Dispatch: Dr. Gupta in the War Zone

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Zaged Melhem, 36, a Lebanese civilian, was walking from his home in southern Beirut early Friday morning. It was still dark outside as he made his way across a bridge in his neighborhood and at once became the nearly 700th victim of an Israeli air strike. He told me he barely heard a thing before he was thrown more than 30 feet through the air with shrapnel piercing his feet and hands, and straight through his abdominal wall into his intestine. Luckily, he lived to tell about it. His best friend, who walking with him, did not.

Zaged had several things working against him last Friday morning. First off, there was the timing. The air strikes appear to be worst late at night and early morning. Also, he was walking on a bridge, now well known targets as the city of Beirut is slowly cut off from the rest of the country. He did, however, have a huge advantage. He was hit close to Mount Lebanon Hospital in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Just 1 kilometer from Hizbollah headquarters, this private hospital has stayed open when most of the businesses around have shut down.

Dr. Nazih Gharios, the head of the hospital, took me to the rooftop to survey the surrounding land. "Look there," he pointed to a deeply hollowed out patch of land. "There was the first air strike to hit the area." He was pointing no more than 100 meters away, and he was making me nervous. "Should we really be on the roof?" I asked. After all, Sahal Hospital just 10 kilometers away has been pounded by air strikes. This is shocking to Dr. Gharios, who has seen numerous conflicts in the past. "Hospitals and ambulances were usually off limits," he told me. "Not this time." That is why within moments of being jolted out of his sleep one week ago by an explosion, Gharios and his team came up with a plan to keep his patients safe and practice wartime medicine at the same time.

A crucial part of his plan was to immediately move all of his patients down to subterranean levels, two levels below the earth's surface. It took a lot of shuffling to turn a radiology waiting room into a maternity ward, an MRI scanner space into a recovery room and a heart catheterization laboratory into a neonatal intensive care unit. Nurses there are working furiously to keep a 600 gm. baby girl alive, along with 1.2 kg. twin boys.

The hospital staff seems to feel safe here, well protected from the countless missiles flying overhead, and the dozens of patients are almost oblivious with no noise penetrating from the outside and no television or newspapers to serve as reminders. In private, though, Gharios takes me quietly to the side and shakes his head. "We can't go on like this for more than a few weeks," he says. Supplies are already running short and dialysis patients are staying home and suffering, knowing hospitals can no longer provide adequate care. In addition, despite Gharios' plan, many of his staff members have left, concerned for their own safety. Yes, Zaged did benefit from Gharios' foresight, but for the countless others who may suffer similar life-threatening injuries, no amount of planning may be able to help.