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Volume 3,  Number 11              April 13 - 19, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Diary from Baghdad 
Belgian Doctor Treats Injured British Cameraman

As told by Dr.Geert Van Moorter by satellite telephone to a colleague 

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April 8

This morning an American tank fired at the Hotel Palestine, where most of the foreign journalists who are not 'embedded' with the British American invasion force are staying. By chance Dr.Geert Van Moorter found himself on the 15th floor of the hotel (the Medical Team of Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld - Medicine for the Third World are staying in the nearby Sheraton Hotel). The following was his description of the incident:

At first I didn't realize that a bomb had hit the building itself, only three floors below the one where I was. Then I started downstairs. As an emergency doctor I am used to keeping my cool and calming down others in emergency situations, which was what I did of course.

I accompanied a woman who was very upset, who was in shock, and helped her getting downstairs. Only at that moment people came telling me that there were casualties. A man of Reuters came running with a first aid packet of medicines. Together with him I ran to the first injured person, a British cameraman called Paul Pascual. I helped getting him into a car and carried out a first quick medical examination. I soon saw that he was not in too bad a state and wanted to wait for possible graver cases, but the driver was so nervous that he tore away at once straight to the nearest hospital. Not without taking risks as the bombing continued. Soon we arrived at the Saddam Centre for Plastic Surgery. This is a highly specialized hospital, but like so many other hospitals it had been prepared to cope with an influx of war victims for several months already.

For six hours I joined the work at the emergency department, helping the devoted Iraqi doctors Dr. Mehdi Abudi en Dr. Walid Al-Dun. That is how I was able to observe the situation in the hospital from within. We lacked a certain medicine needed for a correct general anaesthesia, and also the thin thread which the surgeon wanted to use for mending a cut tendon in our patient's foot. In the middle of one of the operations electricity broke down, so with it all the apparatuses to monitor the patient's condition. Using one lamp and a simple reanimation machine we carried on...

There is also a shortage of hospital staff, for a very simple reason: many health workers just don't get to the hospital anymore, or they have many wounded or dead relatives, or they want to get their families into safety. I saw the radiology technician wipe the blood from the floor, somebody who just happens to live in the neighbourhood carry out the work of a nurse.

Certain hospitals have had to be evacuated because they are in the danger zones. So the American war of aggression does not only offend the right to live but also the right to receive medical treatment.'

'It was the anaesthetist's story that impressed me most. The man had not seen his wife and three little children for days on end. They live on the road to Hilla, in the south. Yesterday the doctor went there for a short time with the ambulance. On his way he saw a lot of corpses at the side of the road, but injured people too. The latter were being ignored by the advancing American troops! One of the countless offences against international law by the US! And meanwhile CNN goes on showing images of G.I.s shaking hands and distributing chocolate!

Fortunately the anaesthetist succeeded in taking four casualties to hospital in his car, where they were treated in safety.

(The images of Dr. Van Moorter treating and accompanying the British cameraman were shown the world over: Al-Jazeera, CNN, TF1, Cuban television, and VRT, VTM, Belgian TV stations!)


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