Gaza: from Qatar with a mission
Shifa Hospital in Gaza City receives most of the critically injured patients from other Gaza hospitals. Said Abu Hasna and Samir Kazkaz are Qatari Red Crescent doctors returning from an ICRC mission at the hospital. Said discusses their experiences.
What did you take away from your experience in Gaza?
To be honest, I have never been in a situation like this. I learned a lot about how to cope in such difficult circumstances. At times I could not hold back my tears.
The image of one person is engraved on my mind. Her name is Bissan and she is eight years old. She was brought to me in the intensive care unit (ICU). She had lost her brother and perhaps other members of her family. She had extensive external and internal injuries and we had to operate on her. Her situation was delicate and held little hope. I was in despair.
It was not until three days later that I brought her back to. When she opened her eyes, she flushed a big smile and the V sign. She had won her battle.
Her courage in the midst of all the carnage and desolation simply blew me away.
When did you arrive in Gaza, and what did you do there?
Samir Kazkaz and I arrived in Gaza on 13 January, after a briefing at ICRC headquarters in Geneva. We worked at Shifa Hospital until 20 January and left Gaza on the same day.
My work was mainly in the intensive care unit. There was just me in there with the unit’s director and a Palestinian junior doctor, or resident. My job was to oversee and help t he ICU director and the doctor in ICU and to free up beds for the steady influx of new casualties patients.
Occasionally I also would go to the casualty department, where there were a lot of doctors.
How did the ICRC support the medical authorities and staff during the crisis? What were the needs?
We thank the ICRC, it helped a lot. It helped the medical services by providing specialized personnel – like us. I am an ICU specialist, Samir Kazkaz is a neurosurgeon, and there were other ICRC surgeons working at Shifa Hospital. There had also been an ICRC operating theatre nurse there before we arrived.
We also offered a lot of moral support to Palestinian doctors, as well as physical support. We gave them a chance to rest a little and take a breather from rigors of the job at hand. When I arrived, the director of the ICU was working non-stop. I was able to relieve him so that he could take two days off from work to go and see his family. He was very happy about that.
Our presence also offered a measure of protection to our Palestinian colleagues.
What were the ICRC’s priorities?
The priorities were to help Palestinian medical staff on the ground to save lives, and to ensure timely and safe evacuation of injured people and others in need of medical help to hospital. The ICRC coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian fighters to facilitate evacuations and also to keep medical staff from harm’s way.
Did all incoming patients receive treatment?
In ICU, where I worked, there was no patient left unattended to. We attended to everybody who sought our assistance.
But I am sure in the casualty department there were patients that we could not save and therefore let nature take its course. There were very few of these, and they arrived in a very grave state – with massive injuries, bleeding to death – and there was simply nothing we could do to save them.
What are the current medical needs and priorities?
In war, you need as much help as you can get from doctors. There are different phases. Phase one, the emergency phase, is now over. Phase two is more important. We call it ‘post-operative care’. We now need neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, burn doctors, paediatric surgeons. We need a lot of urologists and reconstruction – we definitely need doctors specialized in rehabilitation.
Are the medical facilities in place adequate to respond to these needs?
Simply put, no. I am glad you mentioned that. On our arrival in Gaza, the first thing we heard from the doctors there was: “we are out of certain medicines, our equipment is outdated”. When I saw the ICU, I was shocked at state the equipment was in. It was rusty and outdated. The respiratory machines were outmoded. Indeed, other doctors confirmed this.
I am glad to say that when we asked for generators and other equipment the ICRC provided them right away. Our Palestinian colleagues were happy to see us provide these items.
The 18-month closure imposed on Gaza was definitely responsible for the lack of equipment, expertise and up-to-date medicine. I worked with doctors who had never been out of Gaza to att end a seminar, say, on clinical care. I remember the ICU director telling me he had not been out of Gaza since 1997. His knowledge is outdated, and he tried several times in the past 18 months to travel out of Gaza to attend seminars but was turned down because of the closure.
A lot of the doctors in Gaza are experienced general practitioners. But in order to provide good care, they need to update their skills and knowledge, and keep abreast of developments in medicine.