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Mosul: "I've been through many wars, but I've never seen something like this"
On 19 February, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) opened a field trauma hospital with surgical capacity in a village to the south of Mosul, Iraq.
It is composed of two operating theatres, one intensive care unit, an emergency room, an inpatient ward and other necessary support facilities.
The MSF team working within the hospital, composed primarily of Iraqi surgeons, doctors and nurses, only has the capacity to operate on the most severe life threatening cases, known as “red cases”; those that can wait are referred to hospitals further afield.
Since its opening, the facility has received more than 915 patients. Of these, 763 suffered war-related trauma, 190 of whom were classified as "red" cases in need of urgent lifesaving surgery and 421 of whom were classified as "yellow" cases and stabilised before being referred to other hospitals in the region.
More than half of the wounded were women (241 patients) and children under the age of 15 (240 patients).
Below are first-hand accounts from two MSF surgeons working in our trauma centre:
staff story: dr reginald
The following testimony is from Dr Reginald, a 66-year-old Belgian surgeon, after his last shift at MSF’s trauma hospital a few kilometres south of Mosul. He describes his six weeks near Mosul as the toughest situation he has experienced during his long MSF career.
I’ve been through many wars; Syria, Liberia, Angola, Cambodia, but I’ve never seen something like this.
In the operating theatre, every case we receive is severe and almost every day we have to deal with mass casualties.
Our patients can be of any age, any gender and suffer from any sort of war wound: sniper attack, mortar shelling, airstrike, landmine, and other explosions.
They are all putting their lives at risk to flee a city under siege.
Today the weather was bad, grey and cloudy with some rain, and we received 20 war-wounded patients. But when weather conditions are good we receive huge influxes of wounded men, women and children. When it’s cloudy or rainy we receive fewer people.
Now, we look at the weather forecast to best prepare ourselves and to anticipate mass casualties.
On one sunny afternoon, the ambulances started to arrive, one after the other.
Usually the stabilisation posts close to the fighting alert us when they are referring stabilised patients to our centre. But that day, due to the chaos, it didn’t happen.
It was really tough. We had to transfer some patients to another hospital because we didn’t have the space to treat everybody. We worked around the clock.
It was sunny but we never saw any sunlight, as we operated on one person after another until 5am in the morning.
In the end we had received around 100 patients – we were exhausted. That day confirmed that our surgical unit was a frontline surgical facility, and we have since opened a second operating theatre to increase our capacity.
"I would like to take care of them - to do all I can to help these people who have been through such terrible suffering."
As I finish my six week assignment, I’m shocked by the number of families dismembered by this war. So many mothers and fathers begged us to save their son or daughter, as they were their only family members left alive.
I’m impressed by the strength of the Iraqi people and by the generosity and hard work of our Iraqi colleagues.
We couldn't do this work without them.
sTaff story: dr ahmed
The following testimony is from Dr Ahmed* (name changed), an Iraqi orthopaedic surgeon who has worked with MSF since 2008. He has been working in MSF’s field trauma hospital south of Mosul since mid-February 2017.
Yesterday morning we received a family of four: a mother, a father and their two small boys. They had all been wounded by a mortar grenade.
The mother and father arrived dead - so we worked around the clock on the two brothers.
The head wound of the smallest boy was too severe, and he passed away. We only manged to save the nine-year-old.
I wonder how how he will survive. From his whole family, he is the only one left.
Yesterday afternoon we received another boy, a 10-year-old.
He arrived with his left leg almost amputated by a mortar shelling. We took him straight into the operating theatre, but he had lost a lot of blood on the way to our hospital.
For two hours we performed orthopaedic surgery on him, then my colleague performed a laparotomy for another hour - but during the night he passed away.
We try to do everything we can, but sometimes it’s not enough.
If I could, I would take a picture for each of the patients I treated to tell their stories and to remember them.
Here I operate only on red cases but I would like to do more. I’d also like to follow the yellow cases, the ones we refer to other facilities.
I would like to take care of them - to do all I can to help these people who have been through such terrible suffering.