Hospital in Syrian city barely copes with wounded

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Next to him was a dying man who did not speak.

Next to Fatimah was a man whose right foot was hanging only by his skin. He held a cellphone in his right hand. As the staff walked past him to help others, he tugged at their coats.

"May Allah be with you," he said, pleading for assistance. The man eventually lost his foot and the staff bandaged his leg to stop the bleeding.

Rawyah and Bedour, two girls about 9 or 10, were screaming in pain as a doctor and two assistants attended to them. Lying on their backs, they kicked their legs in the air every time bits of shrapnel were removed from their bodies.

Undeterred by all the gore, Osman's two children, Omar and Rushd, wandered around the lobby the same way others their age would walk in a park.

"Don't worry about them. They've become used to this," he said. "As a family, we made a decision to live together. There is no such thing as a safe place. So, we live here and we die here. At least we will die while providing a service to our cause."

Rushd played with three screwdrivers, which she used to try and make a hole in a wall. She seemed totally oblivious to the cries of pain.

"The psychological pressure on us is tremendous," said Abu el-Baraa, a 23-year-old army medic who deserted his unit in July in rural Damascus and also asked to be identified by his nickname out of fear of retaliation. To avoid arrest, he walked for five days in the countryside and then obtained an ID card of an older brother that he used to get past army checkpoints on the road to Aleppo.

"This has been a miserable day par excellence," he said of Wednesday.

Around 9 p.m., guerrilla commander Sheikh Hussein and a band of armed fighters in camouflage fatigues stormed into the hospital carrying a wounded man named Ali Al-Sheikh, who died minutes later.

"Ali has been martyred, you guys," Hussein said, fighting back tears.

His men began weeping. One punched the metal door of an out-of-order elevator and another sat with his face buried in his hands.

Hussein, about 40, with an assault rifle slung across his shoulder, left the group and headed to one side of the hospital's lobby to offer a brief prayer for Ali. He did not use a prayer mat on the bloodstained floor.

Afterward, he tapped his comrades on the shoulder with his blood-soaked hands.

"Don't cry. Just say 'thank you, God,' because he is now a martyr," he told them, his brown worry beads wrapped around the barrel of his rifle.

Al-Sheikh's body, wrapped in a sky blue sheet, was taken from the ICU and carried outside by the fighters who shouted, "There is no God but Allah."

Thursday morning was ushered in with an airstrike and intense shelling that sounded much closer than the previous day's attack.

There were more injured: a sniper victim who prayed loudly until he succumbed to his chest wound; a child no more than 10 who stared at his severed left foot lying in front of him; a man who begged for help and was told firmly by a medic: "Act as a believer and wait for your turn."

The overwhelmed staff asked those with superficial wounds to go home and come back later.

"My brother is dying!" cried a young man as he stood next to his wounded sibling. "For God's sake, people, come and help him!"

Dr. Abu Rayan was preparing to meet his wife and two children across town in a government-controlled area of Aleppo, using a fake ID to get him through checkpoints. But he delayed his departure to help out.

Then the power went off, and an overworked generator kicked in as the sound of shelling got louder.

"I don't know whether we will ever be able to lead normal lives again," Osman said. "Will we have dreams and ambitions like regular people, or have we been scarred forever?"

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