NPR’s Leila Fadel speaks with Dr. Peter Noun, an oncologist in Lebanon, about the devastating impact the explosion in Beirut had on the hospitals in the city.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Tuesday’s astonishing explosion has also put a strain on Beirut’s already struggling hospitals. Saint George Hospital University Medical Center is about a mile from the site of the blast and was heavily damaged. Dr. Peter Noun is head of the pediatric hematology and oncology department at Saint George, and he’s with us now from his home in Beirut.
Dr. Noun, thank you for taking the time to speak with us during this difficult time.
PETER NOUN: Thank you for talking about our blast and our disaster.
FADEL: Yeah. Can you tell me about the state of your hospital right now? What have you been dealing with in the last few days?
NOUN: We don’t have any more hospital. Our hospital is completely destroyed. All the floors, all the walls, all the units are completely destroyed – nothing. It’s a non-functional hospital.
FADEL: So how are you treating people – people that were already sick and also the wounded that were coming in and may still be coming in?
NOUN: All the hospital is completely destroyed, even the ER. So the ER is not functional. We took the patients – all of them – outside the ER to the whole outside and to the parking. And we started treating patients outside. So we couldn’t take any more wounded from outside the hospital. The biggest problem we have is, as you said, pediatric oncology and pediatric ward. We have to continue without stopping chemotherapy for the patients with cancer.
NOUN: Patients having chemotherapy cannot stop their treatment. We sent several patients to another hospital in the north, around the north, and we dispatched some of them to other hospitals. But we still have around 100 patients without any hospital. We took the more severe ones to other hospitals, and now we are looking for other hospitals to start treating them.
FADEL: So in the meantime, what’s happening to these hundred people?
NOUN: They are having all chemotherapy home because they are stable. But they need urgently to have another place to be treated. We are talking with the Ministry of Public Health, and we might have American field hospital that will arrive very soon. It might give us 50 beds for chemotherapy. And I have several hospitals who said they will take some patients. And as I told you, the American emergency hospital field – that would be near the hospital’s ward.
FADEL: You said that many people died in the hospital.
NOUN: Yes. We lost four nurses, and we lost many patients in the hospital.
FADEL: Oh, my God.
NOUN: And unfortunately, I was yesterday in the funeral of the dad of one of my patients, a 6-year-old girl, Gemma. Gemma has lymphoma, and her father worked in Africa. She wanted him badly to come and to stay with her because when she’s receiving the chemo, she wanted her father with her. And with the coronavirus, you know, it was very difficult to…
NOUN: …Come with the planes and the coronavirus. But we asked him to come, and we tried to find him an allowance to come to the country. He did the PCR. And when after the quarantine, he came to the hospital to stay with his daughter. And unfortunately, he’s dead.
FADEL: Oh, my God.
NOUN: So really, it’s a very sad story. But now I’m trying to be with her to tell her we are all beside her. But we cannot replace her father.
FADEL: And you were there the day of the blast.
NOUN: Of course. I went back to the hospital to help all the patients and the parents to evacuate, to send them to other hospitals. I found a disaster, an apocalypse. This remind me about the Titanic when they arrived to New York, and they didn’t find their parents. Everyone was looking for someone. My patient is looking for his father or her mother, and the parents are looking for their children.
It was really so sad, so bad, because many of the parents who were wounded or severely injured – they were transferred to other hospitals, and we didn’t have the time to tell the other parent or the family that – where are these patients. We have some injured and wounded who went to the north, to the south, so very far from Beirut because all the hospitals in Beirut and around were completely full.
FADEL: Wow. You know, we’ve heard many demonstrators, many Lebanese say they don’t want this aid to actually go to the government because they don’t trust it – that they feel…
FADEL: …That there’s been a lot of corruption. Can you – do you have that concern?
FADEL: Do you want to talk about that at all, or…
NOUN: I prefer not because, you know, we all have concerns. We know that our politics – we don’t trust many of them. But I don’t like to talk politics…
FADEL: I understand.
NOUN: …Now we are in a disaster.
NOUN: And I am so far from politics, as all Lebanese – we don’t trust our politic people here.
NOUN: And many of us, if not all of us, think that we are here due to our politicians.
FADEL: Yeah. And we can’t ignore the fact that this is happening during a global pandemic. Hospitals in Beirut were already under pressure because of the coronavirus.
NOUN: Yes, of course.
FADEL: So how is that impacting things and recovery efforts?
NOUN: You know, I had – unfortunately, it was one of my patients who has cancer, has a severe lymphoma – he had also coronavirus. And he was in the ward of the coronavirus, so he was not in the pediatric oncology floor. He’s doing fine. But you can imagine – corona, cancer and a blast.
NOUN: So (laughter) it’s too much.
FADEL: That’s Dr. Peter Noun, head of the pediatric hematology and oncology department at Saint George Hospital University Medical Center in Beirut. In a moment, we’ll hear from a former domestic worker in Lebanon who helps other women who’ve been kicked out by their employers about how this community has been affected by the explosion.
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