Little light, no beds and not enough anesthesia: a view from the ‘nightmare’ of Gaza hospitals

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DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — The only thing worse than the screams of a patient undergoing surgery without sufficient anesthesia are the terrified faces of those waiting their turn, says a 51-year-old orthopedic surgeon.

When Israeli bombing intensifies and the wounded flood the Gaza City hospitals where Dr. Nidal Abed works, he treats patients wherever he can: on the floor, in hallways, in rooms packed with 10 patients instead of two. . Without enough medical supplies, Abed makes do with whatever he can find: clothing for bandages, vinegar as an antiseptic, sewing needles for surgery.

Hospitals in the Gaza Strip are on the verge of collapse due to the Israeli blockade that cut off power and supplies. food and other needs of the territory. They lack drinking water. They are running out of basic items to relieve pain and prevent infections. Fuel for their generators is dwindling.

Israel began its bombing campaign after Hamas militants crossed the border on October 7 and killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped more than 200 others. Israel’s offensive has devastated neighborhoods, closed five hospitals, killed thousands and injured more people than remaining health facilities can care for.

“We have a shortage of everything and we are faced with very complex surgeries,” Abed, who works with Doctors Without Borders, told The Associated Press from Al Quds Hospital. The medical center is still treating hundreds of patients in defiance of an evacuation order the Israeli military gave on Friday. Some 10,000 Palestinians displaced by the bombings have also taken refuge in the hospital compound.

“All these people are terrified, and so am I,” the surgeon said. “But there is no way we can evacuate.”

The first food, water and medicine arrived in Gaza from Egypt on Saturday after being stuck at the border for days. Four trucks in the 20-truck aid convoy were carrying medicines and medical supplies, the World Health Organization said. Aid workers and doctors warned it was not enough to address Gaza’s growing humanitarian crisis.

“It’s a nightmare. If more help doesn’t come, I fear we will reach the point where going to a hospital will do more harm than good,” said Mehdat Abbas, an official in the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Ingenuity is put to the test in all hospitals in the territory. Abed used household vinegar from the corner store as a disinfectant until the stores ran out, he said. Too many doctors had the same idea. Now he cleans the wounds with a mixture of saline and contaminated water that drips from the taps because Israel turned off the water.

Shortages of surgical supplies forced some staff to use sewing needles to sew up wounds, which Abed said can damage tissue. A shortage of bandages forced doctors to cover large burns with clothing, which he said can cause infections. The shortage of orthopedic implants forced Abed to use screws that do not fit his patients’ bones. There aren’t enough antibiotics, so he administers single pills instead of multiple courses to patients suffering from terrible bacterial infections.

“We are doing everything we can to stabilize patients and control the situation,” he said. “People are dying from this.”

When Israel cut off fuel supplies to the territory’s only power plant two weeks ago, Gaza’s noisy generators sprang to life to keep life-support equipment running in hospitals.

Authorities are desperately searching for diesel to keep them running. United Nations agencies are distributing the remaining stocks. Motorists are emptying their gas tanks.

In some hospitals the lights have already been turned off. This week, at Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, nurses and surgical assistants held their iPhones on the operating table and guided surgeons with flashlights as they cut.

At Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, where Abed also worked this week, the intensive care unit runs on generators, but most other wards are without electricity. Air conditioning is a bygone luxury. Abed catches beads of sweat dripping from his patients’ foreheads while he operates.

People injured in the airstrikes overwhelm the facilities. Hospitals do not have enough beds for them.

“Not even a normal hospital with equipment could cope with what we face,” Abed said. “It would collapse.”

Shifa Hospital, with a maximum capacity of 700 people, treats 5,000 people, says general director Mohammed Abu Selmia. Lines of patients, some in critical condition, leave the operating rooms. The wounded lie on the floor or on stretchers, sometimes stained with the blood of previous patients. Doctors operate in crowded, moaning hallways.

The scenes—babies arriving alone in intensive care because no one else in their family survived, patients awake and grimacing in pain during surgeries—have traumatized Abed to the point of numbness.

But what still hurts is having to choose which patients to prioritize.

“You have to decide,” he said. “Because you know many won’t make it.”

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DeBre reported from Jerusalem.

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