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At Shifa hospital in Gaza, patients and medics struggle with war

July 25, 2014 11:48 P.M. (Updated: July 27, 2014 3:31 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- As Ahmed Bulbul's body is brought into the emergency room at Gaza's Shifa hospital, a father standing nearby clamps his hand over his little boy's eyes.

Bulbul's leg has been ripped open by shrapnel, and the exposed flesh wobbles as he is taken into the chaotic emergency room at the Gaza City hospital.

He is dead, despite his younger brother protesting loudly through his tears that this is impossible.

All the medics can do is place Bulbul into a cream-colored plastic body bag and write his name, age and home district on it in red marker.

During the 18 days of the latest conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement in Gaza, many of the dead and wounded have passed through Shifa.

Gaza's emergency services spokesman says more than 800 people have been killed and 5,000 wounded.

At the hospital's emergency room, wave upon wave of Palestinians arrive in ambulances and civilian cars.

Outside, a phalanx of jittery policemen in blue camouflage uniforms tries to keep desperate relatives and curious onlookers away, and to herd photographers and cameramen behind a barricade.

Inside the blue doors, a triage area of several beds awaits arrivals.

But for many, like Bulbul, there is nothing medics can do except issue a death ticket to be attached to the body bag before it is wheeled to the morgue.

'Emotionally, it is hard'

The pace is exhausting, and for newly graduated doctor Mohammed Abu Haibar, everything is new and a little startling.

The 24-year-old graduated just two months ago, and is doing his internship at Shifa in the midst of Gaza's third conflict in less than six years.

"I heard about the previous two wars, but I wasn't here in the hospital, so this is my first experience and it was really bad to me, to be honest," Abu Haibar says.

"Emotionally it was really hard -- you see a lot of crying, injuries, injured families."

Tragedies are played out on every floor of the hospital.

In the pediatric ward, 10-year-old Shahed al-Araeer is waiting to hear from doctors about the piece of shrapnel that burrowed into her head through her left ear, where she displays a small scab.

Her mother Amaneh is desperate for someone to tell them what should be done.

"They say it's near her brain, and if it moves it could affect her hearing or her movement," she says.

"But they're not sure what to do. They're afraid to leave it and they're afraid to take it out."

She describes how the family fled the Shujaiyya neighborhood under fire, desperate to get Shahed to hospital.

"We stuck to the sides of the buildings -- there was shelling all around, and Shahed was bleeding from the ear and nose," she says.

'I want to protect her'

Elsewhere, 30-year-old Rahma al-Atawi is being watched over by her sister Manal.

"She has been here for three days after being wounded in our neighborhood," Manal says.

She steps away from Rahma's bed and lowers her voice to a whisper: "Our mother and her daughter are dead, but we're scared to tell her.

"We told her our mother is still being treated downstairs, and when she calls home, we tell her her daughter is sleeping."

Shifa's doctors say the incredible stress of their shifts is compounded by their fears for the families they leave at home each day.

Dr Adel Ghouti has spent nine years dreaming of having a child, and now that his wife is seven months pregnant he has nightmares that something will happen to her and his unborn son.

"I want to protect her, but I don't know how. I don't know if she'll be okay when I get home," he says.

He also admits with a wry smile that he had hoped for a girl.

"A girl brings a certain life and movement to a home, and has a special relationship with her father," he says.

For now, he is preoccupied with his wife delivering their child safely, but he has also begun to think for the first time of emigrating, perhaps to join relatives in Canada.

"You have to do what you can for your country, but sometimes you need a rest," Ghouti says.

"I think it will be like this for ever, and I don't want to bring up my child in this."
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