In Gaza Hospitals, The Choice Lies Between Death Or No Anaesthetics

Ever since Israel escalated its violence on Gaza since October, at least 1,000 children have had their limbs amputated without anaesthetics, according to the UNICEF

Injured Palestinian kid receives medical treatment at Aksa Hospital in Deir al Balah

Who lives and who dies? A 12-year-old child whose limbs have fallen apart or another child who has a gaping wound on his head? Doctors, nurses and medical practitioners in Gaza face impossible choices of deciding who gets treatment on priority, or if they get any at all, amid dwindling supply of resources. Even if some are able to be provided with treatment, they must face the horrendous pain that comes with it as hospitals in the strife-torn region have run out of anaesthetics. 

A natural disaster is not stopping the entry of such essential aid to Gaza. It is a conscious choice being made – Israel has imposed a total blockade on the region since October. 

Amputations without anaesthetics

Ever since Israel escalated its violence on Gaza since October, at least 1,000 children have had their limbs amputated without anaesthetics, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

Gaza was already reeling under an ‘amputee crisis’ even prior to the ongoing escalation of war. As per United Nations figures, 12 per cent of Palestinian children aged between two to 17 faced one or more functional difficulties while 21 percent of households in Gaza include at least one member with physical or mental disabilities.

But with the ongoing Israeli siege, the dearth of medical resources to treat injuries on time meant that many treatable injuries require amputation. An amputation that is done without anaesthetics. 

Sometimes, doctors prayed that their patients would pass out from the pain, instead of laying conscious right through the amputation. Sometimes the children are given gauze to bite on, in the hope that it would reduce their pain.

Women undergo C-sections without anaesthetics

It’s the women and children who bear the brunt of Israel’s mounting attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza. Gory visuals from the region show doctors using piles of dead bodies as makeshift tables to fill out their paperwork, with hospitals being flooded with patients and residents looking for shelter. 

In such precarious conditions, women are delivering babies wherever they can. More than 180 women give birth in Gaza every day. “Put yourself in the shoes of that woman when the surgeon says to her ‘I have no anaesthesia, I don't even have water or soap to wash my hands, but I'm going to try and save your life,’” Laila Baker, Regional Director for the Arab States at the sexual and reproductive health agency told UNFPA.

Earlier in November, UNFPA estimated that there are currently 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza. Some of them who had already given birth, had to do so without adequate care – undergoing caesareans without anaesthetics and painkillers, and being discharged within hours of delivery, even though they were still bleeding. Many are scheduled to give birth in the coming weeks. They fear that going to a hospital, or what is left of it, will be more risky than giving birth anywhere else. 

Medical practitioners however, are trying to keep the doors of their hospital open even as Israel continues to target these vulnerable spaces. Gaza has 13 partially functioning hospitals, 2 minimally functioning ones, and 21 that are not functioning at all, according to WHO’s latest assessments.

Many doctors are forced to watch lives slip away. Lives that, they say, could have been saved before the current war. But growing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are still going unheard.