Say Stop Today
Life on the Frontline. Who cares for the carers?
A puzzling question.
The al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza
On December 27, 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a massive, 22-day, military assault on the Gaza Strip. The ferocity of the attack was unprecedented in the more than six-decade-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, killing some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that the offensive left 1,419 Palestinians dead, including 1,167 civilians. The Centre also reported more than 5,000 Palestinians wounded, as did the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The attacks in November 2012 also reached immediate almost unmanageable proportions and challenged the services, both physical and psychological, of the staff and resources of the hospital.
These major offences reached tragic magnitude. But due to this on-going occupation frontline staff are witness and active in the face of horrific and fatal injuries.
Dr al-Sahabani’s words illustrate the traumatic scenes that filled the emergency room of the al-Shifa hospital when he spoke with the Electronic Intifada about the tragic bombing of the al-Dalu family in their home which killed ten members of the family and two neighbours
“Most of them arrived with their brain matter outside of their skulls”
How do people at the frontline of the most traumatic scenes imaginable deal with the trauma that they have to endure and wonder if they will have to deal with again?
These were the questions, amongst others, that were at the fore of our minds when we visited the al-Shifa Hospital.
During Operation Cast Lead the Mosque opposite the entrance was destroyed. It is due to the tenacity of the people that, despite the lack of supplies due to on-going limits on imports allowed into Gaza, they have now rebuilt it. As we passed by the Mosque one of the staff that worked at the hospital during Operation Cast Lead told us that three doctors and two nurses, that were colleagues of his, were killed as they awaited a taxi to head for home after their days work.
We were warmly greeted as we arrived at the hospital and despite the staff being busy people were happy to speak with us and show us the conditions that they need to work under in providing a vital service to the Gazan people who live in the most densely populated area in the world.
We spoke with Dr Hassan who has worked at the frontline in the Emergency Department during Operation Cast Lead and Pillar of Cloud. He is a quietly spoken man with a wealth of expertise and he detailed the scene and the injuries that they were presented with as did one of the nursing department who described the practical challenges due to the horrific demands on a limited service. He described what they had to endure and how they remain constantly prepared for this for the future as they feel that they live in a constant state of uncertainty.
Dr Hassan described that at times similar to those detailed above that they feel as if they are “fighting a fire”. He stated, “…we just keep going without eating or even drinking”. We asked him what supports there are in place in order for them to be able to express and process what they have witnessed. Till this point Dr Hassan had spoken very fluently and fluidly about what their roles and work entails. Our question caused him to look puzzled and he asked that we repeat it twice, each time he interpreted it as us asking what supports they provide for the injured. When he finally understood what we were asking he became silent and remarked that he had never been asked this and that it was in fact “a very strange question and I would like to think about it because I don’t know what to say”.
As he reflected more about this Dr Hassan said that he thinks that the emotional and psychological difficulties that people experience most here are depression and anger. When we asked him how these manifest themselves in the staff at the frontline. He replied that “people go around blank or the just shout and scream”. He said that for those who shout and scream “we tell them to go outside and have a drink of water top calm down and then they come back inside to work”. “There’s no time for anything else at the time of these attacks we just have to work till we can’t work any longer and get a little sleep and return”. When asked if, when things settle down, that they talk about it and he said no. He said that the way that he and most of the staff manage is to “forget about it, leave the work at the hospital, watch TV and go to the sea. The sea is the best”.
Viewing the different departments where blood supplies are low, services including biochemistry, pathology and scanning are run, to the best of what is available, in a manner which the staff themselves wish were more efficient. Neither health professionals, administrative staff, paramedic staff nor civilians needing to attend the medical departments are, during times of conflict, or at any time living in Gaza, having their needs met. That said the morale, strength, and tireless work done by the health workers in Al-Shifa and all of Gaza to save the injured from death and to provide support where needed to all but themselves is beyond belief.
The current situation with the almost total destruction of the tunnels, which many of the hospitals rely upon for the importation of vital medications including analgesia, anaesthesia, and chemotherapy drugs and the closure of the border at Rafah, is very concerning for the staff who spoke with us. “We just have to do what we can with what we have”. With this optimistic, yet acceptant attitude, in the face of the possibility at any moment of a situation that may stretch their reserves beyond what is manageable it is incredible that staff find reserves within themselves to continue. It is perhaps testament to faith and allegiance to their people.
Spending time in the hospital was a humbling and disquieting experience.
Eileen Carr on the Welcome to Gaza Convoy 2013
Photographs courtesy of Annamaria Bruni
Eileen Carr 089 4960971
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