I spent 43 days in Gaza’s now-destroyed hospitals. My mind is still there. | Opinions

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I arrived in Rafah in the early hours of October 9 and made my way to my family home in Gaza City amid intense Israeli air strikes. The next day, I walked with my cousin to al-Shifa Hospital to begin work, not realising this would be the beginning of a 43-day nightmare.

During those 43 days, I moved between hospitals, including to al-Ahli (Baptist) Hospital. Founded in 1882, this is one of the oldest hospitals in Gaza and is managed by the Anglican Church.

Israel threatened to target the facility, but doctors and other medical staff decided early on that we would not evacuate and abandon our patients.

On October 17, I was in between surgeries when I heard the screeching of an approaching missile followed by the loud, cacophonous sound of impact.

As I stepped into the corridor, I saw the hospital courtyard lit up in an inferno; ambulances and cars were on fire. One man was bleeding profusely from his neck, and I had to apply pressure until the ambulance arrived to take us to al-Shifa. Later, as we walked through the courtyard, I saw bodies and body parts everywhere including a small arm, which clearly belonged to a child.

Despite its connection to Britain and reassurances from the bishop in England that it would be spared from destruction, al-Ahli Hospital was hit.

This incident served as a litmus test for what was to come: Israel’s full war on Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure.

After al-Ahli was hit, and no one was held to account, the domino pieces began to fall rapidly. Hospitals were targeted one after the other. It became obvious that the attacks were systemic.

We quickly ran out of morphine and ketamine and resorted in desperation to using intravenous paracetamol as pain relief as there was nothing else available. Victims of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, including tens of thousands of children, underwent extremely painful procedures without anaesthetic; it felt criminal to perform these procedures. It’s indescribably heart-wrenching to hear children scream from pain that you are causing, even when you know you are only trying to save their lives.

One little girl in particular, only nine years old, had her body covered in shrapnel wounds. I had performed surgery on her, but the type of injury meant that the wounds needed disinfection every 36 hours to keep her alive. I spoke to her dad and explained that her temperature was rising and the infection was spreading to her blood and killing her slowly. Without morphine or ketamine, the only option was to disinfect the many wounds she had every 36 hours without sufficient pain relief. She was screaming in pain, her father was crying, and I was in tears too.

I treated many injuries caused by chemical bombs, which turn the human body into Swiss cheese. Chemical particles continue to burn through the skin for as long as they can access oxygen, reigniting when exposed to oxygen again. The first little boy, 13, I treated in the current onslaught on Gaza had such chemical burns down to the bone. Early on I had to come to terms with the fact that, due to the conditions we were in and the injuries we were dealing with, survival rates among the wounded would be very low.

Making the decision to leave was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make, psychologically and physically, in my entire life. When we could no longer perform surgeries in the north, I decided to head south, hoping that operating rooms there would still be functioning. I walked for six hours and saw unimaginably horrific scenes of mass destruction, corpses and body parts. When I arrived in the Nuseirat camp, I realised the situation there was no better. There was no lack of surgeons but a severe lack of medical equipment and electricity. Realising that hospitals are unable to function, I had to come to terms with the fact that there was nothing more I could do for Gaza while still inside Gaza.

Now I am thousands of miles away, but my mind is still stuck in Gaza. I think of my patients all the time. I think of their faces, their names, and the conversations we shared. They occupy my thoughts regularly, and I wonder: Are they still alive, or did they succumb to their injuries, or to famine? I am stuck in the day I had to perform amputations on six children. I am stuck in the days that I had to work after receiving the news of colleagues, who I saw or worked with hours before, being killed.

After more than 200 days of this genocide, I keep thinking “surely we’ve seen it all”, and then a new atrocity is uncovered. Hospitals have been turned into rubble. They became sites of mass graves of Palestinians murdered in cold blood by Israeli forces, hands tied behind their backs. The heinous crimes committed at al-Shifa and Nasser hospitals were streamed live to our screens, but the world watched silently. Israel has faced no accountability. Countries, and academic institutions, continue to support and defend Israel. Many continue to provide it with weapons.

I completed my medical education at the University of Glasgow, ironically one of the biggest academic investors in companies that continue to sell arms to Israel. I decided to return to my alma mater and stand in the elections for the position of rector because I knew that the university’s position on Israel did not reflect the views of its students who overwhelmingly wanted to end the institution’s complicity in the mass slaughter of Palestinians. I won the election with an overwhelming 80 percent of the vote, and the students welcomed me to my new role with an outpouring of love and support.

As a result of my victory, my media appearances, and calls for accountability and justice, I have been the target of several smear campaigns and the subject of several articles that make unfounded claims about me. I was even denied entry to Germany, detained for three hours and ultimately deported. I was going there simply to speak at a conference.

I cannot comprehend the horror of the moment we live in. A genocide is taking place live on TV – a genocide in which many states, politicians and respected institutions are complicit.

Over 34,000 Palestinians have been murdered by Israel, many more have been maimed and Gaza has been bombed to rubble. Israel says it will move ahead with its planned ground invasion of Rafah, which will be disastrous for hundreds of thousands of people sheltering there. Multiple cases have been launched against Israel and its allies at the International Court of Justice. Yet Israel continues to act with a sense of complete impunity.

Israel has dismantled all parts of life in Gaza: destroying bakeries, schools, mosques and churches; blocking humanitarian aid and restricting electricity. It has done so to ensure that Gaza becomes uninhabitable even after a ceasefire. When Israeli soldiers first broke into al-Shifa Hospital they destroyed medical equipment and machinery to ensure that the hospital could not function. Now, little remains of the hospital itself.

Despite being thousands of miles away my heart and mind remain in Gaza, and to the dismay of the cheerleaders of genocide, I will never stop advocating for justice and accountability.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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