Netanyahu at Soroka medical center.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Operation Protective Edge broke out last July, one of the first places to find itself on the front line was Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
During 50 days of fighting, as more than 4,500 rockets fired by Hamas rained down on Israel, the hospital was at the forefront of treating the wounded.
It admitted the highest number of IDF personnel injured – 777 soldiers, as well as 486 civilians. Helicopters ferrying the wounded from the battlefield became a common site on the hospital’s helipad.
This has become a common occurrence in the Negev’s largest city, as Soroka is one of the closest medical centers to Gaza, and experienced in dealing with wounded soldiers during the frequent wars Israel faces with Hamas.
Dr. Ehud Davidson, Soroka’s director, recalls how his hospital has become only “too experienced” in responding to emergencies and switching from the normal routine of peace to being on high alert during wartime.
“We moved unprotected wards to protected, missile-proof areas, reinforced our teams, and prepared for long, hard days and many casualties. While the IDF soldiers fought for us in the Gaza Strip, we fought to save the lives of the injured soldiers in the ER, the trauma unit, the operating rooms, and the intensive care units,” he says. “We did our utmost to return the wounded soldiers to their mothers and fathers. Working tirelessly, simply refusing to go home, the staff demonstrated their unflagging dedication to the fulfillment of this crucially important mission.”
With the war over, treatment continues for the wounded. Through the Milstein Center for Trauma Recovery, those suffering from mental health issues – such as citizens of the Negev affected by the Hamas bombardments, soldiers and their families – are provided with help.
For some of the veteran staff, the operation brought back memories of the trauma of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, with wounded arriving throughout the day and night.
“The Trauma unit, emergency rooms, operating rooms, imaging facilities, labs, logistics, and hospital wards worked around the clock, providing immediate responses for every patient.
The impressive mobilization of all the hospital teams enabled us to provide optimal treatment to the injured, as we continued to deliver medical care to the residents of the Negev – all of this under missile fire and constant concern about family and children at home. Many civilians suffered from emotional trauma and were treated by a staff of psycho-social professionals,” says a medical center spokeswoman.
Some of the sharpest and most painful images of the war took place at the medical center.
Omri Michaeli, a reserve soldier in an elite unit, was treated in the Plastic Surgery Department after being wounded in his leg with a bullet. He was evacuated from the helicopter while covered in an Israeli flag. Golani Brigade Commander Col. Raslan Alian sustained a serious eye injury on the first day of the fighting at Shejaia. He was treated in the ER and hospitalized in the Ophthalmology Department. Several days later he was discharged and returned to his soldiers in the field.
Civilians also suffered grievously.
Rivka Hayisraeli’s husband, Yehuda, was evacuated from Gaza with a severe head injury, operated on several times, and hospitalized in critical condition in the ICU. Hospital staff recall that she only left his side during the ordeal to give birth to their son at the hospital’s adjacent Saban Maternity Center. The baby’s brit mila ceremony was conducted next to the ICU, in the presence of Yehuda his family and members of Yehuda’s army unit.
For staff it was a period of solidarity and unity. “We witnessed many special moments: soldiers who regained consciousness in the ICU after periods of sedation and mechanical ventilation and immediately asked to return to their units,” recalls one of those who worked during the operation.
“Here, in the corridors of Soroka, Israel was at its finest hour – united, mobilized, and strong.”