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© Ehab Zawati
01 Feb 18
Elma WongElma WongBritishAnaesthetistYemen

Yemen conflict: "We were tirelessly trying our best"

Elma Wong is an anaesthetist from Birmingham. She recently returned from six weeks in an MSF-run trauma hospital in Aden, Yemen.

I was in the middle of the surgical ward round, reviewing patients, when I was called to the emergency department.

Two children had been rushed in after being caught in an explosion. A three-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother.

I went straight to the three-year-old. I still remember her face now. When I close my eyes, she’s there. A pretty little girl with curly brown hair. The expression on her face, I can only describe as terror.

I try and comfort her, with my limited Arabic, asking her name and how old she is. She stares at me vacantly. Her parents sit beside her, answering my questions, giving her reassurance.

She is called Janet.

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Rushed to theatre

I already know the vacancy is a bad sign. She’s lost a lot of blood and is drifting into unconsciousness. I apply pressure on the bag of fluids connected to her, at the same time as assessing her injuries.

She’s wrapped in bandages around her belly and backside, I lift them up and I am horrified. No child should see so much injury. She is rushed to the theatre.

Janet’s body gives up soon after we get into surgery. I’m performing CPR thinking, ‘no, not yet, please don’t give up yet’. She comes back.

The day is long, tiring and emotionally breaking. We are in theatre, performing multiple surgeries, trying to stabilise her.

Next door, her brother is having his own fight. At some point during the afternoon I am asked to help. His heart stops, then restarts, but not for long. I say goodbye to him later that evening.

"In those days caring for her, what I can say is that we tried our absolute best. I am so proud to have been a part of the strong, courageous, relentless team of doctors and nurses looking after her."
Dr elma wongMSF Anaesthetist

Nothing but war

Janet stays with me for the next few days in the intensive care unit. I let myself hope. Hope that she can survive this. Hope that I can make this difference. Hope that I can return one child back to her grieving parents.

I bargain that I’ll stay by her bedside, react timely to deteriorations, be with her during operations, and give her my absolute best as a doctor. If she can just survive.

Janet is just three years old. She was born into this war. She has known nothing else.

Eventually, I have to say goodbye to Janet. I hate it.

Trying our best

This is my ninth assignment with MSF. Every time there are different challenges, different heart-breaking moments. Janet broke my heart. I have cried many tears over this beautiful little girl. But, this is the reality of what we face.

In those days caring for her, what I can say is that we tried our absolute best. I am so proud to have been a part of the strong, courageous, relentless team of doctors and nurses looking after her.

Elma, far right, with her Yemeni colleagues in Aden

We couldn’t fix her, but we were there tirelessly trying our best.

MSF has been working here in this hospital since before the war. Most cases we see result from gunshots, bombs and explosions. The injuries can be just devastating.

But our teams continue to provide the people here with a place of safe and free healthcare. A place where families bring their loved ones, where parents bring their children. In the middle of this conflict the hospital remains, trying its best.

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