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For Sirte wounded, frontline triage comes in a mosque

Oct 3, 2011, 9:36 a.m.

By Tim Gaynor

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - On one side of the one-room mosque is a clock showing both local and Mecca time, and a stack of Korans.

On the other are a dozen gurneys, festooned with plasma drips, awaiting rebels wounded in the battle for deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.

"We receive the (rebels with) massive injuries, stop the bleeding, apply first aid and send them on," said 27-year-old Noori Al-Maieri, a surgeon at the front-line triage station two miles from the center of Sirte.

"We get head injuries, chest, abdomen, limb injuries ... the ones that need urgent treatment," he said as rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces traded intermittent mortar and rocket fire three quarters of a mile away.

Since the battle for Sirte began last month, between 15 and 100 patients a day have been brought to the ad-hoc dressing station, most with shrapnel wounds from mortars and rocket salvos.

The latest batch of patients arrived on Monday afternoon. Ambulances, with their sirens blaring, dropped off 12 wounded fighters at the mosque.

Usually the injured rebels have no body armor, and most have multiple puncture injuries, and are treated at the facility with dressings to staunch heavy bleeding. It is also equipped to treat sucking chest wounds, which prevents normal breathing.

Al-Maieri and his staff of volunteer nurses also treat civilians hurt by high explosives as they try to flee Sirte in cars.

"One car was hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) and all the family died ... another car, the family had a sick baby, with abdominal burns," he said.

Dressed in green scrubs, Al-Maieri listed some of the other patients he had treated, "A mother with serious head injuries, and two children, one nine months and the other a year and a half, badly injured."

"Another family completely died. We collected their body parts. We just collected two heads," he said.

As combatants traded fire around Sirte on Monday morning, a rebel soldier was brought into the mosque semi-conscious after falling out of a pickup truck as he rushed to the front.

Stretched out on a gurney, he looked around at the clean white and peach colored walls, decorated with texts from the Koran, as dozens of fighters and medical staff prepared for midday prayers.

"The patients all have a reaction," said Mohamad Al Mubarak, 22, a medical school student who volunteered as a nurse at the hospital. "They are consoled ... they feel calmer being here in the mosque," he added.

For the medical volunteers at the triage center, the job as a frontline medic also brings risk.

Pader Al Dinari, a third year dental student has been a volunteer since February, and was shot through the shoulder while working with an ambulance crew in the battle for Benghazi, in eastern Libya, in March.

"I had no choice but to volunteer," said Al Dinari, who was taking a break outside the mosque hospital, as clouds of smoke rose over Sirte amid intermittent gunfire.

"I had to do it for Libya."

(Editing By Christian Lowe)

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