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Aleppo, Syria: “You wait in constant fear that you’ll be targeted”

08 Dec 2016

On his way to meet friends for coffee, 27-year-old computer repairman Abu Ahmed* was injured by a cluster bomb. Four weeks later, his bone fracture in his leg has failed to heal. His only hope is specialist orthopaedic surgery in Turkey – but he is trapped in east Aleppo. Bedridden, he now watches in despair his neighbourhood fall into rubbles after the new wave of airstrikes.

One month ago I was meeting friends for coffee, as I do every morning. My friends were late so, when the raid happened, I was the only one there. Standing next to my neighbour’s house, I heard the missile coming towards me, though I didn’t see it. I sprinted towards a nearby building, but I wasn’t fast enough. It was a cluster bomb. Some of the bombs exploded, hitting the surrounding buildings with force. A piece of shrapnel pierced my left leg. Neighbours started to gather around me, but no one had the courage to approach – they were afraid of the unexploded bombs lying all around. They were also afraid of a second raid following on from the first – that’s how it’s done – so they waited for five minutes until they were sure that the plane had gone.

"Neighbours started to gather around me, but no one had the courage to approach – they were afraid of the unexploded bombs lying all around"

They tried to lift me. I was in such pain I could only shout. They called an ambulance, and fortunately the ambulance arrived. The hospital is nearby ­– the journey should only take a couple of minutes, but that day the driver had to take a different route, as many roads were blocked by debris and bodies from the raid. The blast had dislocated my leg and shattered my thighbone into lots of pieces. I asked if they would need to amputate, but the doctor said no. Afterwards, I was taken to a small room which had been damaged by airstrikes, so there were no shutters or glass in the windows, and people were constantly going in and out.

In a room like that, you wait in constant fear that you’ll be targeted. Through the open windows, I could hear the warplanes circling. After an hour, I couldn’t take the stress any longer, so I asked to be taken home. When I arrived home, it was dark. My neighbours came out of their houses and carried me up to my room on the first floor and laid me on my bed. After seven days I should have been feeling better, but the pain had got to the point where I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get to hospital, because there were no ambulances, and once I got there, there’d be no guarantee I could get to see a doctor. After 16 days, my thigh had started to swell up. It was too painful to touch – I couldn’t even cover it with a blanket. 

"After 16 days, my thigh had started to swell up. It was too painful to touch – I couldn’t even cover it with a blanket"

Finding a vehicle to take me to the hospital was hell. There are few private cars running because of the petrol shortages. In the end I called for an ambulance, telling them, ‘I’ll crawl to the hospital if I have to’. I got there eventually and stayed put until the doctor showed up. A friend sent my latest X-rays to an orthopaedic surgeon he knew outside east Aleppo. He came back with bad news: the operation had been unsuccessful. What I needed, he said, was specialist surgery across the border in Turkey. When I heard this, my morale sunk so low that I lost my appetite. For a whole month, I had lain in bed, not moving, to let my bones heal. For a month, I had asked my friends to scour the local pharmacies for painkillers, which cost five times what they used to. And it turns out all this was for nothing.

 

*names have been changed