Omri Michaeli, a reserve soldier, being evacuated from a helicopter during Operation Protective Edge..
(photo credit: SOROKA MEDICAL CENTER)
The First Lebanon War broke out when Dr. Moti Klein – head of intensive care at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center – was working as a nurse and doing his fifth year at Ben-Gurion’s medical faculty.
During the Second Lebanon War, one of his children was on reserve duty and saw friends wounded and killed.
“It seemed unreal,” said Klein, “generation after generation in war. People who haven’t lived through it have difficulty understanding our lives.”
Klein, who served as an IDF physician in field units until he was released with the rank of major, is speaking at The Jerusalem Post’s conference on “Israel’s Medical Iron Dome: Saving Lives Under Fire,” and trying to explain it to a foreign audience anyway.
“At the conference, I want to tell my audience that this last war showed that the terrorists’ abilities have become stronger, and the types of missiles and the enemy’s tactics are getting better.
The tunnels they dug to reach us are getting more dangerous. We have to do even better to protect ourselves from them in the next war,” Klein said.
“I prefer to take care of sick people than injured soldiers,” he told the Post in an interview. His medical center – the only one in the Negev – received 55 severely wounded officers and soldiers during the 50-day war. Among those, two died. Some were killed in the field, leaving no chance for treatment, but Klein has comfort in the fact that 53 were successfully treated.
Having lived through so many terrorist attacks and wars, Soroka staffers have “plenty of experience there and in the field. Doctors, paramedics and medics – men and women – got to almost every wounded soldier immediately.
The soldiers didn’t have to reach, or be taken to, collection points. My own department’s teams were among those who flew to the war zone in helicopters and continued to treat them in Soroka’s intensive care unit when the war ended,” he said.
“I didn’t know whether to ask the IDF to release them from military service or allow them to go to the front.
In the end, I let them leave for the front, even though we needed them in the hospital.”
Soroka was able to handle all the wounded, in addition to injured civilians and regular sick patients, except for sending some rehabilitation patients northward.
As for the hospital itself, although missiles and rockets were hurled at the environs of Soroka, none of them actually hit the buildings. In the previous Gaza operation, a missile fell 50 meters from the hospital. “There almost wasn’t a day without one, and usually there were many. The medical center is not adequately fortified,” Klein said.
“The neonatal unit was not fortified and half of the operating theaters also weren’t. The lesson of the war was not that we in the hospital have to function better, but that the state has to eliminate the threat of missiles and protect us better. Both the patients and the staff have to feel safe. It should have the highest priority.”
Nurses and other staffers brought their children to day-care centers in the hospital so they would be close by, said Klein, “but it was scary just bringing them from their homes not far from the Gaza Strip to Soroka every day of the war. How does one take young children out from their belted car seats and run for the hospital in the seconds allowed before a rocket falls?” He added sadly: “When our hospital was built, nobody thought about protection from terror missiles and rockets from Gaza; we built skylights for the newborn babies so there would be more light. I never dreamed when I studied medicine that missiles would be hurled at Beersheba, and that in Gaza terrorists would dare shoot guns at soldiers.
Then, they used only sticks and stones. Now, patients and staff at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon to the north were almost as exposed as we were.”
In between wars, said Klein, “I am in touch with doctors in Gaza about patients they want to send to us for treatment. And they keep coming, just as they arrived even during the last war.”
Klein said he opposes the establishment of another hospital in Beersheba as decided in principle by the outgoing government late last year.
“It takes many years – at least 15 – to build, equip and staff a new medical center. In the meantime, Soroka has to be expanded to cope with the area’s growing population. I agree with this view of Soroka director-general Dr. Ehud Davidson, he opposed the idea.”
Everyone who lives in the Negev wants to be a first-class, not a second-class, citizen, Klein insisted. “A large number of doctors and nurses and a high quality of medical care makes them feel equal to residents of the center of the country. They don’t deserve less.”