“The difference between living and dying was a matter of luck”

Six months on from Israel’s 11-day military offensive on Gaza in May, many destroyed buildings remain unreconstructed and many wounds unhealed. We recently spoke to Dr Nidal Abu Hadrous, the Head of Neurosurgery at the European Gaza Hospital, about his experiences during the emergency response, and the ongoing health needs of the population.

What was your role during the offensive and what did a ‘normal’ day look like for you?

My main efforts were performing surgery during the offensive. Our team, the neurosurgery team, like other surgical teams – general surgery, cardiac surgery, vascular surgery – were on call 24 hours a day. I remember my first call was on the first day of Eid. We didn’t celebrate Eid because of the assault.

We had so many injuries and cases that needed surgery. Many people died before even reaching the hospital because the bombing was so severe. It was horrible during these 11 days. It’s not easy to think about it and I hope we will never face such a war again.

What kind of injuries did people suffer from?

There were various types, including many head injuries. There were several cases that needed operating on, and there were cases that we couldn’t help. For example, I remember two young teenagers – one boy and one girl. The boy was around 13-years-old, and he was with his father shopping in a mini market. There was an explosion nearby and one very small piece of shrapnel struck his neck and his cervical spinal cord was injured. He became quadriplegic. In such cases, there is nothing surgical that can be done – it is not able to be surgically treated.

The girl, who is also a teenager, was at her home when her neighbour’s house was bombed. During the bombing the girl was thrown from her home on the third floor of an apartment building. Her spine was broken, and she became paraplegic. This is permanent. She might get her spine fixed with screws, but this will not improve the neurological disability. She will remain paraplegic forever.

They are still young, only teenagers. They were innocent. One was in a shop and the other was in her home. They did nothing. And there were so many examples like this. Anyone could have been injured like that. The difference between living and dying was a matter of luck.

What challenges did you face during your response?

The first challenge was reaching the hospital. Every time I left my home to go to the hospital, I was risking my life. I could have been a target at any minute. I didn’t know whether I’d return home alive or not.

Secondly, we always have a shortage of medical supplies and equipment – even during peacetime. So during wars it’s much more complicated. We were doing surgeries in very bad conditions, I didn’t know how we were coping.

What is the current situation facing Gaza’s healthcare system?

Even before May 2021, we had a very fragile healthcare system. After May and after COVID, it’s getting worse and worse. I don’t know how we are surviving. When visitors come with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) from the UK, only some of them are able to work in our conditions because the conditions are so demanding.

We’ve got a long way to go. We are progressing and expanding our surgeries, slowly, both in quality and quantity. We are doing new types of surgeries, like for brain tumours. But we still need continuous support.

If you could speak directly to the international community, what would you say to them?

My message is that Palestinians deserve to survive. They deserve to live normally, like other people in the world. Even animals in other places in the world have more rights than us. We are not allowed to travel normally. If I want to travel, I need to plan months in advance. I need days just to get to a nearby airport. I need so many permissions and visas. We need to be treated like human beings.

The second issue is our political rights. We deserve a free country. This is our right.

What keeps you hopeful?

One always needs to have hope. Without hope, we cannot survive. Helping our people to survive is supporting me to survive and is giving me hope. We have to hope that one day humanity will prevail, justice will prevail and we will be treated like every other person in the world. This is all that we want. We want a normal life.

Please consider donating to MAP to help deliver vital healthcare services in Gaza.

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