- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Many Acehnese, considered the most devout Muslims in Indonesia, believe that a person must be physically complete at death to be able to enter paradise.

Maj. Simon Hawkins, an Australian artillery officer, speaks fluent Indonesian and has taken it upon himself to persuade reluctant gangrene victims to agree to amputations. He also has to contend with a pre-tsunami perception that amputees are generally beggars.

“It’s easier to do it with the family there,” he said at the Zainal Abidin Hospital, where several wards have been re-opened on grounds still full of mud and debris and where the Australian Army’s 1st Health Support Battalion runs the surgical unit.

Maj. Hawkins, 32, keeps away from theology and concentrates on the number of people who have died, in the patient’s family and elsewhere.

“You tell them some people have lost everything, but you guys are still together and you can still be together.”

Indicating a spot halfway up his calf, he said: “The fact that you lose from here down is better than losing from here up. It is literally life or limb. If they have the operation, they have about a 98 percent chance of living. If they don’t, the chances are 99.8 percent that they will die.”

Many of the injured were battered by wood and corrugated iron as the filthy water of the tsunami swept them and their homes away on Dec. 26.

Gangrene sets in when a dirty wound has not been properly cleaned and becomes infected, then spreads at 3 to 4 inches a day from the infection site — someone with a gangrenous foot has about two weeks to live, said Maj. Hawkins. “Once gangrene has taken hold, it’s sort of like a cancer, you have to cut it out,” he added. “It’s a horrible death because of the pain. It kills tissue as it goes, makes your blood septic and starts killing everything else.”

More than three weeks after the event, the cases arriving at the hospital are often highly advanced.

In one ward, Harlani was smiling after having her left leg amputated above the knee.

When the tsunami struck Lam Dingin, the Banda Aceh neighborhood where she lived, she, her husband and their three children tried to flee by motorcycle, but the roads were too clogged.

“My smallest child was pulled away, and after that I can’t remember,” she said. Her four immediate family members died, along with one of her brothers, his wife and all their children.

Her parents survived, though, and her father was the one who objected most to the operation. “He is very sad for his little girl,” she said. “He didn’t want her to lose her leg.

“It feels better now. Before the operation every day I had a fever. I don’t want to cry anymore. Allah has given me members of my family. I am fortunate for that. I want to get close to Allah.”

At the Masjid Raya Baiturrahman, Banda Aceh’s main mosque, Imam Jailani said he is familiar with the belief that an entire body is required to enter heaven.

“This is completely wrong. It is not the way it is.

“In the Koran, it says Allah never looks at your beauty, Allah never looks at your body, but Allah looks at your soul and your heart.”

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