April 1, 2003
Last week, a team from the international medical humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) joined their medical colleagues at the 250-bed Al-Kindi General Hospital in northeast Baghdad to help treat emergency injured patients. A surgeon, anesthesiologist, and emergency physician from MSF became integrated into a surgical and medical team, and will work 24-hour shifts every other day. On Tuesday April 1, one doctor, Morten Rostrup, President of MSF International, spoke to MSF through a journalist from Baghdad:
For two days last week, when the sandstorm raged, you couldn't see for more than 200 meters, and sand was everywhere - in our eyes, ears, sand in our throats. And then there's smoke from oil fires that ring the city. By chance, rain cleared the air, but the bombings continue.
The atmosphere has changed. When the war started, people in Baghdad tried to live a normal life, hoping to keep a pattern in a bizarre situation. But tensions are rising and the bombings intensify.
We've seen some wounded so far, a range of civilian casualties, from very light wounds, to major traumas warranting operations, and some deaths. A lot of the injuries are from flying debris and metal pieces. It's difficult to judge when examining a patient whether bombs or anti-aircraft fire caused the injuries.
A few days ago, parts of a wall fell on one woman, fracturing several bones in her face. Luckily there was no cerebral hemorrhaging. Yesterday, the hospital admitted 19 casualties, including several children. One child died in the operating theatre, while 3 other patients died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The main traumas were from shrapnel. Two days before we were present for two operations on boys who had shrapnel injuries in the abdomen. Luckily, there was no perforation of the intestines, just some less serious injuries of the liver and kidneys. These casualties frustrate and distress the team.
The psychological trauma and shock from explosions has resulted in shock syndromes and stress-related chest pain, breathing problems, and strokes. We've seen an increase in heart attacks, as well. The situation is very tense and people are worried, they're afraid, they're staying in their homes, and most of the shops are closed. Some normal traffic continues on the streets, and our team is able to move back and forth between the hospital and our house in a quiet suburban neighborhood that has been spared for the most part. There are damaged homes in the city, and as we travel we often hear explosions.
Up until now, al Kindi has been functioning well, with skilled local doctors, but there is a need for some specific drugs, especially painkillers and anesthetic drugs. MSF will re-supply these. Normal health services continue - people still need help with chronic health problems - and since war can disrupt supplies of all basic medical materials quickly, we will carefully monitor the situation and try to get more supplies when necessary.
The doctors are experienced in trauma surgery, and are very committed to stay and work in the hospital. We are here to help if our medical colleagues need it. And if there is a battle around Baghdad, Al-Kindi could be a major receiving hospital of injured, so our presence may be important later as well.
– Morten Rostrup, MD
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)