Sunday, September 20, 2020

Doctors in Gaza calm after the storm

By John Space - November 28, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza] [Shifa Hospital] [doctors] [PSTD] [Operation Pillar of Defense]

GAZA CITY—After eight days of bombing, shelling and terror brought on by Israel in its so-called “Operation Pillar of Defense,” doctors in Gaza were finally able to rest this weekend.

The Israeli assault, which left 166 Gazans according to Al-Jazeera English, also left Gazan doctors short on rest and Gazan hospitals short on beds and basic medical supplies.

“We don’t have drugs for intubation, we don’t have analgesics,” said Ahmed Isaac, a specialist in orthopedics and trauma surgery in Gaza. “These are basic supplies.”

The stress on doctors was amplified by concerns for their families’ safety, and Isaac said it was often difficult to maintain his composure and focus on his work. “You try to do it. Most of the time, thank God, you succeed, but you are worried about your family,” he said. “It is hard to keep calm, but you do it, because the people here need you.”

The horrific nature of the casualties was something many doctors had not seen before. Due to the nature of some of the injuries, emergency medicine specialist Mohannad Abu Taha speculated the Israelis were using new types of weapons not used in Gaza until the recent assault.

“We had two kinds of (new) injuries. I don’t know what they use, but a lot of casualties, there is just no head. The rest of the body, no wounds, no lacerations, but the head is gone,” he said. “The other, they look fine, but when I start CPR, blood comes out from the nose, the ears, the mouth… There were people that look totally normal and I said 'Why did you bring him here? He is sleeping.’ But actually, he is dead.”

If Israeli missiles can be targeted with such precision that the strike destroys a person’s head but leaves the body intact, the number of civilian casualties can be seen as a purposeful terror campaign by the Israeli military. “I guess they want to terrify everyone,” Abu Taha said.

“Children were killed during what the Israelis called a targeted strike. What kind of targeted strike kills 35 children? I don’t know a lot of children terrorists, do you know any?” Isaac asked.

He said the vast majority of casualties seen at Shifa hospital were civilians who had never taken part in any attack on Israel. “Let me tell you about what I have seen. I haven’t seen many
casualties in military uniforms. Five or six or seven. 80% or more (of the victims) were civilians,” he said.

Although targeting a civilian population with a terror attack is a war crime, Isaac said he was not surprised that Israel resorted to such tactics. “Most of the things that happen here lately in Gaza, it’s a war crime,” he said. “A lot of the weapons they use cannot be used in areas with a lot of civilians around.”

 What kind of targeted strike kills 35 children? I don’t know a lot of children terrorists, do you know any

The largest hospital in Gaza, al-Shifa medical center, was completely full during the eight-day assault. All 700 beds were occupied, and more beds were placed in the halls of the hospital. “It’s actually a miserable thing to do, but we had to do it,” Isaac said.

Scores of Gazans rushed to the hospital with minor injuries and psychological trauma. “There were a lot of people that came here screaming. They are so frightened,” Abu Taha said.

Some of the medical supplies still remaining in Shifa Hospital. The hospital suffered a crisis in supplies and beds during the eight-day Israeli attack.

Hospitals were forced to turn trauma victims away because the beds were full of people with serious injuries. “We are understaffed, so we don’t treat these people as we should,” Isaac said. He said people suffering panic attacks, psychological trauma and PTSD all had to be turned away in favor of treating patients with life-threatening emergency injuries.

The normal shortage in medical supplies caused by the Israeli siege of Gaza was made worse by the high number of injuries and casualties during the Israeli attacks, making it necessary for doctors to improvise temporary medical solutions.

“We used to use Nescafe in bleeding wounds until we could get to the hospital,” Abu Taha said. “It helps the wounds not get infected.”

All available doctors had extended work hours, leaving them exhausted by the time the Israeli bombing campaign was over. “Our official work hours were 24 or 36 hours, then we get 12 or 36 hours off,” said Isaac. “But when we go home, we couldn’t sleep.”

Abu Taha said he was also unable to sleep during the eight days of Pillar of Defense. “I couldn’t sleep because of the smell. Even now I smell something burning,” he said.

But even more than the lack of rest, seeing the pain of victims’ families was the most difficult part of many doctors’ job during Israel’s bombing campaign.

“When I see (a victims’) body, it doesn’t pain me a lot. But when I see the mother, I imagine myself,” he said.

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