Inside Gaza’s emergency room

Jul 22 2014, 11:05 IST
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SummaryAs Israeli airstrikes pound Gaza, doctors at Shifa, its largest hospital, fight another battle — dealing with waves of patients while handling a crippling shortage of essential supplies

In the heart of Gaza City, as its citizens again find themselves under fire from Israeli airstrikes and artillery, the wounded and their wailing families stream into Shifa Hospital without end. Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, only has an 11-bed emergency room and six operating theatres. Yet, amid power cuts and among the screams of the bereaved, doctors at the 600-bed facility have become masters of improvisation, forced by the seemingly unending conflict engulfing the coastal strip to care for the wounded.

“If we are in the middle of an operation (and) lights go out, what do the Palestinians do?’’ said Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who has volunteered at Shifa on and off for 17 years. “They pick up their phones, and use the light from the screen to illuminate the operation field.’’

The wounded from Israeli strikes usually arrive in waves. More than 3,000 Palestinians already have been wounded in the past two weeks of fighting, health officials say. Many, including the most serious cases, end up at Shifa.

A new wave of casualties arrives after daybreak Sunday, following a night of heavy Israeli tank fire on Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighborhood. Hospital guards shout at drivers to move to make room for the next vehicles, pushing back journalists and onlookers.

Some of the wounded get treated in a hallway near the emergency room. A medic bandages the foot of an emergency worker writhing in pain on a mattress on the floor. A little boy with shrapnel wounds arrives and the emergency worker slides off the mattress to the hard floor for the child. Nearby, a woman cries hysterically. A man holds up a dead child, wailing. Another carries a teenage girl whose right arm is bloodied and broken. Patients on gurneys line up outside the X-ray room. Relatives of the wounded, one in a blood-soaked white undershirt, argue over who will be examined first.

Dr Jihad Juwaidi says his six operating rooms filled up quickly and that even the seriously wounded have to wait for surgery, including a little girl with a fractured skull.

Choosing who gets treated first is gut-wrenching, says Dr Allam Nayef, who works in one of Shifa’s intensive care units.

“Sometimes you have to select which one of them has the best chance to survive,’’ Nayef says. “Easily in this rush, you can take a bad decision, that the one (patient) you thought will wait for you ... you won’t find him

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