Hamman Al Alil, Iraq: what war looks like
Jul 21, 2017
I used to work in the Accident and Emergency Department in Hong Kong. Sometimes I would hear my friends describe it as a "war zone". At the time I would just laugh and agree with them.
I never knew how wrong I was.
In Hong Kong I would see elderly gentlemen with difficulty breathing. I would see young men with abdominal pain. I would see young women with per vaginal bleeding during early pregnancy. I would see young children with fever and a runny nose.
Now I am working in Iraq. I have been here for less than a week. It feels like every patient here has lost some part of his body. Many have lost family members. I have an elderly patient who lost his right arm after a blast injury. He came to us 4 days after the injury because he was trapped in Mosul and unable to leave the city. The wound is infected now. We may have to remove more of his arm later on. I have a young child who could have grown up into a strong young man. He was shot in the neck in March this year. Now he cannot move his legs anymore. He has limited power over his arms as well. His father stays with him every day to feed him and wash him and take him to the toilet.
I have a mother who came with a baby from Mosul. The baby was six months old. He weighed only 2.8 kilograms. I have a 2-year-old who was injured by a mine while being carried away from Mosul. She lost her right foot and suffered burns to the body. Her older brother was less lucky. He was killed on the spot by the blast. I had to see the body and certify that he was dead. His eyes were clouded, there was soot and rubble all over his body, and there was a long laceration with brain tissue coming out at the top of his head. I wonder how many more bodies like this are buried in Mosul.
And just half an hour ago I attended a young girl from Mosul. She had been injured by a blast 4 days ago, but she was surrounded by fighting in Mosul and unable to escape until today. There was a deep wound to her medial thigh. She was thin. Her face and her clothes had not been washed for days. She was crying and trying to stop us from touching the dressing that covered the wound. Her mother held her hands as we tried our best to see the wound without hurting her. The wound was very deep. She must have had a very difficult 4 days.
I felt something in my eye and my throat. My eyes met with her mother's. What I felt must have been nothing compared to what her mother had been feeling in the past months.
Maybe this daughter is her only surviving child after the battle in Mosul.
And this is what a real warzone looks like.
Dr. Peter Ng is an emergency doctor from Hong Kong. He started his first MSF mission to Iraq last month. He is now in Hammam Al Alil, a town south of Mosul, to help cope with the medical needs, including surgical care for trauma, of the displaced population from Mosul.