This story was recounted by Dr. Wisam al-Qalesh from a makeshift hospital in Arbin, Syria. The events took place on October 6, 2015. Many are the difficult situations life thrusts toward us as we go through its days, especially the folds of war within which our days disappear leaving behind only painful memories in the archive that is our memory.
My story, in brief, is an episode within a recurring bloody series in my bleeding country that hasn't found anything to heal its wounds yet except the wailing and empty statements of condemnation heaped on us at the end of 2012.
My story starts with brutal shelling that did not spare woman or child but compelled us to increase our readiness in this place we can barely call a hospital. We call it a hospital as a metaphor but it does not resemble one. We wait for a few minutes as usual in an all-too-familiar scene as the doors of the ambulance start unleashing stories of misery and war wounds which will not heal over time and which we will refuse to recall except later as tales and legends that took place once upon a time.
My story starts with brutal shelling that did not spare woman or child but compelled us to increase our readiness in this place we can barely call a hospital.
My story is just like any other and it talks about a young girl I didn't know personally but whom I came to know as fate brought us together. Her ghost haunts my memory still. You see, my girl was safe at home that day. I don't know if she was exhausted from hunger in this darkest of sieges and I didn't know know what she was doing at the time. I picture her imitating her mother while she prays or maybe she was playing or maybe, like the rest of our children, she picked up a pen to draw a beautiful world where darkness does not surround us. She draws the world as she and Syrians dream of it. She dreams of a homeland not inhabited by monsters and not ruled by a fascist regime or warlords, a homeland where no one experiences injustice.
Then the warplanes show up in the sky and erase her drawings and her dreams in one swift strike...
The bodies and body parts were suddenly heaped on us in the hospital to a point where we just stood idly unable to act due to the horrors unraveling in front of us.
The bodies and body parts were suddenly heaped on us in the hospital to a point where we just stood idly unable to act due to the horrors unraveling in front of us. Rama was among those brought in, but it wasn't just Rama, it was her entire family to be precise. Her brother, their mother, their grandmother, her cousins and her uncle had preceded her to the hospital. After giving first aid, we started transferring the patients who needed surgery to the operating rooms.
I rushed to the operating room in order to prepare to receive the large number of incoming patients. I remember asking the guy documenting casualties about the number of wounded and finding out it had reached 46, all women and children. I was stunned. For the first time ever, there was not a single man among those injured during an air strike.
I went into the operating room and they immediately brought in Rama. I remember staying in that room for 15 hours straight. We laid down Rama on the bed but her injuries were so severe and so many, we did not know where to start.
We laid down Rama on the bed but her injuries were so severe and so many, we did not know where to start.
A six-year-old child, I found out later, when her father showed me her picture wearing a school uniform after she registered in the first grade.
Our first decision was to amputate. Yes reader, a very straightforward decision in a very complicated situation. We began by amputating her left hand, and then other decisions to amputate soon followed. We had to amputate her left leg above the knee and her right leg below the knee. She did not stop bleeding from the moment she was admitted until hours after the operation.
We began by amputating her left hand, and then other decisions to amputate soon followed.
We hesitate before making the final decision because we feel that her right arm could be salvaged after we were able to connect a vein.
I know, reader, that your feelings and emotions are by now overwhelming and I know you are beginning to feel deep despair and sorrow, but what's the point? Rama will not benefit from your compassion or your tears.
As I shaved her head, I looked at her face, the pieces of shrapnel had created a horrific painting on her face which I will never ever forget.
Once we were done with the amputations, she went through checkup tests because she needed a laparotomy. We had to open her stomach because dozens of pieces of shrapnel had pierced her soft tender skin. They had not reached her internal organs but had disfigured what was left of her body. The anesthesiologist told me she had multiple head injuries, so I hurried and picked up a razor. Yes those are the simple tools at our disposal to locate head injuries. How beautiful her hair was!
As I shaved her head, I looked at her face, the pieces of shrapnel had created a horrific painting on her face which I will never ever forget. We found out that some pieces of shrapnel had penetrated her skull and become lodged in her brain. All we could do was wait. We didn't have anything else we could offer except some medications we ourselves had produced with whatever we had at our disposal at the time.
The operation ended and we began dressing her wounds. I moved away from the bed for a little while as I needed to recuperate. I stood aside and looked from a distance and, in that moment, I wished there were millions of news agencies and thousands of cameras documenting the fall of the mask of humanity from the face of the international community. Those who might worry about whales or if a cat tried to kill itself...
Let me clarify the final scene, for this is all I can offer Rama:
Picture this: a bed dripping blood from all four sides and in that blood there's hatred towards those who claim to care about human rights. Underneath the bed, a pool of blood. Upon it floats the reflection of those who pretend to care about children's rights. And on top of the same bed, rests a piece of mutilated meat.
This child, she used to be called Rama, but all that is left of Rama is an arm, an upper body, and a head. Yet she is still alive. Whenever I see her heart beating on the heart rate monitor, I am overtaken by sadness. Will Rama live?! Yes, she will live if that's what God has planned for her. The very possibility shocked me as if I was struck by thunder.
This child, she used to be called Rama, but all that is left of Rama is an arm, an upper body, and a head.
What will I tell her if she lives? How will I look at her as she's on her way, sorry I mean in her wheelchair, to school?
I prayed for her a lot, but it wasn't an unusual prayer. I simply said: may God choose what is best for her. I left the room to face the rest of her family not knowing how to break the news to them about what remains of Rama. I was exhausted so I fell into a deep agitated sleep. I woke up to the sound of rising voices. I went out and found them whispering about Rama. I went inside the operating room and found some doctors and nurses attempting to revive her, but it seems her young heart could not withstand the world's betrayal so it decided to keep beating in the skies and God did indeed choose what is best for her.
I stood still and didn't know whether I should be happy or sad so I kept my silence. But I have been dreaming about her for the past three years.
This is just one single tragedy among thousands of tragedies I have witnessed in the past five years during my shifts at the "hospital". I told this story for the sake of history and only history. I didn't tell it for anyone, I only told it for history for no one deserves to hear about this dear child Rama, her beauty and her innocence. I just want it to go down in history.