The View from Gaza’s Nonstop ER

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Al-Akhbar Management

A Palestinian woman is helped by a paramedic out of her building, damaged during an Israeli air raid on a nearby sporting centre in Gaza City 19 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Marco Longari)

By: Sanaa Kamel

Published Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gaza hospitals face a growing humanitarian crisis as waiting rooms overflow and supplies dwindle. Al-Akhbar visits Al-Shifaa Hospital to bring us the human faces behind the tragedy.

Gaza – The waiting room of Al-Shifaa hospital in Gaza is filled with wailing mothers cradling the mangled bodies of their children, and distraught families calling out for doctors they hope can still save their loved ones. Frightened and confused young children scurry from corner to corner, fleeing the crowds spilling in.

The Shifaa hospital complex in Gaza City is its largest and best-equipped, with a full-fledged operating room. But supplies are running low, especially blood, which is dwindling due to the sheer number of wounded in critical and semi-critical conditions.

The courtyard is crammed with people bringing in more casualties. The ambulances are overwhelmed and have difficulty moving about under the shelling.

Some of the wounded moan and cry out of distress, especially when they see their own bodies lying in a sea of blood. Others slip in and out of consciousness.

Abdullah Awdeh tells Al-Akhbar that he was hit by rocket shrapnel while sitting around with a group of friends. Doctors had to amputate his leg.

“I arrived here fully conscious,” he says. “Although I lost my leg, I did not feel anything or see it. When I saw it, I screamed at the top of my voice and fainted. I woke up to find it in bandages.”

A young girl covered in blood sits in the corner next to the entrance. Her small head is wrapped in white gauze bandages, and she is looking around in terror and astonishment. She watches the entrance as if waiting for someone she knows to explain to her what happened.

“I was at home, and suddenly, a wall fell on my head,” she says. “I woke up when the paramedic was carrying me to the ambulance. I saw the body of a martyr and several other children I did not know. Then they brought me to the hospital.”

As she finishes speaking, she catches sight of someone she knows.

“My brother, my brother!” she shouts, running towards him where he lay. But he is dead, killed in the raid that targeted the Awdeh home in al-Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City.

Her uncle sees her and tries to calm her, but she is screaming.

In another corner, a man sits weeping next to the body of his brother, who arrived alive but in critical condition. He needed an immediate operation, but the operating room was full, with several surgeries going on at the same time, and he died.

The man grabs a doctor by the neck and begins to yell, blaming him for his brother’s death and accusing him of neglect. Although the doctor was not there when the man came in, he tries to explain that the hospital is full of casualties and there is not enough space. He only needs look around to see this, the doctor adds, counseling the man to pray that his brother’s soul may rest in peace.

The remains of martyrs’ bodies that have been ripped to pieces are wrapped in cloth and placed on hospital beds. Several martyrs share the same beds and sometimes the morgue fridge, before their families come to collect them for burial.

Young children on resuscitation machines and heart monitors are being treated in the hallways due to the lack of space and the rapid influx of patients.

Mohammad al-Sharafi, a young boy with a head and leg injury, calls out for a doctor. His turn to be treated has not come up yet, but the janitor who was cleaning the floor saw him and felt sorry, so she brought him some gauze and antiseptic.

The doctors, whose white coats are stained thoroughly red with blood, are not sparing any effort to save the victims, but time is not on their side. Sometimes, it is impossible to assess the surgery rooms which are filled around the clock.

Some simple but urgent surgeries with anaesthesia are carried out under the stairs, behind a curtain.

Dr. Mohammad al-Masri went back home for only an hour last night to change his clothes. He could not sleep, he says, thinking of all the dead bodies.

“These days remind me of the 2008 aggression,” he tells Al-Akhbar. “The same images, but more terrible today. Most of the injuries we are receiving are requiring amputation.”

Masri performed several operations under the stairs. One of the them was a delivery. The woman’s husband stayed with them behind the curtains, because there was no space for him in the waiting room.

In light of the military escalation and the increasing numbers of martyrs and wounded, the hospitals are facing a calamity. There is a lack of medication and treatment materials.

Nasser al-Qudra, Director of Surgery and Emergencies at the hospital, explains that the Israeli siege on Gaza has led to dwindling medical supplies. If they do not receive supplies more quickly, they might reach a point where they cannot treat any more casualties.

It is already difficult enough for the victims to reach the hospital for treatment. Ambulance drivers and paramedics risk their lives to reach the targeted areas, and when they do, they must calculate how to save the injured while protecting themselves.

As paramedic Ibrahim Hamdoune, age 55, tells Al-Akhbar, every time he goes out, it feels like his final rescue.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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