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In Tahrir Square

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I got a message on Sunday that the Tahrir Square field hospital needed medical help and supplies. As I used to be a nurse, I went. The tear gas is toxic in a way it was not in January. Various people have said that the cyanide component is greater or that phosphorus is causing the problem. I can positively confirm that the gas injuries are completely different and much more severe. We treated hundreds of youngsters who had totally collapsed and were not breathing. Most came to quickly but we had two deaths and one, a young boy, asphyxiated. This evening, every gas victim has come in twitching or seriously fitting. Some gas wafted into the mosque. You couldn’t see it but immediately my eyes began to stream and my skin started to burn. In the January Revolution, I saw the gas coming and the effects irritated my eyes, nose and throat. The eye irritation was intense but this is different. I never had a sense of my skin burning in January even with close range exposure.

On the first day, we had multiple gun shot wounds as well as gassings; one young man was dead by the time the hospital gurney came. As far as I know he was killed by multipled wounds from rubber bullets. Another young man had an entry and exit wound from a bullet in his ankle which I don’t think could have been a rubber bullet. The small metal pellets in rubber bullets (or bean bag rounds) don’t tend to lodge in the flesh, but they can do. Sometimes they can be removed with forceps but sometimes the doctors have to cut in to get them out. Most of those cases are taken to hospital.

There have been a few fractures and head wounds. One young woman, who may have had a history of psychiatric illness, who knows, was catatonic when brought in and then came to and screamed and thrashed, smacking her head against a wall so badly she needed several stitches, which was only possible after she’d been given IV sedation.

Many of the staff are traumatised, weeping in corners or losing control and screaming and shouting. A lot of the younger doctors and medical students have had no experience at all to help them cope with what they are facing. We don’t have much of a problem with supplies: stuff runs short but people are donating everywhere. Even if they cannot come to the square they are giving money and aid. We are fed and watered in the mosque; volunteers, sometimes the staff themselves, circulate with snacks and drinks and there is an on-going cleaning and clearing effort.

The mood in the square is dangerous. People are angry in a different way, me included: all that was given and sacrificed, including so many young lives, seems to have been for nothing, and that is just not bearable. I cannot imagine how and where it will end. Yet all over Cairo life continues as if nothing is happening.

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