The ICRC team providing support for weapon-wounded people in Lebanon oversees the care given to patients who make their way to Lebanon suffering from complex, infected wounds caused by bombs, bullets and shrapnel. One such patient is 26-year-old orthopaedic specialist, Dr Mohammed.
The ICRC team could hear Mohammed before they saw him: laughter and animated discussion drifted out from a small white room near the entrance of the clinic.
"The pain was unbearable and I was scared. I read the Koran – it was like a painkiller for me," says Dr Mohammed, who for the past three weeks has been undergoing treatment in hospital in the Bekaa Valley.
His spirits high, Dr Mohammed sits on his bed cradling a right arm nearly blown off by an attack on his ambulance in Syria. His arm is held together by an external fixator with two pins, one entering the flesh just below the shoulder and the other in his forearm.
"I told the other doctor and nurse I was travelling with to go back to our hospital on a motorbike, in case our ambulance was targeted. It was hit by a rocket but I managed to stay conscious. They came back for me and took me to a field hospital in Yabroud,” he says.
The level of care required for the young doctor, however, was greater than could be given in Syria. So he, like many others wounded in the devastating conflict, made the journey to Aarsal, a Lebanese city in the north of the Bekaa Valley.
Mohammed's consultant showed us photos on a smart phone of what his arm looked like when he arrived, before nearly a month’s worth of extensive surgery and intensive care. It is not hard to see why he is now full of smiles.
"Inshallah I will continue to get better. My mother and father have moved to Beirut and visit me often. I don't know what will happen next but maybe one day I can be a doctor again," he says.
“I must go home”
Making the most of the present and taking nothing for granted in the future is a common theme among the wounded that the ICRC meet. Ismael (29) sustained third-degree burns to 40 percent of his legs in the bombing of a petrol station in Syria. "It was winter and the water pipes were frozen. Bystanders had to stamp on my legs to put the fire out," he explained.
Ismael's initial visit to a hospital was brief. There was no emergency care so he was forced to go home, cared for by just by his wife, a qualified first aider. The pain, he says, was indescribable. He paid 200 US dollars to travel to Lebanon in a truck with 14 other people. His wife, who was among them, was nine months pregnant at the time.
The ICRC went to visit Ismael after being informed of his condition. Given the extent of his injuries, the health team, together with the Lebanese Red Cross, oversaw his immediate transfer to one of the contracted hospitals with which the ICRC works in the Bekaa Valley. Ismael has now spent almost two months receiving intensive treatment, visited only occasionally by his wife, who lives 70 miles away in Aarsal.
Separated from his wife and baby, as well as from the rest of his family who remain in Syria, Ismael doesn't know what the future holds. "I’m scared to go back because of what might happen to me and my family,” he says, adding, “but I cannot live here. I must go home."
Attacks against health-care workers must stop
Between January and April 2014, the ICRC:
- covered the cost of treatment of 184 people with weapon-wounded injuries in hospitals in the Bekaa region;
- donated medical supplies and equipment to 20 medical facilities throughout Lebanon, to improve the care of people who fall victim to weapon-related injuries;
- provided training for 85 doctors, nurses and first-aiders;
- supported the Lebanese Red Cross blood banks and emergency medical services Attacks on health-care workers in Syria by all sides involved in the conflict, and in other violence-prone countries, are both unacceptable and a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Hospitals, medical personnel, first aiders and ambulances must be respected and protected in all circumstances. Sick and wounded people have a right to be treated without discrimination. Ambulances and medical personnel must be assured of safe passage.