September 30, 2006
All patients names have been changed.
Nasir Al-Ta'ee: "I was burned all along my entire right side, from head to toe"
Nasir is 37 years old. He lives with his wife and six children in the district of Babylone south of Baghdad. He earns a living doing odd jobs. In January he found himself standing five meters from two people who blew themselves up in a market. Six months later, Nasir has undergone reconstructive surgery in Amman.
"About thirty people were killed on the spot or died later in hospital from their injuries. They were in front of me. It was them that protected me. Like me, 120 people were wounded in the suicide bombing. I was burned all along my entire right side, from head to toe. My back was also burnt. I woke up, after four days in a coma, in a hospital where the hygiene was terrible. That's why the doctors advised me to leave, fearing for my health. So I was transferred to a private hospital that was better suited to treating my wounds. I stayed there a month, which cost me 1.5 million dinars (about $1,200). I had an operation on my chin and lip, and then I went home. After that, I returned to Baghdad Central Hospital regularly. I got medicines there, but they were very expensive. That's where a doctor told me about a group of doctors who could send me out of the country for facial reconstructive surgery. In Baghdad, there is the choice between a public hospital that offers free medical care but that can no longer provide this type of specialized surgery, and a private hospital that is very expensive. In all, I waited six months before being able to come to Amman for my operation. I arrived on August 3, and I was operated on six days later. I'm doing much better now, but it is still painful to eat and drink. I also hear a permanent buzzing in my ears. The doctors don't know if this will improve. I want to return to Iraq. My wife couldn't come with me because of the cost of the trip and security problems, especially getting to the airport. You never know what's going to happen."
Said: "I've lost count of the number of friends who've died right before my eyes"
Said is a young man, 18 years old, who sells steel in Baghdad. On July 9, he was standing near two booby-trapped vehicles when they blew up in a neighborhood of the capital. After listening to his story, we told him, as we are accustomed to doing, that we would not give his real name. "What's there to fear. What can be worse than what I'm going through now?" he told us at the end of the interview.
"Our car had a flat tire. My friends went off to get something to fix it with, while I stayed and waited. It was our car that shielded me from the two other cars that blew up a few meters away from me. I was hit directly in the face. My nasal septum was shattered, and I lost several teeth. I was rushed to hospital. My friends looked for me in vain, then found me at the hospital and told my family. They operated on me immediately; I was in the operating room for three hours. One of the surgeons present knew about MSF. I underwent a second operation, and left hospital after two weeks. "With the limited means that we have these days, we can't do anything more for you," they told me. On the other hand, they strongly urged me to apply for a passport. The doctor told me that it was possible to refer me to Amman (in Jordan) where the kind of specialized operation I needed was available, thanks to foreign doctors. He told me, however, to keep a low profile and not to tell anyone about it, for security reasons. I had a lot of trouble getting a passport. I had to pay more than $500, and got it a month later. I finally arrived in Amman on August 21. I wanted to come by car, as my ears hurt in an airplane. But it was impossible, again for security reasons. Here, the doctors told me I had several facial fractures, and I've already had one operation. They've taken bone from my hip to reconstruct my nose. I'm supposed to have a second operation in two weeks. I don't want to go back to Iraq. I've lost count of the number of friends who've died right before my eyes."
Abu Sliman: "I had to undergo six different operations"
Abu Sliman is married and the father of six children. His wife is pregnant. He is 41 years old and lives in Mosul, about 400 kilometers north of Baghdad. Abu Sliman used to use his car as a taxi. He was using it to go shopping on March 2, 2004, when he found himself in the crossfire of American forces and an armed militia. He has arrived in Jordan two and a half years later.
"I realized the situation straight away when I saw armed men along the sides of the road. I immediately wanted to stop and park my car but there was a spray of gunfire and I was hit in the neck. The bullet came out through my lower lip. I also lost many teeth. In the accident, my head hit the windshield and my eye was hurt. I was alone in the car, but I was conscious. I called for help, but several vehicles passed by me without stopping. One driver finally came to my aid and drove me to the hospital quickly. I lost a lot of blood, and ten of my family members volunteered to donate blood so that I could have a transfusion.
I stayed in the hospital for 40 days. I had to undergo six different operations, including one for my right eye. I still haven't completely recovered my vision. For more than two years, there has not been a week gone by in which I have not returned to the hospital. Sometimes I even have to go every day. I can't work anymore, so my brother is helping us out. In all, I spent more than $6000, for all the operations and treatments in a private hospital. I didn't trust the public system. But my condition didn't improve.
Some doctors who were in contact with MSF told me about the possibility of going to Amman for treatment. First, they asked me to come to Baghdad for a series of tests, and asked me for a photocopy of my passport. I was very worried at the idea of going to Baghdad. Nevertheless, I resigned myself to taking a taxi and went there and back in one day. A few days later, I returned at the request of the doctors, who put me up for one night in a hotel in the capital before taking the airplane. I was very scared about staying in Baghdad, and also about getting to the airport the next day. But, everything went smoothly. I landed in Amman on August 3, and was operated on twice in the 15 days following my arrival. They took some bone from my hip in order to reconstruct my jaw bone. I feel like my condition is improving, but the doctors have told me that I need to stay here a little longer so that they can monitor the progress of my health. Obviously my family cannot join me here, so I'm really looking forward to seeing them again. I don't know what I'll do when I return. And I lost my car in this whole ordeal."
Kamal: "I lost part of my jaw, my nasal septum was broken"
On November 16, 2005, around 6 pm, Kamal was riding around Baghdad, accompanied by a friend who was driving the car, when up ahead they spotted an American patrol that was blocking the road. Kamal was heading home, where his wife and three children were waiting. He didn't see where the bullet came from that hit him in the cheekbone, under his left eye. He arrived in Amman nine months later.
"I lost part of my jaw, my nasal septum was broken, and my frontal bone broke under the impact. Some of the bones in my face were also shattered. I didn't lose consciousness, but I bent over so I wouldn't suffocate. I still have a piece of the exploded bullet in my shoulder. My friend was petrified with fear. He immediately stopped the car, and the Iraqi army took me to the hospital, where I spent about ten days, seven in intensive care. I had two operations in Baghdad, one to put my nose back into place and for stitches, and the second to get metal pins in my jaw. Then I left the hospital, but I went back every Sunday, to get care and to check the status of my jaw. But after two months, my jaw was completely dislocated. I realized it was useless to go back to the hospital. Beginning in December and for five months, my friends and I have been scouring the hallways of the diplomatic missions. We always get the same answer: "Leave your file, we'll call you back."
I went round the international organizations and the foreign embassies, with no success. Each time they told me I wasn't the only one in this situation. I also knew it was useless to go to a private hospital, since the same doctors practice there, and nowadays they don't have the means to do this kind of specialized surgery. By chance I ran into Dr. A., who had my file and who send it to an international organization, based abroad. He asked me to get ready and to get a passport, so I could be referred here. Thanks to an acquaintance, I got the passport in five days. I arrived at the Red Crescent hospital in Amman on August 21, and I had a first operation two days later. The surgeon put my jaw back into place and inserted implants at the joints. But I'm still going to have several more operations. There's no bone left under my eye, they're going to reconstruct my nose, and I still have several frontal bone fractures. The doctor has already set a major operation for next week. I don't know when I'll be able to get home. I miss my children. But I have no particular anxiety about their security. We live in a relatively calm neighborhood of Baghdad."
Mrs. Samira and her daughter: "She needed blood for 59 days"
When we reach her room, Mariam is waiting for us with her mother who is sitting on her hospital bed. Mariam is 25 years old. She was making a phone call from the terrace of her house when a shell fell on the roof, right next to her. Her mother immediately starts to talk, between tears and laughter, in order, she says, 'to continue to tell the whole world about her daughter's pain since that day in August 2004'.
"We live near an embassy in El Adamia, one of the most vulnerable areas in Baghdad. My husband is a car mechanic but can no longer work because of the permanent danger. We had to sell our garage and our home so we could rent a house in this suburb. But our money is running out. I have 16 children to feed, and the youngest are triplets! On August 12, 2004, when the shell fell on the terrace, everyone in the embassy came out to see what was happening. My daughter was lying in a pool of blood and strips of flesh stuck to the ground when we tried to lift her. One of my sons immediately intervened to keep my daughter awake.
Her hip was injured, hit by a piece of shrapnel, but she stayed conscious. She was quickly transferred to a hospital in Baghdad where she stayed for two months for a muscle graft and her first orthopedic operation. She needed blood for 59 days, and all the members of the family went voluntarily to give her some. Our passports were up to date, obtained before the fall of the old regime, and my daughter was able to be transferred to a hospital abroad, thanks to the personal involvement of our neighbour, the ambassador, whom I thank from the bottom of my heart. There, she had her first operation for reconstructive surgery. The surgeon put a plate in her hip and told us to return in a year for it to be removed, because he alone was able to carry out this type of operation. My daughter stayed in that hospital for a month. I went with her. I even asked for political asylum, in front of television cameras and in the newspapers in that country!
We returned to Iraq, where the situation continued to deteriorate, to the point that the country in which my daughter received her operation no longer wished to give visas to Iraqis. Despite our repeated requests to the embassy which had helped us the first time, these remained unanswered. I am sure that our requests never reached the ambassador because he would have done anything to get us a visa. We went to the embassy again the week before our departure to Amman, in vain. In the meantime, we also contacted a surgeon at a private hospital, who confirmed that he could extract the plate which was causing my daughter pain, in return for a very large amount of money (more than $1,000). We were relieved, but during a meeting with the surgeon who was to explain to us how he would proceed, my husband realized that the doctor had made a mistake, believing that they were easily extractable screw plates. Realizing his mistake, the surgeon reimbursed us, apologizing that he could not undertake this type of operation. We were not unduly discouraged. But I could not approach a public hospital because we are Sunnis, and suspicion is everywhere. So I went to the municipal council, which informed me of the existence of a network of doctors in contact with an organization based abroad, and which would enable my daughter to receive this specialized surgery.
A week later, we were on the plane to Amman. Today, the surgeons who work with MSF are awaiting certain information before operating on my daughter. They have been in touch with the doctor who inserted the plate, which they should be able to be remove next week. When we return to Iraq, I shall go and see my cousin, who was also injured in a car bombing. So far, he has spent a lot of money to get treatment, but remains confined to his bed. I shall talk to him about this project. Here, this is the first time I have been able to sleep calmly. There, the danger is such that my children no longer go to school. My eldest daughter of 27 has also had to stop her language studies. Everybody is shut up in their houses for fear of violence. The different armies blame us for living in an area where many Westerners live and for thus being used as human shields. We want to leave the country - I always carry photocopies of my husband's and 16 children's passports on me, just in case. Today, at the slightest noise, I take my children out of the house. We have never gone out on the terrace again."
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)