It’s true that after working in a country, you create a genuine and enduring connection to it. This was my second time working for MSF in Sudan. I came from Ethiopia with a small team. We crossed the border there because it was one of the only ways to enter the country.
The change in Sudan is shocking. On the road between Wad Madani and Khartoum, we saw tanks, decimated buildings, and many checkpoints. Security is not the same. The price of food is increasing. If you have electricity, you are lucky. Everything is critical.
We arrived at Bashair hospital in Khartoum. It was almost empty. We had little to work with both in terms of supplies and medical staff. This is a typical hospital with different departments: maternity, a department for vaccinations, emergency, internal medicine, and so on. Because of the war, most departments are not working. When a country is at war, there are needs everywhere. We were there to address surgical needs.
Working with a team in a war zone
The entire time we were working we could hear the sounds of war outside. There were planes circling. They would fly over and within a few minutes or within an hour, the bombing would start. Between the explosions, there were sounds of gunshots from the streets. If it was very close, you could feel the walls shake, the windows too. There was smoke all around the hospital. Several times, members of the team lost family members in the bombing. We didn’t sleep a lot. Some nights we didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t because our dreams and reality started to blur.
I was impressed by the volunteers we worked with. There were a lot of medical students, nurses, and doctors. Some of them were focused on data analysis, some were moving patients from one area to the next, some were cleaning the surgical ward. Some were providing translation services between patients and the medical team. We built something, together, with our Sudanese colleagues. We really built something.
We admitted all the patients with surgical needs. We did all the lifesaving surgery that we were able to do—everything from amputations for a diabetic patient to emergency accidents. I remember that one patient was a young child, three or four years old, who had swallowed a nail. We admited this patient and we operated.
Treating patients with chronic illness and ongoing surgical needs
Because of the conflict, it has become extremely complicated for the patients with chronic diseases to get their treatments. Almost every day, I had someone coming to me to ask for insulin. We also had—especially at night—many patients with asthma attacks. We had some medication available for diseases like hypertension, asthma, and HIV.
One day, we heard a big explosion and went to the emergency room. A few minutes later, a father arrived with his two sons. One had shrapnel in his abdomen. He was critical. In a few minutes, we had him in the operating room. The other one had an extremely bad leg injury. The limb was destroyed with no hope of repair. I had to discuss this with the father because we needed his consent to make the amputation. With tears in his eyes, he refused. I felt a lot of emotions witnessing the suffering in this father’s eyes. Both children came through the surgery okay and were later referred, accompanied by their father, to a hospital outside of Khartoum where they could continue their treatment. This kind of intense experience is almost routine here.