Doctors and surgeons relive Paris attacks

Medics who treated the hundreds of victims of the Paris terror attacks have spoken of their harrowing experience and how many of them initially thought the emergency was part of a drill.

Doctors and surgeons relive Paris attacks
Photo taken in a recovery room in Saint Louis hospital the night of the attacks. Photo Dr Pourya Pashootan

The medics treating the scores of victims in the Paris terror attacks came back without their belts — so great was the need in the field for tourniquets, medical personnel said Tuesday.

And when the wounded began to arrive at the city's hospitals some doctors thought it was the extension of a drill carried out earlier the same day to practice their response, in a cruel irony, to a mass shooting.

The harrowing details come from the most detailed recounting yet of the response inside Paris's massive medical system as it was hit by France's worst terror attacks.

“We didn't know how and when this nightmare would end,” said an emergency doctor in the account published in The Lancet medical journal.

The Paris hospital system first learned of the coming horror on November 13 around 9:30 pm, when it was alerted to the explosions outside the Stade de France, where three suicide attackers blew themselves up.

Then came word of the shootings at the Bataclan concert hall as well as at bars and restaurants in a hip neighbourhood of east Paris, where nearly all the 130 victims were killed.

“Despite their brutality and appalling human toll, the attacks were not a surprise,” the doctor said.

Following the deadly shootings at satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery 10-months prior, “all state departments had known that a multi-site shooting could happen.”

An hour after the first warning, the hospital system called in all staff to deal with the wave of patients. Many physicians and nurses had already turned up spontaneously to help.

The wounded, most of them under the age of 40, came pouring in. Most had most bullet wounds. And many needed surgery, quickly.

“Never before had such a number of victims been reached and so many wounded been operated on so urgently,” according to the account.

“A new threshold has been crossed.”

Patients arrived in groups and were triaged even before they were inside the hospital. Within 24 hours all emergency surgeries had been completed.

“The hospital was nearly ready to cope with another attack that we all feared could occur,” said an anaesthesiologist.

The timing of the attacks may have played a role in the ability to mount a massive medical response. During the working day doctors and staff would have been busy already.

Nearly every patient who made it to the hospitals — either by ambulance or under their own power — survived.

But not all of them. Doctors recorded four deaths, two of them on arrival at the hospital.


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.