Former Matron Pays Tribute to Long-serving Nursing Sister

Sister Ann Zawahreh
Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sister Ann Zawahreh – A tribute to 38 years of loyal service.

It was January 1971 when two young ladies arrived in Jerusalem from Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, to take up posts as Sisters at the St John Eye Hospital. Nobody had warned them that the weather in Jerusalem was cold in January and they were glad that the fashion of the day dictated that they wore long maxi coats, albeit over mini skirts which turned their legs blue! Ann Gill and Phillipa Wrightson were later to be heralded as a breath of fresh air for the expatriate community in the hospital compound. I arrived later in that year and was welcomed to the Sisters’ House which was the hub of social activity in the local community. Formal dinners and teas were gradually replaced by discos and parties. The work was hard and the days were long, but the Sisters of St John made the most of life and Ann was always the centre of activities inside and outside the hospital.

The compound was always full- single doctors and those with families mingled happily together with the sisters. Children played cheerfully in the hospital garden and they were never short of baby sisters from the Sisters House and the Nurses; Home.

The patients came from far and wide and arrived at the crack of dawn and frequently the gates had to be closed when there was just no more room inside. The wards were always full and Ann spent most of her time as a Ward Sister. She remembers that ophthalmic nursing was high dependency in those days and patients lay in bed for days after surgery, being washed and fed and having their eyes covered. The introduction of modern hi-tech equipment and surgical expertise has transformed the treatment of ophthalmic patients and most of them can go home on the same day as surgery.

Ann met her husband Issa, who was an ophthalmic nurse at the hospital. They were married in 1972 and left for a time to live in the UK. They have four children, and all of them have worked as volunteers in the hospital. Her son Khaled now works in the Medical Records Department. He is married with two small daughters. Youssef, the eldest son has a PHD and works in London. Abdullah is married with an 8 month old baby and also lives in London, as does their daughter May, who is a graduate of political science.

Times changed as the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987 meant hardship and difficulties for all. The Sisters turned their attention to fundraising at this time to help pay for patients’ treatment, and in particular it was noticed that children with Glaucoma were not getting the vital treatment they needed as the families could not afford d it. The Children in Need Fund was formed, initiated by the Matron of the time, Pauline O’Donnel. Jumble sales, bazaars, coffee morning s and all manner of fundraising events helped to keep the fund going. Ann Zawahreh worked tirelessly for this effort.

During the first intifada, teams of staff, under the direction of the Warden, Dr Tony Morgan, went every week to Gaza and performed Cataract surgery under the most difficult of conditions. The whole mobile Theatre had to be transported to Gaza, which was often under curfew conditions. Ann was a regular member of the team, which frequently collected the patients from home and delivered them back again after surgery.

The Gulf War meant that most of the staff could not reach the hospital. Ann, like most of the Sisters who remained, left her family and stayed in the hospital overnight, whilst the Scud missiles whistled overhead. She helped with the laundry and cooking in the kitchen and generally helped keep the domestic side of the hospital functioning, as well as looking after the patients.

A second Intifada and a second Gulf War followed, during which time Ann gave tirelessly for the hospital for the patients and staff alike.

Despite a very difficult political situation, the hospital progressed and in particular the School of \nursing began to train nurses specifically to take over the senior roles in the future. This time has now come and there are is now only one expatriate Sister left at the hospital. The senior posts have been filled with the talented and enthusiastic young Palestinian nurses.
In recent times Ann has been easily recognized as the face of the hospital in the Outpatient Department.

Patients from all towns and villages turned to “In Yousef” as she is known, for help with all manner of social and financial problems.

Unfortunately the hospital has recently faced a financial crisis, particularly with the loss of 400K from anticipated funding from ECHO (European Community Humanitarian Organisation). This meant that a number of staff was made redundant and Ann was one of them. She had hoped to reach retirement age which would have meant 40 years of dedicated service.

Jackie Jaidy MBE. Dame of the Order of St John. Matron 1996-2009.