Jerusalem — As the U.S. and its regional allies continueagreement between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, thousands of civilians in the have sought shelter in the few hospitals still standing. They crowd in among the severely wounded, as overworked doctors with scant resources try to mend the broken bodies that pour in daily amid the ongoing shelling and street clashes.
Some of those doctors are Americans, treating the war-wounded less than a mile from the front line, and often performing complex surgeries without the appropriate tools, anaesthesia or medicines.
Food is also in incredibly short supply. Aid agencies have struggled to keep feeding the thousands of civilians who have fled the decimated northern half of Gaza to the southern city and surrounding region of Rafah. More than half of a million Palestinians are facing catastrophic hunger, according to the United Nations.
The health workers trying to help civilians in the desperate, often unsanitary conditions live in daily fear of an outbreak of deadly disease. CBS News visited a field hospital in Rafah where medics said more than 400 people were pouring in through the gates every single day, with about 50 of them badly injured and in need of emergency care.
Rafah was supposed to be Gaza’s last safe zone, but it too has been put in the firing line as the Israel Defense Forces push down into the densely populated, narrow coastal enclave, hunting Hamas militants.
The war was ignited on Oct. 7, when Hamas carried out a brutal terror attack, killing some 1,200 people across southern Israel. The attack drew an immediate, overwhelming military response from Israel, and health officials in Hamas-run Gaza say the ensuing war has left more than 26,000 people dead, most of them women and children.
Dr. Michael Grady, a retired American obstetrician who now works as an emergency coordinator with the International Medical Corps, is used to operating in conflict zones. He’s worked recently in, amid the ongoing war there, and in Turkey following the last year.
Grady told CBS News that even as the sound of gunfire echoes around the hospital, he personally feels safe, thanks to his organization’s experience and its “excellent security team.”
The facility has been taking in patients from embattled towns and cities miles away.
“My in-laws were displaced from Gaza and were living in this building and stayed here for about a month and a half, as it was claimed to be a safe zone,” a young man named Mohammed told CBS News at the hospital. “But it is not safe. In the middle of the night, while everyone was asleep, their house was targeted. One little girl, Aliaa, was martyred and many other children and women were injured.”
“It is enough,” he said. After more than 120 days of war and being forced to flee even from purported safe zones, Mohammed seemed, above all, exhausted. “We can’t cope with more destruction and death.”
With the war raging just outside the hospital doors, Grady told CBS News that he and his team “expect the situation here to change moment to moment.”
“We see people that are severely injured,” he said. “They may have a gunshot wound to the chest, to the abdomen. They may have a severe fracture. They may have terrible lacerations and bleeding, and we take care of them here.”
Grady said that just last week, 39 critically wounded victims of an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, about five miles north of Rafah, all arrived at the same time.
“You can imagine, this location became a mass of screaming, chaotic people,” he told CBS News, “because it’s not just the patients, but it’s also their family and friends who come with them.”
He said the hospital staff had developed a system, with triage teams able to quickly assess incoming patients — and help ease the minds of desperate relatives.
“Everybody knows their job,” he said. “Our job is to institute immediate lifesaving care. If somebody has a collapsed lung, our job is to put a tube in their chest. If they’re bleeding profusely, our job is to stop the bleeding.”
“The other day we had a patient who came in with an amputated leg, and his friend brought his leg in a bag,” Grady recalled.
Even amid the chaos, without the proper equipment and with only two emergency operating rooms at their disposal, Grady and his fellow doctors work daily wonders. CBS News watched as another surgeon patched up a boy with a bad shrapnel injury to his head.
For three days, the youngster had gone from hospital to hospital in Gaza with his wound leaving brain tissue exposed, putting him at serious risk of a deadly infection. He was finally referred to the field hospital in Rafah from the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, in desperate need of major reconstructive surgery.
“We had to take part of the abdominal muscles to cover the exposed brain tissue and put it in place, and then put the bone from the skull back again to cover it,” the surgeon said.
“It was a very complicated surgery,” acknowledged the doctor, who performed a craniotomy with the most basic medical implements. “I think it was, let’s say, a small miracle.”
With no sign of an imminent truce agreement, the people of Gaza and the doctors trying to help them will need many more miracles, large and small, as the war grinds on.