For 29 days, doctors in Gaza have been working amid blood and body parts. As hundreds of people suffering serious injuries continue to stream in, they are unfortunately forced to give priority only to those they can save. In the meantime, janitors working by their side have not stopped rinsing the blood away.
Gaza – Dr. Nidal Ahmed has just finished operating on one of the victims of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip. Taking his gloves off, he wiped the sweat dripping off of his forehead and took a deep breath. He is exhausted. In half an hour, he is scheduled to re-enter the operating room to perform a surgery on a patient who lost one of his limbs.
For about 20 days, Dr. Ahmed – who is in his mid 30s – has been working as a surgeon in the Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza. What makes him persevere, he said, is “the humanitarian mission he is performing, which is no less important than that of the fighters on the battlefield.”
A large number of physicians, especially those affiliated with the former Hamas government, have not been paid their salaries for four months. Nevertheless, they are still doing their job just like the rest of the doctors who have been paid by the national consensus government because they had been appointed by the former Ramallah government.
Ahmed sipped a cup of coffee and held a cigarette in his hand as he stood in front of a window overlooking the gate of the only hospital in the area. He has not seen his family in more than 10 days and has not slept in many hours. He decided to have coffee instead of food since he lost his appetite because of the harrowing scenes of the martyrs and the wounded arriving in droves.
Less than five minutes into his break, two ambulances arrived at the Kamal Adwan Hospital carrying people who had been injured in the Abraj al-Sheikh Zayed area north of the Jabalya refugee camp. With his stethoscope dangling around his neck, he rushed forward to check on the condition of the wounded.
Most of the doctors in Gaza have not been able to see their families during the war that has lasted for more than 29 days, resulting in over 1,850 martyrs and close to 9,000 injured persons. Some of them even exchanged their Eid al-Fitr wishes with their families over the phone.
The spokesperson for the Health Ministry in Gaza, Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra, took advantage of the temporary truce announced on Friday morning to rush from al-Shifa Hospital in central Gaza where he works to Khan Younis in southern Gaza to check on his wife and four children.
Qudra, who holds a degree in alternative medicine from Pakistan, said this was the second time he sees his family since the start of the war. Nevertheless, he cut his visit short because Israel violated the truce and resumed bombing in the southern province. Qudra, like many others, rushed back to al-Shifa Hospital in his white coat. His phone did not stop ringing as local and international media outlets were calling him repeatedly to know the number of the martyrs and the wounded that fell as a result of the bombing.
As the Health Ministry spokesperson, he talked about the immense difficulties they are facing because most of the hospitals and emergency centers in Gaza have been targeted. This has become a major concern for physicians in general and the medical staff in al-Shifa Hospital particularly. They cannot keep up with the number of the wounded who keep arriving around the clock. It is more than they can handle.
Qudra said the doctors are suffering tremendously, “especially those who lost loved ones and whose houses were destroyed while they were working.” He pointed out that many physicians would break their fast with a sip of water inside the operating room during Ramadan. “Some of them did not have enough time to change their blood-soaked clothes before sitting down to eat their meals,” he added. There are even stories of doctors whose dead or injured relatives, sometimes their own children, arrived at the hospitals where they work unbeknownst to them.
As to the question of dealing with thousands of cases that exceed the capacity of medical centers, Qudra pointed out that there are huge shortages in the number of hospital beds and a large number of wounded people were being treated on hospital floors. He added: “Some patients could not spend the needed duration of treatment inside a hospital. They had to be discharged in order to accommodate hundreds of incoming cases.”
Mohammed Abu Arab, a Palestinian physician living in Norway, came to Gaza with a number of other doctors to help after the war broke out. He said the priority in treating the injured is given to those who can be saved. Abu Arab explains: “We faced tough choices. We were forced sometimes not to treat cases that could not be saved or were unlikely to survive in order to save people who are more likely to make it.”
He told Al-Akhbar that doctors make their decisions based on the kind of injury and how serious it is. “They spare no effort to treat cases where the hope of recovery is high.”
He said the cases that affected him the most and caused him a great deal of pain were those of children, “especially those with amputated limbs.” He pointed out that a quarter of the martyrs in the Gaza Strip are children “which contradicts Israeli claims of striking terrorist forces.”
It should be noted that the war has claimed the lives of more than 10 medical workers in Gaza. Furthermore, about 13 hospitals were targeted and nine ambulances destroyed. According to the Health Ministry’s statistics, the Israeli war led to the closure of 27 medical centers in different areas of the Gaza Strip while health facilities are experiencing severe shortages in equipment and medications.
It is not an exaggeration to say that doctors cannot find even a little bit of time to be interviewed. In a short visit to al-Shifa Hospital, they appear hard at work as though in a beehive, especially in the reception area where the injured are registered and transferred to beds in order to be treated as physicians’ outfits get soaked with blood.
Janitors too do not have a chance to take a breath. They work around the clock to wash the blood off of hospital floors and sterilize anything it is needed. They are having to spray air freshener in mortuary refrigerators to get rid of the stench of decomposing bodies pulled from under the rubble.