Healing without Prejudice; Communicating without Language: An Argentine Physician’s Reflections

Monday, Jan 30 2017

Dr. Malena Cohen

Argentinean Physician Dr. Malena Cohen has, since 2003, worked in the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Pediatric Pulmonology Unit, renowned for helping colleagues in different countries to create multidisciplinary cystic fibrosis (CF) care centers.

From the Gaza Strip to Uruguay and Chile, Dr. Cohen brings the expertise she gained at Hadassah to her work in training other medical professionals. Reflecting on her experience as a physician at Hadassah, Dr. Cohen says: "Everyone respects me as a doctor and I respect all patients equally. Many don’t share my way of life and probably not my political ideas, but you go to the hospital to treat patients, to try to reduce suffering; tolerance is something I learned at Hadassah.”

Dr. Cohen adds: “Under the layer of our appearance, we are all the same--whether wearing a turban or a wig. The diseases are the same; the suffering of a baby, a mom or a dad is exactly the same.”

In all her years at Hadassah, Dr. Cohen relates, she has not felt any discrimination.  It is a unique thing at Hadassah, she emphasizes, because “there are few places where you see such tolerance, such acceptance of the other.”

That is why she likes working at Hadassah and why she stays.

It was at Hadassah that Dr. Cohen began specializing in pediatrics and then in pediatric pulmonology. When you enter Hadassah Hospital, Dr. Cohen says, you realize right away that the population is totally heterogeneous. You hear a lot of different languages being spoken and you see many different customs being practiced.

In pediatrics, Dr. Cohen notes, the children communicate without language; they play together without prejudice. They even share rooms, regardless of where they are from. Dr. Cohen mostly treats children with chronic diseases, so she has known the same children for many years. “I treat the patient and the family, and I have excellent relationships with people of all kinds,” she says.

“When I enter the hospital, I and my colleagues forget everything that has nothing to do with what we came to do,” Dr. Cohen brings out. “Until I saw it and experienced it, I could not imagine it,” she says. “I have colleagues from all different backgrounds and really the relationship is excellent--because we all have the same goal: to relieve the suffering of our patients.”

Dr. Cohen reports that she is fortunate to be part of one of the most prestigious globally influential medical centers. She recalls how two years ago, as a Hadassah physician, she helped to create a centralized CF center in Montevideo, Uruguay. Previously, families had to see various doctors individually. The new comprehensive CF center is now renowned in South America and a similar one has been created in Santiago, Chile, where Dr. Cohen has gone to train the medical staff.

The people Dr. Cohen met in South America were surprised to hear how the medical professionals of Hadassah helped the physicians of Gaza set up a CF center, despite the regional conflict. “While it is not the purpose of my trip,” Dr. Cohen explains, “I feel that I can bring people in other parts of the world the true story about Israel. As we all know, the news misrepresents the reality. And it always happens that when I finish explaining the true reality, the people I am talking to congragulate me and thank me for showing them another reality.”

The above was excerpted and translated from a recent article that appeared in the Argentinian Jewish News.


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