4 min read  | Aleppo, Interviews, Politics

One of east Aleppo’s last doctors: ‘I can’t do anything to help the wounded’

November 29, 2016

Before the war, Dr. Yahya’s only patients were babies and children.

Now, the east Aleppo pediatrician also acts as a battlefront medic for civilians trapped under intense airstrikes, as a joint Russian and regime offensive announced earlier this month advances into the city’s encircled rebel-held districts.

An airstrike hit his hospital last week, forcing the doctors and patients to evacuate to a smaller nearby clinic, Yahya says. He and the other hospital staff found themselves along a deadly new frontline Monday as regime forces, backed by air strikes and artillery fire, reportedly seized several key east Aleppo neighborhoods.

“At one point, a missile hit an apartment building near me, and the sound was so loud it blasted my ear drums,” Yahya, interviewed below, tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier.

“I thought I was going to die.”

Monday’s bombardment forced Yahya and his family to move to another neighborhood for safety, he says, leaving behind the clinic. It is unclear when he will return to work.

“Right now I can’t do anything to help the wounded,” he says. “I was born and raised in Aleppo, and I still can’t process what is happening.”

Q: Over the past two weeks, airstrikes have destroyed east Aleppo’s last remaining hospitals. During this time, have you received any patients who impacted you more as a human being than as a doctor?

Yes, there is one case that especially impacted me. 

We had a newborn in the hospital whose mother died during childbirth. We put him in one of the incubators, and then we had to evacuate him along with the other babies last Friday when the bomb hit.

That Sunday, one of the nurses who took care of the incubators told us the baby’s father had just died from an airstrike, making him an orphan.

He was just three days old.

To be honest, words aren’t enough to describe how I feel. Every day, when the [wounded people] arrive for care, I feel a sense of defeat. There are too many of them, and too few ways to help.

 After an airstrike in east Aleppo on November 18. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.

Q: On Monday, rebel forces in Aleppo described an “unprecedented” barrage of airstrikes and artillery as the regime retook 20 percent of the city’s eastern districts. How are you coping with the escalation while taking care of the wounded?

It’s complete chaos. The clinic is now close to the frontline opened up by the regime advance, so there was intense bombing yesterday.

There were injured people in the streets, but emergency vehicles couldn’t do anything to help them out of fear that a secondary airstrike might hit the same spot. In addition, we don’t have enough equipment right now, and are only able to give first aid.

I was terrified the entire day on Monday, like everyone else. At one point, a missile hit an apartment building near me, and the sound was so loud it blasted my ear drums. I thought I was going to die.

Last night the bombings forced me and my family to move to a different area, and right now I can’t do anything to help the wounded.

Q: This isn’t the first time you and your staff have been in the line of fire. Last Friday, an airstrike hit your hospital, forcing the doctors and patients to evacuate to a smaller clinic. How did the doctors and nurses respond to the airstrike?

When the airstrike hit, we started evacuating babies from the incubators, as well as children in other parts of the hospital. We had to be careful, because there were three patients being treated for asphyxiation from chlorine gas.

In those crucial, horrible first moments, some of the nurses started to cry from the shock.

Some of us were hurt by shards of glass and debris falling down from the roof, but thankfully none of the staff or the patients was seriously injured.

A few of the nurses took our only ambulance and transferred the babies and children to another clinic with equipment.

We drove the other patients there with a car. The entire time, we were terrified that we’d be bombed along the way, and that the staff who were in the car would be killed.  

Q: As a doctor specializing in pediatrics, rather than emergency or wound care, how has your job changed over the course of the war? What kept you motivated to do your job, despite the risks involved?

Nowadays, I can’t provide any medical care except for basic first aid.

There are only three pediatricians left here in east Aleppo. Only 30 doctors are still working here, providing first aid for injured people. We are now confined to small clinics rather than hospitals.

What kept me going is the fact that the wounded are my fellow countrymen. It’s my duty as both an Aleppan and a doctor to do whatever I can to help them survive the suffering and violence here.

I was born and raised in Aleppo, and I still can’t process what is happening. I never imaged that my country would be destroyed like this, that its neighborhoods would become ghost cities. 

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