BEIRUT: Nadine stood paralyzed at the entrance of St. George Hospital in Beirut Tuesday night, carrying her bleeding friend, as hundreds of badly wounded patients received triage on the floor and in the parking lot.
The hospital and others across Beirut witnessed apocalyptic scenes Tuesday evening following a catastrophic explosion at the capital’s port that caused destruction even beyond the outskirts of the city. Many hospitals were severely damaged, compromising necessary infrastructure and equipment to treat patients in critical condition. Over 100 have been reported dead so far, over 4,000 injured and over 100 are still missing in the ruins of the city.
Doctors stumbled out of emergency rooms at St. George Hospital, many also wounded, their scrubs covered in blood. Red Cross ambulances lined up in the parking lot to evacuate patients after the hospital was too damaged by the blast to treat them. Hospital staff frantically hurried traffic along the road in order to allow for patients to be evacuated.
“They told us to turn back, they said there was no more room,” Nadine, 27, told The Daily Star. “I have never been so terrified in my life.”
Nadine’s friend had suffered a severe head wound while walking down Beirut’s Gemmayzeh, around 2 kilometers from the blast site. She has since been transferred to a hospital in Tripoli, two hours out of Beirut, after hospitals across the city said they did not have the capacity to treat her.
In the parking lot of Geitawi Hospital, a plastic sheet covered some 15 deceased that lay on the ground.
“We have burn injuries, we have dead people here. Some of them came dead and some of them died here,” said Cynthia Abi Khalil, head of the nursing department at Geitawi. Khalil said some 150 patients had arrived that night.
“All the hospital is broken,” she said, “our department is not functional anymore.” As well as receiving patients injured by broken glass in the surrounding area, the hospital was also receiving patients from the port.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a doctor at St. George Hospital said they hadn’t taken in any new patients because the hospital was in ruins. He told The Daily Star that about half of the 15 patients in ICU had died shortly after the blast, maybe more.
Wearily looking out across the scenes of chaos he said a number of medical staff and family members of patients had also died in the hours after the blast hit.
Head of the Order of Nurses Myrna Doumit said she was so far aware of five nurses who had died after suffering injuries from the explosion.
“It’s a catastrophe. There are no words available. You cannot think of any words that can describe what is happening,” Doumit said.
“Most hospitals in Beirut are at full capacity. Some hospitals are demolished, like the Karantina Hospital and the Wardieh Hospital,” she said.
Tuesday’s tragic events coincides with a concerning resurgence of coronavirus cases which has overwhelmed Lebanon’s health care system and has exacerbated an already deteriorating economy.
“Coronavirus is still a concern but we’ll have to do with face masks. People aren’t being tested but they’re all wearing masks. It’s enough for now,” Doumit said.
Head of Rafik Hariri University Hospital on Tuesday warned that Lebanon’s main coronavirus hospital was on the verge of reaching full capacity in its critical care ward.
Abiad wrote in a tweet that 19 of the 23 critical care beds in Rafik Hariri University Hospital are currently occupied. The hospital also has 80 beds for patients who either tested positive or are suspected to be carrying the virus. Fifty-five of those are currently occupied.
As public hospitals near full capacity on the coronavirus wards, health officials have repeatedly called on private hospitals to take on more COVID-19 patients.
Faced with the severe economic crisis and devaluation of the Lebanese pound by around 80 percent, private hospitals are, however, struggling to stay afloat.