Conflict & Justice

Casualties of Libya's civil war

by Sean Carberry
Ajdebia, Libya

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Ambulances come screaming up to the hospital entrance. Wounded are arriving from the front lines in Bin Jawad, more than 150 miles to the west. A scrum of people unloads the first patient.

It's a large man in his 50s. No one can confirm whether he is a rebel or a bystander. His physique is not one of a soldier, but rebels here come in all shapes and sizes.

More than a dozen people scurry around the emergency room. One doctor pulls back a bandage on the patient's chest to reveal a small round hole.

"A bullet in his chest, inlet and exit." says Dr. Ahmed Raduwan. He has "air in this lung and blood in this lung."

Dr. Raduwan heads of one of three teams working the ER. He's Egyptian. He and five other doctors came from Cairo 10 days ago. He says what they are dealing with at this small hospital is way beyond its capacity.

"This is the best we can do now," says Dr. Raduwan. "But for four days, in Ajdbiya all the patients who came here, there's no patients that died. All the patients we received, no one died here," he says
Dina Omar is a 30-year-old cardiologist from Egypt, and she's part of the Cairo team.

They have all volunteered to help their neighbors. "I was in our Egyptian revolution," she says, "I was in Tahrir Square, and I know what doctors mean to protestors, so when I saw these ugly images on TV and how they inhumanly treat them, I decide that I have to be here."

And "here" happens to be a hospital that was never designed to handle casualties of war.

"Actually it's a challenging condition for any hospital," says Dr. Omar. "Even if it is big with better equipment so it would be a challenge also. Here it's also not that good or not that big hospital."

In fact, the ER here is one small room that looks like it can fit at most two patients. But it's not just the facilities that are the problem says Dr. Omar.

"We have deficiency regarding staff, specialized, qualified staff," she says. "Of course hospital staff, many of them are very good, but they are not enough."

But, she says that they are coping. Though it it hasn't been easy. About a week ago, there was fighting just a few miles from the hospital.
"Here it's serious condition," says Dr. Omar. "They shoot at us too many times, while we were sleeping we heard bomb and gunshot." She says that it's not easy to work in those conditions. "I was scared," she says. "but I'm vaccinated now. I'm not anymore."

Some of the people working in the hospital are still scared, and not just because of the fighting. Marwa is 22-year-old medical student. This is her first day volunteering at the hospital. She's joined by 29 other classmates from medical school in Libya. Marwa wears a surgical gown and a headscarf.

"I'm worried about, I have not all training, not too much," she says wearing a surgical gown and a blue headscarf. "I just try to help and learn to help," says Marwa. "I'm so scared. I'm so afraid, afraid from people who will come injured and maybe they will be dying. I hope they not die," she says.

In addition to scared medical students, there are untrained volunteers, from people in the neighborhood to a troop of Libyan Boy Scouts. Saleh Omar is one of a handful of scouts on hand today. "We are here for helping, for lifting, for making some first aid procedures," he says.

But, as much as the scouts and other volunteers want to help, Dr. Dina Omar isn't sure that they're serving the patients' best interests. She says that there are many volunteers with no medical training or experience. "They are a burden really," says Dr. Omar. She says that they make the situation more chaotic and bizarre and they rush around not knowing what to do. "So it doesn't help at all," she says.

It's also not easy when most of the doctors have never encountered cases like the dozens wheeling up to Ajdabiya hospital today, says Dr. Anis Hweis. He usually works in Tobruk hospital in northeast Libya about seven hours away.

"We are not used to see this before," he says, "bullet injury, this firearms, bullets, no. We don't have very good experience, but I believe we have good experience."

As day wears on, word comes down the hall that they've lost their first patient. A 10-year-old boy who arrived two days ago passed away in the ICU. He succumbed to a gunshot wound he suffered while playing outside his house in Ras Lanuf, which is next to Bin Jawad.

Dr Dina Omar says that she and the other medical personnel from Cairo had hoped to go home by now. "They need us, they need us," she says. "Yesterday we were thinking, me and my team, we were thinking to leave, but they said no, please stay." So, for now, Dr. Omar and the rest of the Egyptian team are staying.

  • Dr-Omar400.jpg

    Credit: susan schulman

    6 March 2011. Egyptian cardiologist Dina Omar . Hospitals are overwhelmed by the numbers of casualites and as 80% of their nurses were foreign and have now gone home, are dealing with crisis situations with a greatly reduced staff. Volunteers, medical students and those with no medical training , do their best to fill in for missing staff.

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