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Eyewitness account of 2 doctors who traveled to Syria to save lives

Last updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 1:17 AM
This file photo shows an injured child being rushed to a hospital in Aleppo

Amal Al-Sibai
Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Syria has become a war zone and in towns like Homs and Aleppo, simply crossing the street to buy bread can be dangerous. Traveling to Syria now would be considered insane, unless it were doctors creeping into the tumultuous country, risking their own lives to save hundreds of lives of innocent civilians.

Saudi Gazette tracked down two such doctors who made their way across the Syrian border and inside Aleppo to volunteer in what remains of one of the still-standing hospitals.

“There is a lack of everything: Hospital staff, surgeons, equipment, medicines, and even hand soap. The supplies that we were able to bring with us were used up in two days,” they said.

“There is only one surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, in the hospital and it is impossible for him to cope with the wave of wounded brought into the hospital every day. He has dedicated his life to his brethren; the hospital is now his home, his wife and three children live in a room in the hospital because their home was destroyed by missiles,” said one doctor.

“I never understood or pictured the description of rivers of blood until I saw it with my own eyes in the hospital in Aleppo on the day that government air strikes targeted a residential tower, just two buildings away from the hospital. Cleaners could not mop up the pools of blood fast enough. Among the injured brought in, there were detached body parts, and bodies maimed beyond recognition. New agencies reported that 16 people were killed, but I was there and at least 40 people were killed in that government raid,” said the doctor.

“I forced myself to work mechanically and not to be paralyzed by the shock and fear of the scene because if sadness would slow me down, the patient on my operation table would bleed to death, and I had seven others waiting for me upstairs,” he said.

“On the calmer days, we would have about three to five surgical cases; victims of military tank firing or snipers. I treated children with scraps of shrapnel embedded in their bodies. I performed surgery on women, on a 60-year-old man, and on teenage boys, the age of my own grandson.”

A taxi driver was driving two men who worked on the other side of Aleppo and he took a wrong turn, was stopped at a government checkpoint, and fired at. By the time the driver and the two passengers were brought to the hospital, it was too late to do anything for them, and the three of them died.

Since Al-Assad has branded that area as the seat of rebels and terrorists, electricity has been cut off from that half of Aleppo. The hospital has an electricity generator but its function is not perfect.

For the entire 15 days that the guest surgeons were working in the hospital, they wore the same pair of scrubs, and there was not even a surgical cap to wear. They slept in a room in a building across the hospital.

It was freezing cold and the only way to keep warm was by wearing several layers of clothing and covering in two blankets. Some nights they got three hours of sleep and if they were lucky, they got six hours straight sleep to rejuvenate their bodies for another day of unrelenting work.

“By the end of our stay, I became nauseous from the smell of blood, from the stench of death, and weak from the sound of children’s shrills. We lost lives and we saved others. The worst moment when I thought I might break was when I saw a mother crying, clutching her chest, going through the pile of dead bodies in the hallway, searching to see if her missing son was among them,” said the doctor.

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