A sad goodbye to Syria
Medical care in a crisis
mortar shell explosion|injured leg|care in tripoli
Em Abed* is a 42-year-old Syrian refugee living in Akkar, Lebanon. She comes from Al Qusseir, a Syrian city that has witnessed heavy battles since the beginning of the crisis. She was a farmer back in Syria. From her new “home” in Lebanon, she recalls her journey in an ambulance through the war-torn landscape.
“In January 2012, the situation in Qusseir was getting worse every day, so much so that I asked my cousin to take our five children to stay with her in Damascus for their safety. My husband and I fled to another area of Qusseir. As farm owners, we wanted to stay close to our lands because we live and work on them.
"In February, after a long day of farming, my husband drove me back to our home, which is one mile away from our fields. I wanted to check on our home and take out some food from the freezer. When we arrived, there was tension in the neighbourhood. People were scared as there were rumours of upcoming attacks. My husband returned back to work on the farm. I took what I needed from the freezer. As I was leaving, a mortar shell hit our house. My nephew who was playing in the courtyard died in front of me. I fell to the floor bleeding from the stomach and left leg. Our neighbour took me to a mobile clinic. My injuries were so bad that I needed special treatment. Two days later, my husband took me in an ambulance to Tripoli, Lebanon. On our way, I was still conscious and I had a bad feeling. As I entered the ambulance, I asked the medics to look from the back windows. It was like a farewell to my country.”
Em Abed didn’t want to tell her children about her injury. But they got the news from their relative in Damascus. “Doctors at Tripoli hospital told me that my arteries in the left leg were cut and that I needed special care to avoid losing my leg. I could have been saved if I was immediately treated in a specialised hospital in Syria. Nurses at the mobile clinic in Qusseir could only stop the bleeding but not treat the problem.”
When Em Abed was staying at Tripoli hospital, she received an important guest in her room: Rouba Dahi, International Medical Corps Senior Health Officer. Rouba was visiting all the patients to monitor their progress and evaluate their needs as well as the hospital’s needs. This was part of International Medical Corps’ intervention at the onset of the Syrian crisis.
“The overloads on Lebanese hospitals at the beginning of the crisis created an urgent need for medical evaluations,” said Rouba, “Given her deteriorating health situation, we transferred Em Abed to the Islamic Hospital because they had the necessary equipment and specialised medical team to treat her.”
After a few weeks, her health worsened. “The infection turned into gangrene in my left leg,” recounts Em Abed, “Its colour became blue and I had the most excruciating pain that I cannot describe. They decided to amputate my leg below the knee. I thought it was the best decision because the ache was killing me.”
Em Abed knows that were it not for International Medical Corps’ referral, she might have died.
“I went into a coma. Dr. Mohammad Zakaria, an International Medical Corps doctor was following up with my surgeons. When he saw me the other day, he was surprised that I am healthy again!
“I look fondly upon my life in my homeland. My husband and I used to have our snacks and tea after finishing our work in the farms. As a farmer, I am deeply attached to the land.”
Though she longs for her homeland, Em Abed has found safety and comfort in Akkar. “I find myself struck by the enormous generosity of the Lebanese people.” A shining example of that is a man named Abu Muhammad, who offered her and her family his ground floor apartment. “We have been living here for free for almost four years now. But we don’t want to be a burden anymore. We want to provide for ourselves and not be dependent. So we are leaving soon. The UNHCR just informed us we can obtain residency in Belgium as refugees.”
Em Abed’s five children have not been to school for four years now.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of those featured in this post