The ‘temporary’ hospital marking its 10th birthday
▶ A hospital opened by Medecins Sans Frontieres in Jordan to help Iraqi war victims is also treating victims from Syria and Yemen. Suha Ma’ayeh reports
Rabee’ Rajoob was on his way to buy bread one spring morning in Homs when a Syrian army sniper shot him in the right shoulder, damaging his nerves, tearing his lower jaw and shattering his teeth.
Mr Rajoob, 32, who was working as a blacksmith, was unconscious for five days after the attack in March 2012. When he woke up in hospital after surgery he thought he had lost the use of his right arm permanently and his jaw would remain disfigured.
“When I woke up, I was depressed but I am a person who believes in fate,” he said. “One should accept his destiny and adjust to the situation,” he said.
Mr Rajoob had repeated operations in Syria and then at a hospital in Jordan. But it wasn’t until he began receiving treatment at a reconstructive hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres in February 2013 that he saw real improvement.
“Now I look at my face and I am in high spirits,” he said from his bed in the Amman hospital. “It has really improved. I also underwent several operations to release the nerve in my shoulder and I can move my arm better.”
The hospital where Mr Rajoob is receiving treatment marks its 10-year anniversary this month. Established in 2007, it was originally intended to treat Iraqi victims of war who were suffering from complex injuries such as bone gaps and fractures, soft tissue and nerve injuries, and severe burns that limited mobility.
But as violence spread to other parts of the region, the surgical programme expanded and the hospital opened its doors to patients from Yemen, Syria and Gaza.
In 2015, it relocated to a bigger building in the Jordanian capital to cope with the increasing demand. Today, between 500 and 600 patients receive treatment at the hospital every year.
Dr Rashid Fakhri, an orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital, said the types of injuries for which patients were being treated differed depending on what country they came from.
Most of the facility’s Iraqi patients were suffering from injuries caused by car bombs, while its Yemeni patients were mostly the victims of bombings or shootings.
Most of the Syrians the hospital received at the start of the Syrian war were suffering from bullet wounds. But now, most are the victims of barrel bombings.
While all cases are complex, Dr Fakhri said priority was given to victims suffering from nerve injuries. “It is a serious condition and from a medical point of view, they should not wait,” he said.
“But patients with non-union injuries, where a broken bone fails to heal due to a lack of adequate stability or blood flow, are not a clinical priority since it is an elective surgery that does not require urgent treatment.”
Dr Fakhri said he became emotional when he saw his patients in the process of healing, especially children.
“You see that they were disabled by their injuries and after treatment they play football at the hospital’s playing area and jump around,” he said. “One had mouth injuries and could not speak, and when I heard him shouting for the first time, it was very emotional.”
In the hospital wards, some patients have amputated hands and legs, while others have been badly scarred by explosions. After several months of treatment, many are now able to walk through the hospital’s corridors with crutches.
Shaje’ Nu’man, a computer engineer from Aden in Yemen, was shot in his lower right leg in October 2015 when he tried to stop an unknown gunman from looting his workplace.
“I fought him but he shot me with a Kalashnikov,” said Mr Nu’man, 34, who initially received treatment from the medical charity’s staff in Aden.
Unable to move his right foot, however, he was admitted to the organisation’s reconstructive surgery hospital in Amman in June last year for specialist treatment.
After several operations there, the mobility in his foot has improved and he can walk on crutches.
“My pain has improved,” Mr Nu’man said. “My leg used to hurt all the time.”
He is scheduled for another operation to lengthen the bone.
In a different room lay Atheer Hameed, 24, from the Iraqi city of Fallujah, who was injured by shrapnel from a mortar shell that landed near his home in September 2014.
“I was home and was supposed to join my parents for lunch at our relatives,” Mr Hameed said.
“I wrapped wire round my foot to stop the bleeding and shouted for help until the neighbours came.”
Despite having surgery in Fallujah, Mr Hameed was unable to lift his foot and was dependent on crutches.
Now, however, recuperating on his hospital bed after surgery at the hospital a week before, Mr Hameed looked hopeful.
“The first thing I want to do when I return home is get married,” he said. There is no fiancee but he has his eye on his cousin.
Laura Hamilton-Gordon, the manager of psychosocial care at the Amman hospital project, said that although many of the patients came from different countries and backgrounds, their injuries made them more empathetic towards each other.
Meanwhile, seeing others in a similar situation to them made them open up more about their experiences.
This certainly seemed to be true for Mr Rajoob.
“I try to put a smile on other patient’s faces,” he said.
Above left and centre, Manal, 11, arrived at the hospital this year and loves music lessons; top and above, Yousef, 17, was set alight by masked men in Baghdad; below, bomb victim Qatada from Aden