By Mohammed Saqer,
‘He’s my son – the one I’ve been wanting for 13 years – and I have no one else. Please save him.’
That’s the plea a father carrying his three-year-old son into the hospital said to me. The boy had a severe injury on his right leg, in addition to many fragments of shrapnel embedded in other parts of his body.
We immediately treated him with available solutions, bandages, and tourniquets to stop the bleeding. In normal circumstances, we can save part of the leg, but currently there is no capacity in the operating rooms, no medical resources, or supplies available.
Therefore, a decision was made to amputate the leg completely above the knee. Unfortunately, due to the lack of anaesthesia drugs, the operation was performed with a drug called ketamine, which is not sufficient for such a procedure.
As a result, the patient remained conscious to some extent – he may not have felt the pain immediately, but he knew what was going on.
This is just one of the countless casualties of war that I saw after 7 October while working as a doctor at the Indonesian Hospital in the north of Gaza.
It is a role I have recently had to step away from given the intensive bombing in the region, which has caused significant damage to infrastructure in Gaza and displaced patients, staff, and others sheltering there.
But working as a doctor there, and in my current volunteer role helping internally displaced people with their medical needs, I’ve seen too many people injured or killed at the hands of relentless Israeli bombardments – where innocent civilians are paying the price.
My dream was always to become a doctor – specifically a cardiologist – so I was happy to be awarded a scholarship under the Qatar Scholarship Project to study medicine, majoring in cardiology at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.
When I graduated in 2021, I never imagined the profession would be like this. I envisioned caring for everyday patients, but I never foresaw playing such a critical role – almost like a soldier defending the lives of the injured.
Leaving home for work each day, I had to navigate through many dangerous areas to get to the hospital. Sometimes, areas we passed through were bombed just minutes later – a frequent occurrence.
A shift could last for 24 hours straight.
At any moment, you might discover someone you know – or a loved one – had been killed. Thankfully, that’s not happened to me personally.
The scenes were incredibly harsh. The influx of casualties was overwhelming and there was often nothing we could do for them. We could save some, but others were beyond help.
The extent of the missing limbs and the severity of burns, including fourth-degree burns over large areas, felt unprecedented.
It’s also because the sheer number of people arriving at hospitals has been overwhelming, stretching medical staff to their limits in terms of both personnel and available beds.
In such circumstances, the way of dealing with patients is different – called mass casualty, which means many injuries occurring at once so each doctor performs a step in the care provided. The most important of these steps is stabilising the condition and dealing with life-threatening injuries.
On top of that, there is a severe shortage of medical supplies necessary for surgical procedures and doctors have to work with the bare minimum.
I treated a deceased woman in her ninth month of pregnancy whose foetus was still alive – my only job was to save the baby. I performed a hysterotomy in the emergency department, delivered the baby, performed resuscitation, and transferred it to the neonatal intensive care unit.
I felt a mixture of sadness and helplessness.
When someone loses a hand, a leg, or a loved one, their endurance is remarkable. Observing their resilience in the face of such loss strengthens me. Despite their suffering, they persevere and are resigned to their fate, which motivates me to keep working.
It’s taken a personal toll on my family and I too.
My home in Gaza City is so close to danger that we had to move to my in-laws’ house in Rafah. However, the house next to theirs was directly hit by a bomb, but thankfully, we miraculously survived. A significant part of the house was damaged though.
After that, we returned to my home in Gaza City, and then we went to my parents’ place in Rafah the next day. As I’m no longer working at the Indonesian Hospital, now I’m volunteering at schools in Rafah to offer medical support to many Internally Displaced People (IDP) who need it.
There are around a million and a half displaced persons and the biggest victims in this war are civilians – particularly women and children.
Even bread is hard to come by, with people often only able to obtain it once a week, queuing up from 2am just to get their turn for a loaf. These small daily life details are incredibly heartbreaking.
Even while waiting to get bread or water, you could be bombed at any moment, especially since bakeries have been hit and many have died.
These are the details of the daily lives of the people who wish for nothing more than to feel safe and to be able to stand in line to secure their daily bread.
A Palestinian Islamic Relief staff member shares what a day in their life looks like now
‘At the start of every day, my kids wake up early.
‘We adults often want to sleep a little longer, because we’ve been awake long into the night, listening to the sound of planes and bombing.
‘When my son woke us today and we urged him to go back to sleep, he protested that, “I am used to waking up early to go to school.” My wife reminded him that schools are not open now.
‘At least he has lots of playmates here. There are 15 children sheltering in this house, where we have been living since we were ordered to evacuate our home in northern Gaza.
‘The kids’ favourite breakfast is now tea and biscuits, which are crumbly and baked in the oven. They are the perfect shape to dip into hot tea, and the sugary treat provides a welcome energy boost for the long, gruelling day ahead.
‘Figuring out lunch is another challenge. We need to consider meals that use as little water as possible, since water is now increasingly hard to find. For the same reason, we minimise the number of dishes that need to be washed. And, with many bakeries closed, we try to make meals without bread.
‘Staples are harder to come by. Along with olives left unharvested, cheese and eggs have risen in price as farmers are currently unable to reach their land.
‘In these difficult times, it is hard to find protein so most of our cooking is without meat.
‘We don’t make an evening meal anymore, making do with just two meals a day. The kids will sometimes have snacks such as cucumber and tomatoes with cheese.
‘One night they found a packet of noodles at a nearby shop, which they insisted we buy. Normally we’d worry such items are unhealthy refuse, but compared to the possibility of being blown to pieces by a bomb, it didn’t seem so bad.
‘Limited as our diet is, my family is lucky to have this food. Many families who are seeking shelter only receive a loaf of bread and a can of tuna, which must last two people all day. They walk 2-3 kilometres to collect 20 litres of water and wait for two hours for the chance to buy bread.
‘What they need – what all families in Palestine need – is an immediate ceasefire and an end to this nightmare of suffering.‘
The only thing we hold onto right now is patience. I’ve seen a man whose leg had been severed by shrapnel and many others who’ve lost limbs, yet they remain patient. Their endurance is remarkable to me.
All we can do is persevere, even amid all the darkness.
As told to James Besanvalle
Mohammed Saqer is a Medical Doctor at the Cardiology Department of the Indonesian Hospital. He became a doctor thanks to Al Fakhoora’s Qatar Scholarship project, an Education Above All (EAA) Foundation initiative supporting young people amid adversity in Palestine.
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