Standing in the women’s ward, grasping a metal frame, 18-year-old Bibi Aisha is slowly learning to walk again. Her sister-in-law, Oura, holds her elbow for support, closely watched by Médecins Sans Frontières orthopaedic surgeon Javed. After ten faltering steps, Bibi is exhausted, and Javed takes over to carry her back to her bed.
Bibi was admitted to Médecins Sans Frontières' Trauma Centre in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, ten days ago, with two bullet wounds to the abdomen. For more than three weeks, heavy fighting had shaken Kunduz province. “We couldn’t sleep at night and we heard the planes hit the neighbouring villages,” says Oura. Ten days ago, along with thousands of other families, she and nine of her relatives fled their homes to find shelter in Kunduz city. They travelled in a trailer, hitched behind a truck. Sitting surrounded by bags of flour, rice and clothes, they had no idea when they would next see their homes.
On the road out of their village, they got caught up in crossfire. As they ducked in panic, Bibi was hit by a stray bullet, which entered her abdomen above the hips and passed out the other side. Instead of heading straight for Kunduz city to get medical assistance, the truck driver was forced to take a detour to neighboring Chardara district, because the road ahead was too dangerous to use. “We knew that the road to Kunduz city was mined,” Oura says, “So we drove towards Chardara as fast as we could.” In Chardara, they moved Bibi into a boat to reach Kunduz city by river. “Bibi was crying, but she wasn’t bleeding, so we thought it was ok,” says Oura.
“It hurt so much I couldn’t scream”
At this moment Bibi raises her eyes and speaks for the first time. “It hurt so much I couldn’t scream,” she says. Two hours after the shooting, they made it to Kunduz Trauma Centre. Bibi’s abdomen was perforated and she was bleeding internally. “We stabilised her right away and took her into the operating theatre a minute later,” says Médecins Sans Frontières surgeon Troels. “There was a big hole in her stomach that I had to suture. We also cleaned the two bullet wounds and closed them.” Bibi came round from the anaesthestic in the intensive care unit, where she stayed for six days before being transferred to the women’s ward.
Bibi is making good progress. “It’s encouraging that she wants to try to walk,” says Troels. “She can even eat; she’s going to recover.” Oura is reassured. Soon they will be able to return home, despite the fact that fighting continues in the area where they live. After 10 days staying with relatives in Kunduz city, the family has already packed their bags to return to the district. “We have hardly anything here,”says Oura; “we’d better get back to our hens.”