In Jor­dan hospi­tal, trau­ma­tized chil­dren blown apart by bombs

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

As soon as the bombs ex­ploded out­side his house in the Iraqi town of Fal­luja, Rachid Jas­sam rushed onto the street to rescue the in­jured. As the teenager ran out, an­other plane swooped over­head and dropped more bombs, the shrap­nel tear­ing his right leg so se­verely lo­cal doc­tors wanted to am­pu­tate it. His fa­ther re­fused the am­pu­ta­tion to spare his son from a life of dis­abil­ity, and opted for ba­sic surgery in­stead.

“When I got in­jured, I didn’t lose con­scious­ness. I wit­nessed the whole thing when the peo­ple came and took me to the hospi­tal. I re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing,” 15-year-old Jas­sam said through an in­ter­preter at a Medecins Sans Fron­tieres (MSF) hospi­tal in Am­man in Jor­dan. “I lost five cen­time­ters of my bone from my right leg and I couldn’t move it any­more.” More than 20 per cent of all pa­tients at the MSF hospi­tal are chil­dren just like Rachid - blown apart, se­verely burnt and dis­fig­ured by con­flicts in Iraq, Syria, Ye­men and Gaza.

Since it opened in 2006, the hospi­tal has treated al­most 4,400 pa­tients free of charge, and re­mains the only hospi­tal in the Mid­dle East to per­form ad­vanced re­con­struc­tive surgery on vic­tims of war. But as con­flicts rage across Mid­dle East, hospi­tal staff say re­sources have been stretched in re­cent years, with most pa­tients com­ing from Syria and Ye­men. For Jas­sam, the clinic has been his life­line. Sit­ting on his hospi­tal bed in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal af­ter re­ceiv­ing spe­cial­ized surgery on his leg, he smiles broadly as he holds onto his crutches. “Thank God, it’s God that pre­served my leg.”

‘You see war ev­ery day’

Not all chil­dren are so lucky. In a small pink room on the up­per levels of the hospi­tal, young girls with dis­fig­ured faces and miss­ing limbs grow in­creas­ingly ag­i­tated as they try to solve puz­zles and play board games. “Some­times the trauma af­fects their mem­ory skills or prob­lem­solv­ing, and it also has psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects like low at­ten­tion span. They can get frus­trated eas­ily and they have low self-es­teem,” said oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist Nour Al-Khaleeb, 24, who is part of a team of men­tal health spe­cial­ists.

“You see war ev­ery day, you see their in­juries, you see how it’s af­fect­ing their lives and some­times it has an ef­fect on you too,” she said, talk­ing loudly over the girls’ screams and chat­ter. “Maybe they will re­mem­ber that some­one did some­thing good for them, and this will give them hope later on in life.” Around 60 peo­ple, mainly young men, un­dergo com­plex or­thopaedic, fa­cial and burn re­con­struc­tive surgery at the hospi­tal each month, ac­cord­ing to MSF. They also re­ceive psy­cho­log­i­cal care and coun­sel­ing dur­ing their stay.

Mo­hammed, 11, said his family was flee­ing the city of Homs in Syria by car when an airstrike hit, in­jur­ing him and his two broth­ers. He watched as his mother died in the ex­plo­sion. “A part of the bomb went into my leg and frac­tured my bone into pieces - it cut into my nerves and ten­dons,” he said through an in­ter­preter, in­sist­ing he wasn’t scared when the bombs fell over­head. Hob­bling down the hospi­tal cor­ri­dor on crutches af­ter a re­cent op­er­a­tion on his leg, Mo­hammed said he will get on with his life when he is dis­charged, and re­turn to join his family in Jor­dan’s Zataari refugee camp, which hosts al­most 80,000 Syr­ian refugees.

Clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Elisa Birri, who heads the men­tal health team, said it was com­mon for chil­dren in the hospi­tal, es­pe­cially boys, to put on a brave front. But sooner or later, psy­cho­log­i­cal symp­toms like bed­wet­ting, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, ag­gres­sion and in­som­nia can crop up, said Birri. At the se­vere end of the spec­trum, pa­tients can ex­pe­ri­ence flash­backs, panic at­tacks and dis­as­so­ci­a­tion, where they lose their sense of re­al­ity. “Chil­dren show in their draw­ings and dur­ing free play what they have ex­pe­ri­enced, it’s like a mir­ror. For ex­am­ple, they will draw them­selves play­ing with guns be­cause of the war con­text they came from,” said Birri, adding that chil­dren will some­times regress to an in­fan­tile state to cope with the trauma. — Reuters

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