Syrian doctor in Idlib: “nothing can shock me any more”

Ahmed Ghandoor (39) is the hospital director and general surgeon at Al Rahma hospital in Darkoush In Idlib, close to the Syrian border with Turkey.

Islamic Relief has supported the hospital by providing dialysis machines and equipment for dialysis sessions, as well as incubators and x-ray and ultrasound machines.

Life has changed immeasurably working as a doctor in Idlib. Scenes of children screaming and howling in horror at the sight of their dead mothers, or children’s bodies with no heads nor limbs were once such a shocking sight for me in the hospital. But no longer.

It’s so hard to see whole groups of people in the throes of dying after a massacre because we don’t have what’s needed to treat them.  They are begging us for survival but we can do nothing.

It’s unbelievable to think that hospitals and doctors have themselves become a target, in order to kill as many civilians as possible.

My brother was arrested because I am working as a doctor in a field hospital in the opposition controlled area, but Alhamdulilah, he was released last year.

In this very hospital, a laboratory technician was killed in a bomb attack and eight staff members were injured. In a hospital nearby, a team were hit by a bomb strike while they were saving the lives of others who had been attacked by a previous bomb strike.

While the level of need in the hospital soars, thanks to the regular bombing attacks, our capacity to help has been severely diminished.

We have so few ventilators in the intensive care unit that people are dying because of a simple lack of oxygen. People have died of cardiac arrest because of the lack of catheters to check people’s hearts and patients suffering from diabetes have died because of the lack of insulin supplies.

We can provide treatment for children suffering from renal failure but other hospitals can’t and children have died because of this.

There is only one CT scanner in the whole of the opposition controlled area (home to 750,000 people) and this is of utmost need because of the amount of head injuries we see. And we only have one MRI machine that we have to charge people for.

Even if we have the machinery and the equipment, sometimes it’s the lack of trained health workers that is killing people. Five doctors and four nurses from this hospital have not surprisingly fled and we now have between 20 specialist doctors and nine GPs. But we should have at least 30 specialists and 20 GPs.

For those of us that are left we operate in very difficult conditions.  For example, there is no electricity on a regular basis.

A few years back we had no electricity for three days and my cousin was rushed into the hospital at night-time after being injured in a bomb attack. He was losing a lot of blood from his femoral artery and I needed to operate immediately, so I did so using a simple head torch and a cigarette lighter. Alhamdulilah, I managed to join the artery and was able to save his life.

Due to the level of need and the staff shortages, we work very long hours. There is no time for rest. I work about 12-16 hours a day, perform about six-eight major operations and see about 40-50 patients. It can be exhausting.

This has had a major effect on my personal life. I used to spend a lot of time with my friends and my brothers and sisters. But now my only social life is in the hospital.

But despite this, it does feel good to be able to save people’s lives.

Recently, Enas, a beautiful young married woman who was six months pregnant was severely injured in a bomb attack.  She  was hit in the uterus, intestines and bladder and underwent a very difficult operation in which she sadly lost her unborn child. She herself survived, albeit without a liver, and had to have her hand amputated. Not surprisingly, she was left in a state of shock but never gave up hope. She is determined to complete her studies in medicine and then go on to treat victims of this crisis.

Like Enas, I am determined to continue my humanitarian work for our Syrian people. The intensity of bombing has increased my faith and Allah is giving me strength and hope. The smiles of children and the prayers of patients also increase my strength.

Rola Rashwani (eight), was badly injured when her village was shelled by the Syrian regime. Her bladder, colon, bowels, ovaries and ureter were all ruptured and I carried out a lengthy operation. Alhamdulilah, she is fine now.

Mohammed (eight), came into the hospital suffering from kidney failure because of an infection and dehydration. He received treatment in the hospital and he is now in good health.

When I save children’s lives and make them smile and bring happiness to the hearts of their mothers and other loved ones, it makes me happy. It’s virtually my only happiness as my own family are at risk of danger and I rarely see them now.

Like everyone here, they are struggling to survive. The bombings have destroyed so many factories and other places of work. So few people have proper jobs anymore but prices for food, transport and health care have rocketed. Everyone is suffering.

My message to everyone around the world is to please stop this crisis in Syria. Stop killing children and bombing homes, hospitals, mosques and schools. Please let us live in peace.

Unfortunately I’m not optimistic. This has been going on for more than six years.

Islamic Relief and other organisations are providing free health care for thousands of people affected by this crisis. Without their continued support, we would have lost so many more lives.