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East Aleppo: "Through the open windows, I could hear the warplanes circling"
On his way to meet friends for coffee, 27-year-old computer repairman Abu Ahmed* living in east Aleppo, was injured by a cluster bomb. Four weeks later, his bone fracture has failed to heal. His only hope is specialist orthopaedic surgery in Turkey – but he is trapped in his besieged hometown.
He is bedridden, as a new wave of airstrikes reduces his neighbourhood to rubble.
"One month ago I was meeting friends for coffee, as I do every morning. My friends were late, so when the raid happened I was the only one there.
Standing next to my neighbour’s house, I heard the missile coming towards me. I sprinted towards a nearby building, but I wasn’t fast enough.
It was a cluster bomb. Some of the bombs exploded, hitting the surrounding buildings with force. A piece of shrapnel pierced my left leg. Other than that, I just had surface wounds.
Lying on the ground, in shock, I felt I’d lost part of my body. Neighbours started to gather, but no one had the courage to approach me – they were afraid of the unexploded bombs lying all around.
They were also afraid of a second raid following on from the first – that’s how it’s done – so they waited for five minutes until they were sure that the plane had gone.
They tried to lift me. I was in such pain I could only shout. They called an ambulance, and fortunately the ambulance arrived.
The journey to hospital should only take a couple of minutes, as it is nearby. But that day the driver had to take a different route, as many roads were blocked by debris and bodies from the raid.
At the hospital, they X-rayed my leg, and then took me to the operating theatre. The blast had dislocated my leg and shattered my thighbone. I asked if they would need to amputate, but the doctor said no.
Afterwards, I was taken to a room on the first or second floor. It was very small and had been damaged by airstrikes, so there were no shutters or glass in the windows.
In a room like that, you wait in constant fear that you’ll be targeted. Through the open windows, I could hear the warplanes circling.
After an hour, I couldn’t take the stress any longer, so I asked to be taken home.
"The pain got to a point where I couldn't sleep"
When I arrived home, it was dark. My neighbours carried me up to my room on the first floor and laid me on my bed.
I tried to get some rest, but it was impossible. I could still hear the planes and the missiles exploding around us – that night the raids didn’t stop at all.
"My thigh had started to swell up. It was too painful to touch – I couldn’t even cover it with a blanket."
The hospital had prescribed me some medications – antibiotics and painkillers – but they didn’t seem to make any difference.
After seven days I should have been feeling better, but the pain had got to the point where I couldn’t sleep. I struggled to get to hospital because there were no ambulances, and once I got there, there’d be no guarantee I could see a doctor.
"I'll crawl to hospital if I have to"
I started to think about how I could speed my recovery in other ways. On the advice of friends, I asked around for milk and honey.
I don’t have the money for these things, but I was willing to take out a loan. But it was almost impossible to find any.
Every so often, some good people from my neighbourhood brought me a chicken or an egg – under the siege, everyone raises one or two chickens at home.
After 16 days, my thigh had started to swell up. It was too painful to touch – I couldn’t even cover it with a blanket.
Finding a vehicle to take me to the hospital was hell. There were few private cars running because of the petrol shortages.
In the end I called for an ambulance, telling them, ‘I’ll crawl to the hospital if I have to’. I got there eventually and stayed put until the doctor showed up.
The doctor sent me for another X-ray, then told me to come back in a month.
Trapped in east Aleppo
A friend sent my X-rays to an orthopaedic surgeon he knew outside east Aleppo. He came back with bad news: the operation had been unsuccessful and I needed to be operated on all over again.
The chance of them being able to do it here was minuscule. What I needed, he said, was specialist surgery across the border in Turkey.
When I heard this, my morale sunk so low that I lost my appetite. For a whole month, I had lain in bed, not moving, to let my bones heal.
For a month, I had asked my friends to scour the local pharmacies for painkillers, which cost five times what they used to. And it turns out all this was for nothing.
If there was no siege, of course it would be different – I could get out of east Aleppo, see another doctor, go to Turkey for treatment. As it is, I’ll try to get by on painkillers until the road is open again.
Most of my family are in Turkey, but I stayed in east Aleppo to be with my friends. My sister came back for a visit, but the day she arrived her house got bombed and now she’s trapped inside east Aleppo too.
I can't sleep. During the bombing raids, I stay in my room. This house only has three floors, and the missiles they are using tear right through buildings to the ground. The building next to mine was destroyed, and all the doors in this house are broken.
The streets outside are blocked. I need to leave this house, but I don't know how I’ll manage – at the moment I can’t even leave my room.”
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.