Amal Abdullah* recalls the day four years ago that she was told to leave the east Aleppo neighbourhood where she grew up. “It was mid-July 2012 when the authorities told us we should evacuate our neighbourhood in east Aleppo or face the consequences. I was 32, I lived with my parents and siblings, and worked in a shop in a mall. But then the war began and everything changed and we lost the life we had.
On the evening of 1 August, my cousin and I were walking home when suddenly a bomb fell close by. I saw the flash and heard the explosion. We were pulled into a building by strangers, but we decided to make a dash for it to a relative’s house nearby. As we were running, a second bomb fell in between two buildings. The street was filled with panic: people were running and shouting and there were wounded people on the ground. Again, strangers pulled us indoors and we sheltered in an apartment on the first floor. Members of my family called me asking where I was and saying that the situation was getting worse. The next moment I saw a strong light and heard a loud explosion. I was fully conscious and screaming, but I didn’t feel any pain. The woman who had been standing next to me was on the floor, dead. I was rolled onto a blanket and carried downstairs and I heard people calling for an ambulance.
"The force of the explosion had thrown me against the wall, smashing the bone in my elbow. My leg was almost severed by shrapnel, and I had shrapnel wounds in my hand, arm, chest, ribs and abdomen"
In the ambulance, men crowded around me, asking questions. What was my name? Who were my family? I managed to tell them my sister’s number. When she picked up the phone and heard my name, she thought I was dead. In Abdul Aziz field hospital, they gave me an anaesthetic and tried to stop the bleeding. The force of the explosion had thrown me against the wall, smashing the bone in my elbow. My leg was almost severed by shrapnel, and I had shrapnel wounds in my hand, arm, chest, ribs and abdomen. I was transferred to Al Razi public hospital on a hectic, dangerous journey: there was shelling going on and I was still bleeding. The whole area was being bombed. They carried me straight into the operating theatre, and the last thing I remember was the surgeon asking me to recite a verse from the Quran as the anaesthesia kicked in. They operated on me for 10 hours and I was unconscious for five days.
When I was discharged from hospital, there was no safe place to go. I had a severe bone injury, but the main problem was the fear. Every time I heard aeroplanes in the sky, the pain got worse. I kept on having flashbacks to the day I was injured. After a month, we managed to leave the city and escape to Jordan. In the four years since I was injured, I’ve had 20 surgical operations to repair the damage to my leg, arm and hand. After a year of bone grafts and follow-up care in Médecins Sans Frontières’ reconstructive surgery hospital in Amman, I’m almost ready to be discharged. I walk with crutches, but I’ve got an artificial joint in my hand, so I can move it freely now.
Now I look at what’s happening in Aleppo – the bombings and the siege – and feel for the people left there. I remember how it feels to live in danger, when it’s too risky even to move around. If only no one else in Aleppo had to go through what I’ve been through. Sometimes I feel sad when people ask, ´What happened to you?’ But this is destiny; I have to accept it. I feel lucky for having had such good medical care, and I just hope to make a full recovery.”
*Names have been changed at the patient’s request