The roads outside the hospital here are marked with craters of bombs. The windows are covered with plywood. The halls were crowded with patients because their rooms were prone to explosive bombs and flying glasses.
I am an American surgeon who recently volunteered for three weeks at four hospitals in Ukraine. I have war surgery experience while working in Syria and I would like to serve with Ukrainian doctors.
The wounds I see in Ukraine are the same as in Syria. Those were the pale faces, the distended stomachs, the dismembered bodies, and the chest wounds with collapsed lungs – all signs of intense ballistic wounds.
The day before I arrived in Kharkiv, a market about 100 yards from the hospital was attacked and 15 people needed care. Year of operation. Two people died. One victim was a 65-year-old nurse who had finished her night shift and was sleeping with her 2-year-old grandson in the morning. The explosion broke her left leg and destroyed her right. She had tourniquets on both legs, but she died in the operating room. Her grandson died a few days later. The day I left, the hospital was damaged by artillery fire.
In a hospital north of Brovary, I met a 60-year-old woman with metastatic lung cancer. While the Russians occupied her village, she fell and broke her spine, leaving her legs paralyzed. She and her husband waited for weeks in their basement until the village was liberated. She had surgery, is recovering, and needs chemotherapy and radiation. She has regained some function in her legs, but it is unclear if she will be able to walk again.
In Brovary, we treated a 30-year-old woman from the same area. The explosives peeled off the skin and muscle on her arm and exposed the bones in her forearm. She said she cleaned and bandaged her own limbs in her basement, because the fighting was so intense and she couldn’t leave the house with Russian forces outside. Doctors are still working to save her arm.
In Kyiv, I recall a 17-year-old girl who watched the movie “Bridgerton” with her parents during her hospital stay with her parents. Although a bomb explosion left her severely injured, she still managed to put on a smile from time to time. She had to undergo near-daily surgeries and dressing changes for a broken left leg and an amputated right leg. The wound on the right side cannot heal until the infection is gone. She can then begin long-term rehabilitation with a prosthetic — if she has one. She just wants to walk again.
This teenager reminds me of a group of orphans I met in Aleppo — hoarse and strong despite their living conditions. But one of them always sat alone and didn’t talk to anyone. She avoids eye contact and chooses only her food. Her friends say she has followed this path for as long as they know her. It is heartbreaking to see a child hurt by violence and trauma. Those wounds cannot be surgically fixed with a scalpel.
In Ukraine, it is easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. But I also see people moving on with courage and compassion. Civil servants have boldly cleaned the streets and run public transport. Railway workers distributed blankets and helped passengers through crowded places to get off the platform. A barista shows up every day in front of the hospital to run his coffee truck. Volunteer medical workers risked their lives to rescue the wounded from the front lines.
Whether in an underground clinic in Aleppo, a dilapidated hospital in Kharkiv, or an emergency room in Chicago, all we have is each other. When people ask me what I’ve seen in Syria and Ukraine, aside from the horrors of war, that’s what I want to recall.
Dr. Attar is an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a volunteer with the American-Syrian Medical Association.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/treating-ukraine-wounded-civilians-horror-and-hope-kharkiv-war-russia-missile-strike-civilian-target-death-injury-syria-trauma-11652037327 Treating Ukraine’s Wounded Civilians, I Saw Horror and Hope