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Iraq, Mosul: The patients we receive are the “lucky ones”

04 Apr 2017

Jonathan Whittall has been working in Médecins Sans Frontières’ newly opened field trauma hospital in a village to the south of Mosul for three weeks. He shares his experiences of the 24-hour emergency trauma care provided by his team of dedicated Iraqi and international staff.

What is an average day like in the hospital?

There is nothing average about a day in this hospital. Every day we see the worst of the worst injuries inflicted by this war. There is a near constant flow of patients and every single one comes with horrific stories: an entire family has been killed, with only one survivor; a father and his son were trapped under the rubble of their house for days after an air strike and have only now reached us for help; a little boy has arrived with a gunshot wound to the head; another boy’s father tells us his son has been shot by a sniper and been treated at home for days before reaching our hospital paralysed; a baby arrives with a bullet wound; a severely malnourished 21 year old man with a blunt trauma to the head from a rifle butt is stretchered in; one man is dead on arrival from injuries sustained while protecting his child from nearby blasts. For each one of these cases there are hundreds of others just as horrific.

"Another boy’s father tells us his son has been shot by a sniper and been treated at home for days before reaching our hospital paralysed"

Who are the patients you are treating?

We are treating the most severe cases. We are set up to deal with what we call 'red cases'. These are the cases that often need immediate lifesaving or damage control surgery in order to survive. Our two operating theatres are almost always busy operating on these cases. We then refer the patients to other hospitals as quickly as we can in order to always be ready to receive other 'red cases' or mass casualties. 

 How do patients get to the hospital?

The ones we receive have often been stabilised at medical posts closer to the front line. We receive the 'lucky' ones. From what I have seen in the hospital, it seems to me that most of the patients we receive are wounded in the middle of clashes when the frontline moves through their neighbourhoods. Many are injured while trying to escape. We have seen patients with suspected sniper wounds to the back of the head, we have also seen patients that have been injured in air strikes. For patients who are injured by air strikes that happen deeper into areas controlled by IS, it seems that it can take several days before they can reach medical care in the south of Mosul. We are extremely worried about reports that huge numbers of people are trapped and wounded inside west Mosul and unable to reach medical assistance on the outside. Over the past few days the hospital has been the calmest since we started. But we don’t think this is because the violence in west Mosul has stopped. It is a sinister calm; air strikes are continuing but patients are not reaching us.