After coming out of surgery at St. James Mercy Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Ismail Mehr began getting ready for a war zone. Mehr is one of eight doctors who traveled to the Gaza Strip this week — an area battered by an Israeli army offensive in response to repeated Hamas rocket attacks — under a medical mission by the Islamic Medical Association of North America.
Coming out of surgery at St. James Mercy Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Ismail Mehr began getting ready for a war zone.
Mehr is one of eight doctors who traveled to the Gaza Strip this week — an area battered by an Israeli army offensive in response to repeated Hamas rocket attacks — under a medical mission by the Islamic Medical Association of North America.
“Basically, I assumed the role of coordinating the first team that’s going over there,” he said. “This is probably the most difficult thing I’ve done.”
So far, just getting into Gaza has been difficult, as both Israel and Egypt have significant restrictions on entry into the territory.
“Egypt won’t even let us in until we have a notarized, official letter,” he said, adding the U.S. State Department had to clear the trip first.
Once the team arrives in Egypt, it will be a 4- to 5-hour drive across the Sinai Peninsula to the border with Gaza, where the team will be picked up by Palestinian officials.
“Most likely, we’ll be in Gaza City,” he said, adding the doctors will be performing surgery at of the hospitals in the territory, some of which took fire in the battle.
While in Gaza, Mehr, an anesthesiologist, will likely do little of his main line of work.
“You have to be open to doing things outside of your normal specialty,” he said, adding he will call up his training from his surgical residency to get the job done.
This is not his first time in a disaster zone.
His first disaster work was in 2004, following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean that claimed upwards of a quarter of a million lives.
“I think every one of us ... said ‘I wish there’s something I can do,’” he said.
After he came back, he was determined to help out if needed in future events.
“I sort of made a promise to do something like this again,” he said. “You come back a changed person. It’s addictive, kind of.”
In 2005, he worked in Pakistan after a deadly earthquake.
“I coordinated all the teams that went over,” he said, adding he knew Pakistan well and was able to help not only operate on victims, but help out the teams move and get up and running.
But this is his first time in a war zone.
While Israeli troops have been withdrawn from the territory, that does not mean fighting won't erupt again at any time, Mehr said.
If that happens, the State Department knows the team will be there, but “they very likely may not be able to come in and help us,” he said.
The team will leave Gaza Jan. 30, coming home the next day from Egypt.
Mehr said the team has started a Web site, www.ammgaza.com, which should allow them to update with photos, videos and text about their experience.
The Evening Tribune