Three gurneys and a wheelchair were stationed outside the emergency doors of Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon on Monday waiting for wounded soldiers from Gaza and injured victims from incoming rockets.
In the space of 24 hours, 38 soldiers arrived in ambulances, including four who were injured in the mortar attack in the Eshkol region that evening.
The four soldiers arrived as the sun set over the serene sea and sand dunes in the back of the hospital, on what otherwise could have been a lazy summer day. In the distance, one could hear a few explosions from Gaza, located just a short distance down the coast.
Doctors, nurses and soldiers in the Home Front Command waited for the army vehicles, with a red-and-white Star of David, to pull up to the hospital doors. Across the driveway, a line of television crews focused their lenses on the emergency room entrance.
Once the emergency vehicles arrived with flashing lights, hospital staff rushed the wounded soldiers inside.
The four wounded in the mortar attack were lightly and moderately wounded, hospital director Chezi Levy said, adding that one immediately underwent surgery.
His hospital, he said, has seen this number of wounded and sometimes more, everyday since the ground operation began earlier this month.
“Until evening,” Levy said, “it was a quiet day.”
In the late afternoon, two warning sirens over Ashkelon, 10 minutes apart, sent hospital visitors and staff racing for stairwells and back hallways, seeking shelter from missiles.
“I thought there was a ceasefire,” one startled visitor said to the other.
Soldiers in uniform could be seen in every hospital hallway and lounging outside. Visitors brought balloons, boxes of pizza, chocolates and even home-baked cookies for the soldiers.
Omri Agmon from Tel Aviv brought his guitar to play music for the soldiers.
“I wanted to do something to lift their spirits,” he said.
One mother, whose son was shot in the leg earlier this month, said that every day her son was in Gaza she had nightmare visions of what could happen to him.
“My whole body would shake,” she said. “I even shut down the television, so I wouldn’t know.”
Than one day, her nightmares turned into a partial reality when her son called to say he was injured and in Barzilai.
It takes 40 minutes to drive from their home to the hospital and every moment was an eternity,” she said.
But then she saw him and understood that he was fine.
“I realized we had received him back as a present.”