As It Happens·Q&A

What it's like working in a hospital in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion

When the explosion first rang out in Beirut on Tuesday, Dr. Georges Saade was shocked and terrified; 24 hours later, he says he's just exhausted.

Doctor at Bellevue Medical Center says workers already dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic sprung into action

Dr. Georges Saade is a cardiologist Bellevue Medical Center just outside Beirut. He spent the last 24 hours treating people wounded in the explosion. (Submitted by Georges Saade)

When the explosion first rang out in Beirut on Tuesday, Dr. Georges Saade was terrified. But after 24 hours spent treating people who were wounded in the blast, he says he's just exhausted. 

More than 135 people were killed and some 5,000 injured when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in the city's port area exploded.

Saade is a cardiologist at Bellevue Medical Center. Located just outside the city, it's one of the few hospitals in the area that wasn't wrecked or damaged by the explosion. 

Patients from all over Beirut were taken there for treatment — including evacuees from hospitals closer to blast site. 

Saade says he and his colleagues have treated more than 500 explosion victims, in a hospital with an official capacity of 200. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner. 

Doctor, what is the situation at your hospital as we speak?

Today it's under control compared to yesterday. Yesterday was horrible, shock[ing] and terrible.

We were overwhelm[ed] with patients coming from everywhere, including coming from surrounding hospitals which had been destroyed completely or partially destroyed. 

What specific moments stand out for you as you reflect on what you've had to deal with after these intense 24 hours?

It's a strong, deep, horrible shock. This is what I can express.

I mean, seeing children, newborn children, carried by their moms and fathers. 

I want to wake up in the morning and the whole thing is a nightmare. Never happened. 

An injured person is pictured here in the aftermath of the explosion. More than 5,000 people were hurt in the blast. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

What kind of shape were people in as they arrived at your hospital?

From a small wound to a deep wound, to head trauma, to fractures, to burns. It's all kind of patients — terrible explosion patients. 

How was your hospital equipped to cope with this?

We have a very good ... disaster plan. We were told the plan started one hour [after] the explosion. That means ... we called all our staff to the hospital ... all medical doctors, all health professionals, all administrators.

And we coped really pretty good. I can say it. And this is the first and, hopefully, the last time.

Iranian Red Crescent workers prepare to load a plane with aid to the Lebanese people on the tarmac of Mehrabad airport in the capital Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Many of those staff must have been dealing with the fallout from this explosion in their own lives, their own homes, their own communities.

Of course. I mean, people were staying home peacefully.

Children, young, elderly, senior citizens were staying home peacefully. And the explosion happened and they found themselves homeless, wounded, terribly wounded.

It's a really horrifying situation.

How are you doing personally?

Now, I'm exhausted. Yesterday, I was shocked, terrified and with a lot of fear. Today, I'm exhausted mentally and physically.

This disaster happened in the midst of a pandemic. How bad were things before the explosion even happened?

The country [was] dealing with the infection pretty good. Unfortunately ... with the airport opening, we saw some increase of the infections. But inside the hospital ... we're strictly following by the guidelines. Even yesterday, everybody wore facial masks. Everybody's [wearing] PPE. 

Doctor, what are your biggest concerns as you look ahead and consider the staggering number of people who might be injured and who have no place to live?

What I'm worried most [about is] how we can deal with, for example, shortages of medication, of equipment in future, with this economic crisis

We [spoke] with Lebanon's minister responsible for the economy today about the work that's going on to try to hold those responsible for yesterday's explosion accountable. How much does that matter to you?

Very much so. I mean, people responsible should be held accountable and should pay the price.

I'm really looking forward to just a minister not putting it in words, but in actions.... A policymaker should be accountable for what's happened yesterday in Lebanon.

A man wearing a protective mask against the coronavirus stands across the road from the damaged grain silos of Beirut's harbour. (AFP/Getty Images)

And how much faith do you have that that will happen?

Very little, unfortunately, considering the history of this country.

What do you want people to know about what you experienced in a hospital over the last 24 hours?

The solidarity between all health professionals and people. This is the biggest important thing — how we can ... help each other as much as we can, how we can support. And definitely, if we can do philanthropies, now at this point, probably [it] will help a little bit to ease the suffering of people. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A edited for length and clarity. 

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