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Trauma nurse shares experience working in Gaza

A nurse prepares premature babies for transport to Egypt after they were evacuated from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to a hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Fatima Shbair/AP)
A nurse prepares premature babies for transport to Egypt after they were evacuated from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to a hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Fatima Shbair/AP)

In Gaza, humanitarian aid groups are struggling to do their work in dangerous conditions.

Two family members of a Doctors Without Borders staff were killed and six other people were injured last week when an Israeli tank fired on their shelter in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. Thehumanitarian organization says the Israeli military knew about the shelter.

Karin Huster is a French trauma nurse and medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, who spent five weeks in Gaza overseeing medical care. The shelter was struck during her time there, but she was not in the building at the time it was hit.

Huster contends that all of DWB’s shelters are clearly marked.

“[Our Shelters]are ‘deconflicted,’” she says, “meaning that we have requested from the Israelis authorization to run those places. And there are clear marks with flags or banners, so it’s just incomprehensible that this happened.”

In a statement, the Israeli Defense Forces admitted firing at the shelter because it had been identified as “a building where terror activity is occurring.”

“After the incident,” the statement continued, “reports were received of the death of two uninvolved civilians in the area. The IDF regrets any harm to civilians and does everything in its power to operate in a precise and accurate manner in the combat field.

As part of the lesson-learning process the IDF conducts during the combats, the IDF began an examination of the incident.”

The shelter was hit on the same day the United States vetoed a UN Security Council cease-fire draft resolution for the third time. Doctors Without Borders Secretary General Christopher Lockyearstrongly condemned that failure in an address at the UN a couple of days later.

“How can we deliver life-saving aid in an environment where the distinction between civilians and combatants is disregarded?” Lockyear asked. “How can we sustain any type of response when medical workers are being targeted, attacked, and vilified for assisting the wounded? There is no health system to speak of left in Gaza. Israel’s military has dismantled hospital after hospital. What remains is so little in the face of such carnage is preposterous.”

After spending weeks in Gaza, nurse Huster can attest to the daunting hardship Palestinian health care workers face every day.

“The reason that the health system hasn’t completely collapsed is that they are still working there despite the dangers that everyone knows of,” Huster says. “I mean, they’re risking their lives every day to treat their own people. They will not abandon their patients.”

Huster says it is increasingly difficult to bring in medical supplies, such as oxygen tanks or glucometers, so workers make do with almost nothing.

“We, humanitarian workers, Doctors Without Borders and others, really are trying to support the care of the patients,” she says, “but we have our hands tied. And so I am so frustrated and sad when I see how little I have accomplished, not because we can’t do it, we can, the supplies are right on the other side of the border, right on the other side of Rafah, and people are there and ready. But we are being blocked in every form possible from doing what we need to do.”

Huster talks of seeing patients of all ages brought into the emergency room who cannot get the care they require. She remembers two children in particular.

“I saw a young kid, maybe he was 12 years old. He had been playing in the street and the house right next to him was targeted. Everybody died,” she said. “He was brought in, [with] what looked like a massive head injury. Nothing could have been done for him. And there was another young lady, a few feet away, on the floor. They had intubated her, but then they just left her there, on the floor between two beds. In our country, in the United States, in Europe, in any place where there is a health system that’s working, these patients would have been brought to get an MRI, they would have had intravenous lines put in, so that they would receive IV fluids and pain medication,” she says. “Nothing like that was done because there are no IV lines, there is no IV fluid, there is no pain medicine.”

While the Israeli army contends that Hamas uses hospitals as a cover for their operations, Huster says she did not see any evidence of that.

“I see patients, I see hospitals that are 300% over capacity,” she says. “I see displaced people sleeping in the hospital because they are so scared of sleeping outside. That’s what I personally have seen as a trauma nurse.”

As a trauma nurse, Huster has worked in many conflict zones around the globe, including Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018, during an Ebola outbreak. But she says nothing compares to the situation in Gaza.

“It doesn’t compare because in Gaza, we are faced with a country with an immense power that is basically controlling what you can do and what you cannot do,” she says, “inflicting punishment and preventing any kind of assistance to the civilians that are bearing the brunt of their attack.”

Huster says she’s frustrated by the failure to reach a ceasefire agreement. She says any representative working on a truce agreement now should come to Gaza to witness what she sees as a worsening humanitarian disaster.

“If you came and saw what humanitarian workers see, you would never veto a cease-fire for the third time,” she says.  “A ceasefire is the only thing that is a decent momentary solution to this carnage. A ceasefire would allow us to begin to answer the ocean of screaming needs that there are in this country.”

Click here for more coverage and different points of view.

Adeline Sire produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Micaela Rodriguez.  Sire also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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