Last Tuesday a truck loaded with explosives was used in a suicide attack against the police headquarters in Lashkar-Gah, Afghanistan. Casualties from the attack were taken to our Surgical Center in the city. Roberto, a nurse at the center, updates us on the situation:
“How’s it going over there?”
“Pretty much as usual.” That’s more or less what I say when someone back home asks what’s happening here.
I’ve been away from Lashkar-gah in Afghanistan for three years, and it’s true that things are as usual.
It’s just that “as usual” in Lashkar-gah means what happened this morning:
At 9.30 am (again, the “usual” time), while doing the rounds of the patients, there was an explosion. The earth trembles. The walls tremble. Your whole insides tremble.
Just two seconds to remain motionless and look at each other. Then everyone began moving like robots, as if they’d never done anything else in their entire lives. Dimitra, the Medical Coordinator, ran to the hospital gate and then quickly announced via radio the activation of the Mass Casualty Plan. A few more minutes are spent waiting for the patients to arrive. The tents outside the ER ready, each staff member in his or her place, the play room requisitioned as a ward for the less serious patients, to make room for the new ones.
“How many?” It’s the question on everyone’s lips in those long minutes of waiting. No one answers. No one knows. A lorry-bomb was blown up just a few kilometers from here, near a police station. There’s a school next door. A never-ending time in our minds, but just a few minutes on the clock in reality.
Then movement. Organised chaos, with everyone knowing exactly what to do. The first to come in was a little 9-year-old girl with shrapnel in her head. Right after that, a woman with shrapnel in her abdomen.
Then it became impossible to distinguish one from the other. Bodies, wounded bodies. Bodies to be examined, to be put on the waiting list for the operating theater, to be taken to the ward, to be stitched up, to be treated. Then I suddenly realized that most of them were children – only after a few hours did I remember the school. You’ve been caught up in it all, little ones. You’re one of the many “collateral damages.”
In the end, 35 people arrived. Surgery was needed for 11 of them, while the others got off with some emergency treatment. Now they’ll go home, out there, outside the white and red gate of the hospital, back to where they came from. I don’t know if they really “got away from it” though.
At 12.30 the mass casualty situation ended and a patient arrived from the district of Sangin with a bullet in his abdomen. He was brought in by the boys of one of our First Aid Posts. Soon after, a 12-year old body with shrapnel in his groin… and the silent procession starts up again.
“How’s it going in Lashkar-gah?”
“As usual… pretty much as usual.”
To help Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire of growing violence receive lifesaving surgical care at our Lashkar-Gah Surgical Center