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Success Stories Hard To Find In Libyan Surgeons' Records

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 7:36am

Ben Hubbard, AP

Dr. Mohammed al-Fagieh, chief surgeon at Hilal Hospital in Misrata, carries around a gruesome catalog of recent cases that have come through his wards. When asked about common wounds, he pulled a cell phone from the pocket of his blue scrubs and flipped through a sampling of images.

"This was yesterday morning," he said Wednesday, showing a photo of a man with a gaping hole in his head. "His brains are out." Following that is a video of a surgeon pulling a five-inch piece of shrapnel from a woman's abdomen. Next is a photo of that woman's mother on a hospital bed with large bloody patches on her arms and chest from the same blast. "She was praying in her own home at the time," al-Fagieh said. "Most of the injuries are civilians who are in their own homes. There are some injured in the battles, but most of those die right away."

Al-Fagieh was a surgeon at a cancer institute in Misrata, the rebel-held western city that has been besieged by Moammar Gadhafi's troops for nearly two months. But that hospital was destroyed in fighting on February 25. He said that he and the other staff have since moved to Hilal Hospital.

"I had to change my practice from oncology surgery to war surgery," said the Edinburgh, Scotland-educated doctor with a neatly trimmed beard beneath his mask. "We care for all types on injuries that we receive from homes, from the street, from the site of a fire," he said. "We receive all types of injuries — destruction of limbs, upper limbs, lower limbs, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis — everywhere. There's no special site for any injury."

There's a temporary feel to the 45-bed facility, with hallways filled with boxes of medical supplies stacked five feet high. Patients are separated by sheets, with lots of people walking in and out. Three bodies were brought in Wednesday, along with 12 severe wounds and about 25 others with lesser injuries. On a normal day, the clinic gets 10-20 critical cases and 25-30 lighter injuries, he said. Often, they have to set up extra beds to expand it to 60.

Of seven patients in one room, three were civilians and four were fighters against Gadhafi's troops. One old man was fleeing his house amid shelling when he fell and broke his hip. In the next bed, Mohammed Braiks, 27, was back for the second time. About a month ago, he was fighting with a group near Tripoli Street, the scene of the fiercest battles, when he came under machine gun fire. A close friend next to him was shot and killed. Braiks got two bullets in his left shin, one in his back and one in his hip. He spent three days in hospital.

"I got out and went back to the front," he said. On Tuesday, a sniper shot him in the wrist. He was hoping to have the bullet removed soon so he could rejoin the fight. "I'll go back to exactly where I was," he said. Next to him lay Omar al-Hashani, 33, who had been shot fighting. He whispered prayers to himself, "There is no God but Allah," over and over. Next to him was Omar Khalifa, 33, who had large white bandages wrapped around his calf and held the inch-thick piece of shrapnel that had been removed from his leg. "I was just coming out of my house when the grenade came down," he said.

Outside, nurse Fathi Gowan said he lived near the hospital and that nothing in the area is safe. "We get fired on in the neighborhood randomly," said Gowan, 42. "This was supposed to be a safe area that people could flee to, and now they're under fire here."

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