Tuesday 23 January 2018

'In the intensive care unit, six patients were burning in their beds'

Médecins Sans Frontières nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs was in the Kunduz MSF hospital when it was struck by the bombing raids

Afghan (MSF) surgeons work inside a MSF hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz
Afghan (MSF) surgeons work inside a MSF hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz

Lajos Zoltan Jecs

It was absolutely terrifying. I was sleeping in our safe room in the hospital. At around 2am I was woken by the sound of a big explosion nearby.

At first I didn't know what was going on. Over the past week we'd heard other bombings, but always further away. This was different - close and loud.

At first there was confusion. As we tried to work out what was happening, there was more bombing. After 20 minutes, I heard someone calling my name. It was an emergency room nurse. He staggered in with massive trauma to his arm - covered in blood, with wounds all over his body. My brain just couldn't understand what was happening and for a second I just stood still, shocked.

He was calling for help. In the safe room, we have a limited supply of basic medical essentials, but there was no morphine to stop his pain. We did what we could.

Maybe half-an-hour afterwards they stopped bombing. I went out with the project co-ordinator to see what had happened. What we saw was the hospital destroyed, burning.

We went to look for survivors. A few had made it to one of the safe rooms. One by one, people appeared, wounded. We tried to look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside - there are no words for how terrible it was. In the intensive care unit, six patients were burning in their beds.

We looked for the staff who were supposed to be in the operating theatre. It was awful. A patient was on the operating table, dead, amid the destruction. We couldn't find our operating theatre staff. We later learnt they had run and found a safe place.

Nearby, we looked in on the in-patient department, luckily untouched by the bombing. We quickly checked that everyone was okay. Then back to the office. Full - patients, wounded, crying out everywhere. We had to organise a mass casualty plan, seeing which doctors were alive and could help. We did urgent surgery for one of our doctors. We did our best but he died there, on the office table.

We saw our colleagues dying. Our pharmacist - I was just talking to him the night before and planning the stocks, and then he died there in our office.

It was chaos. Enough staff had survived so that we could help all those with treatable wounds. But there were too many we couldn't help. We just treated those who needed treatment, and didn't make decisions - how could we, in that sort of fear and chaos?

Some of my colleagues were in too much shock, crying and crying. I tried to encourage them to help, to give them something to concentrate on and take their minds off the horror.

I have worked here since May, and I've seen a lot of heavy medical situations. But it is quite different when they involve your colleagues and friends - people who'd been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home or seen their families, they had just been helping people ... and now they are dead. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

The hospital, my workplace and home for several months, may be just a building. But it is also healthcare for the people of Kunduz. Now it is gone.

You can find out more and donate at www.msf.ie

Irish Independent

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