The Lancet Student

Medical students during conflict: a personal experience by Belal Al-Dabour

This blog was submitted by Belal on 8th January 2013.
Tagged with Gaza, conflict

Monday, November 19th, 2012, was the fifth day of the bombardment on Gaza. The number of casualties took a sharp increase in the past 24 hours. In total, more than 90 have been killed and 700 injured. It was time for me to join the medical staff at Shifa hospital. I made a few calls and the decision was taken: Two of my colleagues and I are going there as volunteers.

Shifa hospital ER entrance

I was in the ER when suddenly the sirens went on and several ambulances rushed out one after another. They received information that drones had targeted a building and there were many casualties at the scene. The target was 'Al-Shorooq Tower'. Despite my medical training, I was worried about what I was about to witness; this was my first hospital duty under such circumstances, which were nothing similar to those of regular medical practice. I didn’t know what to expect.

Minutes later, the paramedics were rushing in with the first casualty. It was a man who sustained large shrapnel, which penetrated his back and settled within the abdomen. After going through emergency room triage he was taken to the intensive care unit, and a team started resuscitation and assessment of the injuries. He was critical, Ultrasonography showed bleeding in the abdomen and air in the thoracic cavity, urgent surgical intervention was being prepared. Seconds later, another casualty was rushed into the ICU, a little girl under the age of eight whose face was covered with blood and she was unconscious. Her injuries were directly to the head and she was in a critical condition, too. A second team started working on her immediately. They were racing with time to stop the bleeding as fast as possible to save her life, and fast enough to get ready to handle the other casualties coming on the way. In the middle of this tense atmosphere I was standing, observing and learning how to work under pressure. In the corner was a man in a sweater. His face was expressionless, but his feet could barely support him. He was the girl's father.

Suddenly there was noise coming from outside. I was heading towards the door of the ICU room when the door opened wide and a stretcher was pushed in. A couple of seconds had to pass before I could realize that what looked like a black wooden sculpture was in fact a charred body. It was my first time to see such sights. I could have collapsed as two journalists immediately did on the spot, but I was holding on. I was inspecting the body as it was being taken to the morgue when the doctor besides me advised me not to look, "You'd better save your strength for later", he said. I believe he was right.

Back to the emergency room, dressings were in shortage and some types of sutures were missing. But there were few children who needed stitches which had to be done anyway. The children's parents used several approaches to keep them calm during the process, the youngest ones received money while encouragement statements were used with older ones. Among all that was a doctor who hid a box of fancy chocolate bars. Whenever wounded children arrived, she would give them a bar or two. It may not have cheered up the crying children a lot, but it certainly soothed the worried parent.

Time quickly passed by and It was getting dark. My two friends and I evaluated the situation fast and decided that we would go home for the night. On the way home, the streets were completely deserted except from ambulances on the major crossings.

In my short experience I have discovered how everyone can make humble but significant contributions to their society in ways they did not think were important. The paramedics spending the night out in the open, the doctor with the chocolate box, the taxi driver who refused to take the fees, and the minimarket owner who opened his shop despite the risk, they were all examples of this. With this lesson and many others, my experience which lasted for a little over five hours affected me in many ways that will last forever.