Emergency trauma surgery is the beginning rather than the end of a long journey to recovery for those injured in the embattled city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is running a 40-bed hospital in Hamdaniya, a town south of Mosul, to meet the needs of those recovering from surgery and attempting to rebuild their lives.
This clinic is for now the only facility of its kind in the entire Nineveh province of Iraq and is currently running at full capacity having treated 120 patients since it opened in March. Inside, patients receive regular dressing changes for their complicated wounds, some of which are infected due to the nature of war trauma. MSF also provides physiotherapy and psychological care in conjunction with a team from Handicap International organization. Many patients will require further operations and long periods of rehabilitation before they can return to their families.
Below are the testimonies of eight staff and patients from MSF’s Hamdaniya facility:
Faten: a brave five-year-old girl wounded by a mortar bomb
As told by her father:
“When our neighbourhood in West Mosul was retaken by the Iraqi army we went back to our house. Faten was playing in the garden when a mortar bomb fell in the garden and exploded. She was injured in the leg by shrapnel from the bomb. First we took her to MSF in Hammam Al Alil where Faten received the first aid. From there she was referred to another field hospital in Bartella for further treatment. Now she is here in the post-operative ward in Hamdanyia hospital. Every day the staff here clean her wounds and puts new bandages on. Faten is a brave girl, she likes to play and laugh, but she misses her brothers and sisters at home and at night she cries. All her seven siblings are doing well, praise to God.”
‘Why are they killing us?’ The testimony of Ahmed Ali
“I have been in this hospital for two weeks. My wife and daughter are with me. We were injured in a suicide attack in West Mosul.
Because my brothers and uncles worked for the police, we had a lot of problems with IS (Islamic State). They harassed us and tried to enter our house. When the Iraqi forces were close we decided to flee. We walked together with my mother, my brother and his family and our neighbours. It was a group of 12 people. When we were 50 meters from the Iraqi soldiers we passed a house that was almost destroyed. Then a mine exploded under my feet. I was carrying my daughter Dima who was also injured. Suddenly someone came out of the house… It was a suicide bomber. When he was close to my brother’s family he detonated his bomb belt. My brother, his pregnant wife, their son and daughter died instantly. My other daughter and son were also killed. My neighbour, his two sons and father died too.
The police took me, my wife and our daughter Dima to a small field clinic were we received first aid. Then we were transported to the MSF trauma clinic in Hammam Al Alil. From there, my wife and Dima were sent to the emergency hospital in Erbil and I was transported to MSF in Qayyarah. After one day there I was also referred to Erbil. During one month my wife and I had many operations in the hospital. Two weeks ago we arrived here in the post-operative ward in Hamdaniya hospital. My daughter is recovering well, praise to God.
Honestly, there are so many sad stories in Mosul. I am an eye witness and I can tell you that the situation is disastrous. So many civilians are dying. There is constant shelling, and IS is killing anyone who tries to flee. In one house, five entire families were killed by a coalition airstrike. IS was on the roof and the jets bombed it.
The people in IS are terrorists, we all agree about that. But the jets that come to liberate us, why are they killing us?”
Abdulrahman Isa: Survivor of a street explosion
“I was going to a food distribution when something exploded in the street next to me. I was hit in the chest and arm by shrapnel. First I was treated in a medical post in Aqrab. After that, they referred me to MSF in Hammam Al Alil. I passed through many hospitals before I came to Hamdanyia. It’s been a week now here. My family is in Hay Maoumon, a liberated area of West Mosul.”
Shamel Hashim: a patient from West Mosul
“It was on March 7. I was inside a house in Mosul. There were clashes in the area between IS and the Iraqi forces. A helicopter was shooting at IS fighters in the street. One bullet entered through the window and hit the wall next to me. The ricochet touched my chest and then hit my arm, shattering the bone. My brother who is a nurse was there and could give me first aid. I was operated in a field hospital twice and sent home after the second surgery. But the wound wouldn’t heal well, it became infected. So I was admitted here in Hamdanyia hospital for post-operative care. Now my wound is getting better. My son is here with me in the hospital. The rest of the family is in East Mosul.”
'The women were treated very badly': Aswan Ismael, MSF nurse from Mosul
“I’m from Al Hathba in East Mosul. We stayed there during the offensive. It was very scary with the shooting, shelling and dead bodies in the street. But we couldn’t leave the city, it was dangerous and too expensive. I continued to work in the general hospital when IS came in 2014, but the women were treated very badly and when they tried to beat me with a stick I quitted. I stayed home for more than a year.
I first studied electrical engineering, but changed to nursing because I wanted to help people. I like the job here with MSF. We take care of patients after their surgery and we help them recover. I also work one day a week in the general hospital in Al Hathba. It’s hard though because they have a shortage of everything; drugs, equipment, money.
The security is still not good in East Mosul, and we only leave the house to get the essential things like food and water. We have no electricity and no water in the house.”
‘I still have hope for Mosul’: Sara Younis, MSF nurse at Hamdanyia
“I have been a nurse for seven years. I was working in a hospital in Mosul when IS came. We moved to Qayyarah and I continued for a while but in the end, I had to leave the job. To be safe it was best to stay away from them as much as possible. I suffered when I couldn’t work because I really like being a nurse.
Now I work in shifts of six days for MSF in the post-operative ward in Hamdanyia hospital. The week I’m off I work one day in the primary healthcare centre in Qayyarah.
I have seen too many horrible things. We have co-existed with war and violence for a long time. Now I can hardly believe that we have been liberated. I still have hope for Mosul. Hope that it can become a nice place again.”
‘We were afraid that IS would hurt us’: Oday Suleiman, MSF nurse from Bartella
“I studied nursing in Mosul. I have worked as a nurse for 11 years now. I used to work in Mosul and later in Hamdaniya, but in 2014 we had to flee to Erbil. We are Shabak, a religious minority in Iraq, and we were afraid that IS would hurt us.
Now I have returned to Hamdaniya, but our house is destroyed. I come here only to work, when I’m not on shift with MSF I work one day per week in Hamdaniya hospital. Many of the buildings are out of use now as they were heavily damaged in the fighting. We lack almost everything in the hospital – drugs and equipment.”
'An important job': Faisal Dakhil Khalaf, MSF nurse from Sinjar
“I live in a refugee camp in Dohuk. It has been almost three years now since we fled Sinjar to escape IS. The first seven days we hid in the mountains without food or water. I would like to leave the camp. Life there is bad because there is no electricity, no services, and we still live in tents, but we can’t go back to Sinja. It is not safe. I became a nurse for humanitarian reasons. To help people. It is an important work.”