a resettlement program for people who have suffered from their presence [the American presence] and from the presence of their allies [ the allies of the Americans] and others who are threatened because of their help and or support of the Americans to resettle anywhere in the western world they’d  like to go, she continued, I think that might be a useful thing for you to do, I have known the young lady for some time she was always trying to find out some help for us in our non-ending ordeal during our stay in Jordan, she said if you are interested  ask your wife [my wife was of course in Amman] to go and register in the UNHCR’s office in Amman  as early as possible, these things are dealt with on  a first come first served basis , I know she said, that there are thousands of Iraqis who were refugees outside Iraq to jump onto the chance of leaving the whole turbulent and insecure middle east terribly and you come back as early as you can  to register because you are not allowed to apply if you are in Iraq.

It was an absolutely amazing chance, by then things were becoming very difficult for us in Jordan, my daughter who was shouldering a very big part of the responsibilities in her brother’s problems has left with her husband and son few days ago to Canada as a legal immigrant, the Indonesian girl has fled our place at a time when our son’s condition was showing signs of deterioration the most important of which were frequent incidences of bowel movement problems as a result of his inability to move which resulted in an increasing weakness of his intestinal musculature [paralytic ileus] a condition which was also a result of the various very special drugs he was receiving , this problem was to develop later on into very serious and a very tricky problem to manage, so few days later I closed shop in Baghdad  and returned to Amman to register for the chance to go to America.

 

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The processing of our application lasted about seven months which was very good, it is known that sometimes applications for a visa or immigration to the United States had lasted several years, our application went through three phases, the first was with the office of the united nations high commissioner for refugees [UNHCR] in Amman , this was followed by the second phase which was at the IOM in Amman , the IOM is a non-governmental organization which was hired by the united states government to decide on the cases which have been dealt with by the UNHCR which would refer the ones that have been found qualified for the resettlement to the jurist who are the last of the bureaucracies which were involved in the decision making process, these are officials from the United States citizenship and immigration service who are the final arbiter, they apply the mandatory oath of allegiance to the United States which is taken by those who have been given the privilege to resettle in where they have decided to resettle.

Our first phase of the procedure in the UNHCR lasted about two months, we were received there four times mostly for interviews the last one of which lasted several hours at the end of which we were given a refugee status under the umbrella of the united nations, we handed them all our IDs including our passports and were given in return a special document which granted us some privileges including protection against attempts of deportation or inhumane treatment by the host nation, the document also allowed  legal advice and help in situations which involves magistrates and courts but there was no financial privileges in it, after the UNHCR we moved to the IOM and there it was a little more than two months again with lots of interviews and meetings which usually ends by three days of what is called orientation but we were not asked to do the orientation , we waited for two or three more weeks before the

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juries who were to make the final decision in our case arrived and when they saw us we sat once more for a very detailed interview which was followed by having our finger prints and then two days later we gave the oath , after that we were sent to one of the big hospitals for a final medical exam.

I would like to emphasize here that during all those months when they had to decide on the case of my son, people from the three different offices were coming to our home and deal with the questions related to my son’s case there,  we were always treated with  respect and assured that our case was a priority and  finally we were told that we are going to fly to the US on October 21, but there was a problem, royal Jordanian which was to fly us to the United States refused to take my son, they were worried that he might not be well enough to endure the 15 hour journey, but finally with the help of the American Embassy in Amman the carrier agreed to fly him when I gave them a written statement absolving them of any responsibility if anything unpleasant happened to the boy during the flight. Finally we were given another date for our flight and departed on November 14 and landed in Chicago international airport when the boy was taken by an air ambulance to one of the biggest hospitals in the Detroit area after that my wife and I continued our journey to its final destination in Detroit in another flight.

We were extremely thrilled by the prospect of living in the United States, we were hoping that my wife and myself would finally get some very good help which would relieve of at least part of the burden we were shouldering, but we were even much more happy for the sake of our son because we thought that he would at last be to get the miracle we were praying for the last four years because of our great respect for American medicine and the other comforts our

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American hosts were going to provide, but things were not to be like that. There was no miracle.

We were received when we reached Detroit airport on the night of November 14 by my second son Samer who has been living in Michigan for the last 7 years who was our sponsor and by two young men from the Christian charity, the Lutheran Social Services in Michigan who were to help us resettle in our newest home. We were taken to a house in one of Detroit suburbs which belonged to one of my nieces were we stayed for one month.

 
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