Subscriber OnlyIreland

‘I’m crying thinking about it every day’: Doctor returns to Dublin after weeks in Gaza hospital

Mohamed Shaalan has worked as an orthopaedic surgeon in Ireland since 2016. He recently witnessed ‘horrific’ Israel-Hamas war casualties

A Dublin-based surgeon who has just returned to Ireland after three weeks volunteering as a doctor in Gaza has described “nightmare” scenes in the hospitals there.

Mohamed Shaalan, originally from Egypt, has worked as an orthopaedic surgeon in Ireland for several years, after moving here in 2016.

“I used to travel to parts of Africa since 2010 to do charity work. After the war started in Gaza in October, I applied through different organisations to go there and volunteer as a surgeon,” explains the doctor, who is based at a Dublin hospital.

“I didn’t get any reply until February. I was supposed to go then, but even after it was arranged, it was cancelled by Israel. Later, we got approved in the middle of March. I stayed there nearly three weeks doing surgeries, treating injuries and fractures.”


When Shaalan arrived at the hospital he was volunteering at in Gaza, he was told there were 250 patients awaiting surgery.

“I saw patients waiting five months. The problem about waiting on surgery like this is that their wounds will become infected. Some I had to work on just by hand. There is no chance to bring them to theatre because only one hospital is working on Gaza now,” Shaalan says.

“I worked from 9am until 6pm each day. Then I took a rest and worked again until 3am. It’s horrifying there. The families are living behind bed sheets, in the corridors, on the stairs. There’s no privacy.

“There’s no services like enough toilets or water supply. When I went there, I was concerned about the surgeries and the possibility of infections. In Dublin, lots of the surgery patients are staying in single rooms. In Gaza, there’s more than 12 patients in one room, some on the floor and some on beds.”

As the hospital was the only place in the area with an internet connection, people were constantly flocking there to contact family and charge their phones.

“Hospitals are doing everything for them, not only treating patients, but providing everything. People say it’s the safest place to be, but actually, I have seen there’s no safe place there,” Shaalan says.

“Fortunately, all the patients I worked on, their wounds are so far fine. But I never saw anything similar to this at all and I have worked in other war zones. The kids come to us with over 40 per cent of their skin burned. You see horrible things every day.”

Most of Shalaan’s patients were children and middle-aged women, many of whom come into the hospital “in groups” from the same bombing.

“You can see three to five people from one family who were injured in the same bombing near their home. These are innocent people,” he says.

“The bombing is terrible. The sound can make you mad. The first night I went there, our building, which is very close to the hospital, was just shaking. We stayed in mattresses on the floor in small rooms accommodating up to 10 of us. It felt like the bombing was just beside us even though it was a few kilometres away.”

As an Irish and Egyptian citizen, Shaalan was able to leave through Egypt to return to work in Ireland, where his wife and children live.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to come back to them. But fortunately I am back because we have Irish citizenship. I travelled by my Irish passport,” he says, adding that he has been “unable to sleep” since he returned home last Wednesday and resumed work.

“It was horrific there. I’m crying thinking about it every day.”

Despite the conditions in Gaza, Shaalan intends to return in May for another three weeks of volunteering as a surgeon as he feels a sense of “duty” to help.

“I hope this war ends soon. It is really awful, like no other,” he says.

Join us for The Irish Times Inside Politics podcast live in Belfast on April 10th

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times