Nov. 25, 2011
SALEM, Mass. — These are men ravaged by a revolution. In late October, 22 Libyan men — all rebel fighters wounded while fighting Moammar Gadhafi loyalists — were flown to Spaulding Hospital here for rehabilitation, with the transfer facilitated by the US State Department.
Ranging in age from 16 to 48, the men have suffered extreme trauma, said program coordinator Kevin Love: “Many of these guys have upper-body injuries, whether they relate to actual warfare gunshot wounds, or in fact in some cases guys were tortured and abused.” The injuries include orthopedic ones, involving bone, muscle and nerve damage.
To make the treatment process as comfortable as possible, Spaulding placed all of the men on the same floor — keeping their sense of community intact. Since none speaks fluent English, there is an omnipresent translator. Post-It notes turn a walk anywhere into an English lesson. And a room at the end of the hall has been transformed into a place of prayer.
A cultural transition — but maybe less unfamiliar than expected
Said Love, “It’s going very well. People here have worked really hard at that, from the most simple thing like going on Google and trying to learn what the customs are in Libya, what kind of foods people eat, what kind of music they listen to.”
Some of the patients’ creature comforts have surprised Spaulding staff.
Love said, “The guys tell me they use Facebook, they use Skype. They watch MTV back at home in Libya. They certainly listen to a lot of American culture and see the films.”
Among the patients here is Salem Mohamed, a civil engineer with his own contracting company. One morning in August he joined a caravan of about 400 men, he said, to attack Gadhafi forces in Al Jawsh, a mountainous region in Southern Libya. His brother, a videographer, recorded the attack.
“I was surrounded by the militia of Gadhafi. We were trying to escape the trap [they] made surrounding us,” Mohamed said through a translator.
Manning a gun on the back of a pickup truck, Mohamed came under intense fire and was hit by shrapnel. He was carried, bloodied and unconscious, into a Libyan hospital.
Mohamed said, “I get injured in my hand. The injury actually led to a cut of the vessels in my hand, and also injured the nerves and the tendons of my arm.”
After physical and occupational therapy at Spaulding, Mohammed said much of the use of his hand has been restored. Although he has a way to go before being discharged, he was eager to return home, hoping his country would be healed as his hand has been.
Mohamed said, “I believe Libya is going to move to the best future. I believe [there] will be an election, [there] will be a constitution and I believe Libya will be more advanced.”
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