UK surgeon in Gaza to conduct war and trauma surgery training

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Professor Christopher Bulstrode, a senior specialist from John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford is in Gaza. He will be working with MDM, training surgeons on war and trauma surgery while treating patients from Gaza for one week.

The training the Professor is giving aims to enhance the knowledge of orthopaedic surgeons from Gaza in war and trauma orthopaedic medicine. Professor Bulstrode and his team will treat those suffering from operative complications following injuries resulting from last year's war.

MDM UK asked Professor Bulstrode to share his thoughts on his surgical training mission in Gaza:

Why did you volunteer?

It is a great privilege to work for Oxford University where I help to teach medical students. I am especially lucky to do my clinical work in the Emergency Department at the John Radcliffe Hospital where the staff are a strong team, passionate about doing the best by their patients, and with super facilities. But every now I then I suspect we all need reminding about places where things are not quite so easy. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, and that is not my business, the people of Gaza have had a desperate year. Many have been killed in fighting and even more injured. Their medical services, like ours, are not geared to cope with such a deluge of casualties, but are struggling to do their best under difficult circumstances. I wanted to come out here to learn from these doctors how you cope under these conditions and hopefully to help if I can.

Why is it important?

In a few days it is exactly one year since the most recent outbreak of fighting, and the infra-structure of Gaza was destroyed. Twelve months later there are still huge numbers of wounded with broken bones that have not knitted up, wounds that have not healed. All of them are in pain and unable to live a normal life because of their injuries. This mission is a small attempt to get on top of the back-log of cases, who are waiting for the chance of some treatment which may heal their injuries. I fear that we are just a drop in the ocean, but symbolically it is important because it is one way that the people of Gaza can start putting this dreadful time behind them and start looking forward again.

What are your impressions of the people you are training and the patients you are helping?

I am working for Médecins Du Monde which provides medical help anywhere in the world where there is seen to be need. This charity is involved in front line emergency work as well as the slow grind of rehabilitating patients who, now that the immediate emergency is over, are all too easily forgotten. It is not very sexy work but it is very very important, and they are very committed to their work. At the Nasir Hospital, I am working with a local surgeon called Dr Mohamed Serieh. He is quiet, committed, and extremely competent. His patience knows no bounds, but he also has a delightful sense of humour.

Today (Thursday 16th December) is the Muslim new year and so it is a national holiday. Friday and Saturday are the weekend, so I was expecting things to grind to a frustrating stand-still for at least three days. Dr Serieh took me to one side and quietly said "If you are here for the few next days, then shall we will try to operate every day and clear some of this backlog of work?" So, he and his team of junior doctors, nurses and theatre staff are going to come in and work solidly for three days, over one of the few breaks that they have. That is what I call commitment, and I am humbled by their dedication to what they do.

The patients are all so young. Here in the hospital they are just frightened little boys/young men whose lives have been brought to a stand-still by a stray bullet, or an explosion just too close. They are very stoical about their pain, and are surrounded by families who are passionate in their advocacy trying to get help for their wounded child.

What has it meant to you to carry out this work?

Emotionally the work is a roller-coaster. I went into medicine because I wanted to help people, and the work here fulfils that need in spades. But another side of me is asking "Why, why, why?" Surely it is time that we stopped this madness?