Obstetrician Dr. Farida and her ophthalmologist husband Dr. Abdulkhal only give reporters their first names – for security reasons. Last year, they were among a handful of physicians who remained in the city of Aleppo during the height of the bombardment. Recently, they traveled to Washington D.C. to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the need to provide humanitarian aid to Syria.
Addressing the lawmakers, Dr. Farida recounted a time when she was attending to patients, and heard airplanes overhead and the sounds of explosions. Someone told her that her eight-year old daughter’s school was under attack. “I run there with my operation dress, running like a crazy man there,” said the doctor. “And then I look at the school and I find no one was there.” Teachers had fortunately evacuated the students before the bombings.
Dr. Farida told of another story, when she was operating on a woman, performing a cesarean section, when a missile struck her facility. “There was dust and small stones all around the room,” she said. “The patient’s abdomen was full of debris. Many times we had many accidents like this. One day the general surgeon was performing an operation and … a wall dropped down and they had to go, leaving the patient alone in that room.”
Farida’s husband, Dr. Abdulkhalek, said he was the only ophthalmologist left in eastern Aleppo, and recounted how he treated patients with shrapnel stuck in their eyes. Sadly, many went blind as a result. On an especially grim day last December, there was a chlorine gas attack. The hospital only had one canister of oxygen to treat a group of children. “We had to transfer the mask between these children to give everyone a little amount of oxygen,” he said.
“The siege makes us love each other more,” said Dr. Farida. “When there was a bomb, or there is an attack close to us, we all hug each other. So that makes us love each other more than any family in the world.”
The couple have recently managed to flee Aleppo and now live in the city of Idlib which is in Northern Syria. They continue their work with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). Though they are a bit safer, they are extremely concerned about their daughter’s future. “She sees nightmares.”