INTERVIEW/'Cease-fire needed': Taiwanese doctor recalls evacuation from Gaza
By Chung Yu-chen, CNA staff reporter
When Taiwanese doctor Hung Shang-kai (洪上凱) tried to get to sleep at night, he struggled to relax, unable to escape the nightmarish visions from his days in a Gaza hospital or anxiety over what awaited him the next day in that extreme environment.
All he wants, he says, is an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.
Hung, a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), arrived in Gaza in July for six months of service, but that was cut short because of the escalating conflict in Gaza following Hamas' attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
He left Gaza through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on Nov. 1.
"I remember on Oct. 7 I was asleep when I suddenly heard the sound of rockets. Initially, I thought it might be another military drill in the area," Hung told CNA on Thursday.
"But as the explosions continued, one after another, numbering in the hundreds, I realized something wasn't right."
His supervisor told him that if it were just a drill, those rockets would be heading toward the Mediterranean Sea instead of where they were actually directed -- toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
That was when the 34-year-old doctor knew a war was about to break out.
Fearing retaliatory airstrikes, Hung and his MSF colleagues moved from one place to another in the following days.
On Oct. 13 when Israel's military called for the evacuation of northern Gaza, home to 1.1 million people, within 24 hours, the MSF team, composed of roughly 20 members, moved from the United Nations Development Programme office in Gaza City to the relatively safe Khan Yunis camp in the southern part of Gaza.
"It was only safe because it was a compound under the U.N. But you could see missiles flying and bombings occurring right next to you, and you could only pray that they wouldn't hit the compound, which probably had around 30,000 to 40,000 people," Hung said.
Hung and the team had to relocate within a day because the compound became too crowded due to an influx of Palestinians as the air raids intensified.
This time, the MSF team took refuge in a parking lot of a facility run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Khan Yunis.
At one point, however, the UNRWA had to close its facility due to safety concerns after a riot broke out. Desperate locals attempted to enter the already overcrowded facility, with some resorting to climbing over the wall to gain access.
"Everyone was furious because they felt the U.N. was supposed to look after them, but the U.N. was, in fact, completely powerless at that time. I think the whole situation was almost out of control," Hung said.
What struck Hung the most was not the anger expressed by some people there toward MSF doctors, but rather the many displaced Palestinians who were bewildered and did not know where to go.
Hung would see them out the window as he sat in a van heading to the next safe location, carrying their possessions, pushing wheelchairs for the elderly, navigating around piles of rubble on their destroyed paths, not knowing where to go, he said.
"The next safe place could be tens of kilometers away, and they were pushing wheelchairs and using crutches...," Hung said, unable to bring himself to finish the sentence.
"It's very sad. At the same time, I feel guilty. I got to sit in the evacuation vehicle...You feel like there is nothing you can do."
Now safely back home in Taiwan, Hung continues to stay current on the news from Gaza.
"When I see news reports citing death tolls from various sources, stating that hundreds of people are dying daily, those numbers aren't just statistics to me. They represent real human lives."
He has also tried to stay in touch with his colleagues who are now working almost 24/7 at the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza.
It is packed with people in tattered clothing, he said, lamenting that, "You can no longer tell the patients from other people."
Hung has heard that the hospital is without electricity, forcing doctors to perform surgeries in the dark and that anesthesia is unavailable for those with wounds.
At the same time, because of a shortage of clean gauze, doctors have to resort to washing and reusing gauze that has been used, Hung said.
"As an emergency medicine doctor, I often face extreme situations, but imagining what I would do in this specific scenario is hard. I question whether stitching those wounds is still worth it, given the likelihood of patients getting infected anyway," he said.
"But now there is no time to care about these things. There is just no other way."
That is why MSF is calling for a cease-fire, to allow medical resources and personnel to enter Gaza, he said, describing Gaza as "a bit like a person with their head held underwater who you have to let breathe," Hung said.
When asked if he would return to offer assistance, the doctor said he promised a Palestinian colleague that he was committed to six months of service in Gaza, and there were still two months remaining.
As Hung said: "I told him that I'll return and fulfill the commitment."
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