Afghanistan: “It Hurt So Much I Couldn’t Scream”


Standing in the women’s ward, grasping a metal frame, 18-year-old Bibi Aisha is slowly learning to walk again. Her sister-in-law, Oura, holds her elbow for support, closely watched by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) orthopedic surgeon Javed. After ten faltering steps, Bibi is exhausted, and Javed takes over, carrying her back to bed at MSF’s trauma center in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan. Bibi was admitted ten days ago with two bullet wounds to the abdomen.

For more than three weeks, heavy fighting had shaken Kunduz province. “We couldn’t sleep at night and we heard the planes hit the neighboring villages,” says Oura. Ten days ago, along with thousands of other families, she and nine of her relatives fled their homes to find shelter in Kunduz city. They traveled in a trailer, hitched behind a truck. Surrounded by bags of flour, rice, and clothes, they had no idea when they would next see their homes.

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On the road out of their village, they got caught up in crossfire. As they ducked in panic, Bibi was hit by a stray bullet, which entered her abdomen above the hips and passed out the other side. The road to Kunduz city was too dangerous, forcing the truck driver to take a detour to neighboring Chardara district. From there, they moved Bibi by boat to Kunduz to get medical assistance. “We knew that the road to Kunduz city was mined, so we drove towards Chardara as fast as we could,” says Oura. “Bibi was crying, but she wasn’t bleeding, so we thought it was okay.”

“It hurt so much I couldn’t scream,” Bibi says.

Two hours after the shooting, they made it to Kunduz trauma center. Bibi’s abdomen was perforated and she was bleeding internally. “We stabilized her right away and took her into the operating theater a minute later,” says MSF surgeon Troels Vedel. “There was a big hole in her stomach that I had to suture. We also cleaned the two bullet wounds and closed them.”

Bibi woke up in the intensive care unit, where she stayed for six days before being transferred to the women’s ward. So far, she is making good progress. “It’s encouraging that she wants to try to walk,” says Vedel. “She can even eat. She’s going to recover.”

Soon the family will be able to return home, despite continued fighting. After ten days staying with relatives in Kunduz city, the family has already packed their bags to return. “We have hardly anything here,” says Oura. “We’d better get back to our hens.”

Heavy fighting between Afghan forces and armed opposition groups in the northern-eastern province of Kunduz is increasingly isolating people living in the districts from the provincial capital, where Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) trauma centre has been receiving wounded patients. While Kunduz had been considered one of the more stable provinces in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, since last year, there has been a significant increase in fighting, with the current ‘spring offensive’ seeing an intense level of combat. In the three weeks since the announcement of the annual ‘fighting season’, medical staff at MSF’s trauma centre have treated 204 war wounded patients , the vast majority of them injured by gunshots or bomb blasts. Of these patients, 51 of them were women and children.