Doctor In Battle-Ravaged Aleppo Reveals How Civilians Endure
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Syria's civil war has a new face. And once again, it's the face of a child. The image of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was recorded moments after he was rescued from a bombed-out building in Aleppo. Solemn and stoic, covered in blood and dust, the little boy is seen sitting in the back of an ambulance alone.
MOHAMAD ABURAJAB: (Through interpreter) He was in absolute shock. His head was injured. His blood pressure was very low. He was not speaking at all.
MONTAGNE: That is the voice of Mohamad Aburajab, the nurse who treated Omran after he was rescued.
ABURAJAB: (Through interpreter) We started doing different tests - X-Rays for his chest and abdomen, an ultrasound for the stomach. Thankfully, he had no internal bleeding.
MONTAGNE: Nurse Aburajab was describing just how many children like Omran he has treated over the years when suddenly...
(SOUNDBITE OF BOMB EXPLODING)
ABURAJAB: (Through interpreter) Do you hear that? That's a bomb from the planes.
MONTAGNE: A bomb, from the planes, he said. This is Aleppo. Once a vibrant commercial hub, it's now a divided city with hundreds of thousands, many women and children, trapped in its eastern half, under siege by Assad's government.
One of those women is Dr. Farida. She is reportedly the last female obstetrician-gynecologist in eastern Aleppo. She speaks some English, but when we reached her, she preferred to speak Arabic through an interpreter. And a warning - there are some graphic descriptions of wartime injuries.
Dr. Farida, thank thank you for joining us.
FARIDA: Hi, Renee. My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: We hear such sad stories about children wounded and killed in Aleppo. But you see mothers and also pregnant women all the time. Is there one story that sticks with you that would give us an idea of how things are there right now?
FARIDA: (Through interpreter) Last year, a woman had fragments in her stomach. And they found that the shrapnel went into the fetus, and it injured the fetus' eye. Thank God, the baby lived, and the mom was OK.
In these last days, we saw a woman with her legs - they were cut off because of the barrel bombs. She had shrapnel in her liver, in her chest and stomach. We did surgery, and we were able to get the fetus out safely. But I don't know what happened to the mom. They took her to the intensive care unit and transferred her to a hospital called Bab al-Hawa.
MONTAGNE: What then happens, now, when a woman goes into labor in Aleppo, which is now besieged?
FARIDA: (Through interpreter) A patient can come to the hospital, and if she's lucky, there won't be any bombing. There are times when the hospital's being bombed, and we have to stop accepting patients. That's happened multiple times.
As a result, many are birthing at home because they know the hospitals are a target. Every patient that comes knows that there's a possibility that she might die here or get injured.
MONTAGNE: Do you have an example of when you've had to improvise - do something that you would only do in this conflict situation to make it work?
FARIDA: (Through interpreter) There was once a woman who needed plasma, and it wasn't available. So we started taking blood from the family and transfusing it to the patient. Instead of bringing plasma that was already tested, we took any blood. Sometimes after labor, we have to resort to old techniques that no one uses because we don't have the medicine, like massaging the womb, applying pressure with sand and ice on the patient's stomach, putting gauze in the woman's vagina to stop the bleeding.
MONTAGNE: Are fewer women getting pregnant now, there in Aleppo? Or are fewer women looking to have children, given that things are so difficult and even deadly in Aleppo?
FARIDA: (Through interpreter) Despite the siege, you will find that almost every day in the neighborhood, there's a wedding, and women are getting pregnant. Today, maybe, I treated 10 to 15 women because they want to have kids. In Aleppo, in our culture, we love children. If a woman has seven or eight kids, it's as if she doesn't have any kids.
I have one daughter. And people are surprised and ask, do you really only have one daughter? And there's a percentage of women that are afraid that their husband will remarry. And so it is very important to have kids so that they can prevent a second marriage from happening.
MONTAGNE: Well, I do want to thank you very much. And I hope it - everything works out for you - obviously, very difficult time.
FARIDA: (Through interpreter) God willing, things get better. I've been here in Aleppo for five years, and these two months are the worst in all of years of the war. We've never seen anything like it. There's hunger, and people go out and there's no food. He has to be such an evil person to put 350,000 people under siege and just continuously bomb them.
MONTAGNE: Again, all the best to you Dr. Farida and your husband and your daughter. And we appreciate you talking to us.
FARIDA: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And that was Dr. Farida, speaking with us by Skype. We're using just her first name for security reasons. She is thought to be the last female obstetrician-gynecologist in besieged eastern Aleppo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.