Patients and caretakers entering Boost hospital, Boost hospital, Lashkar Gah
. © MSF/Elise Moulin

‘They asked me to tell their story’: 52 war-wounded patients arrive within 4 days

This is the first-hand account from Marianna Cortesi, hospital coordinator at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supported Boost provincial hospital in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

The heavy clashes that erupted in and around Lashkar Gah city on October 11 so far show no signs of abating. The main trauma hospital for war-wounded, run by another medical organization, remains under pressure. MSF supports the nearby Boost provincial hospital and since Sunday night has been acting as an overflow facility to respond to the influx of wounded.

Of the 52 war-wounded patients we received between October 11 and October 14 – all with stories as devastating as their injuries – two in particular asked me to share their stories. Beyond the medical care they received, I feel an equal responsibility for ensuring their voices are heard.

Strength and resilience

I sat with Safia* this morning. Her strength and resilience were still present, but I knew that her aching and now hollow belly would be a life-long reminder of the baby shot dead in her womb. And of her indescribable suffering for the loss of this child she wanted so much.

Safia was seven months pregnant and had experienced four years of anticipation of what would be her firstborn. She was so happy about her pregnancy, and since the moment she became pregnant the entire family had carefully watched over her. Everyone was looking forward to the delivery. It was so close now; so much so that they told me they felt they could lay out the little clothes for when the new arrival would be welcomed home.

On Sunday, Safia was chatting outside her house. The weather is changing in Afghanistan. It’s a little cooler and less comfortable to be outside, but on that day more than the weather was noticeably changing. Since the previous day the people in Safia’s village had heard the sounds of the fighting getting closer. And today maybe too close. Suddenly she felt a pain. A stray bullet had pierced both of them – mother and unborn child. And so, their journey began. A rush to a hospital before it was too late. But rushing isn’t easy here around Lashkar Gah, and the family needed to take a different and longer route to the main trauma hospital because of the fighting.

After travelling for hours, Safia was then referred from the first health facility they reached to the MS-supported Boost provincial hospital. And it’s because of this that Safia and I crossed paths. After a life-saving caesarean-section, she is now stable. But without her child.

Violence affecting everyone

On Monday, the family went back to their village to bury the baby – Safia remained with us in intensive care. But as they gathered for the ceremony they had to flee from shooting and made their way back to the hospital to wait for Safia to be discharged.

Safia’s grief in the ward consumes me – in the womb or in the grave her firstborn had no peace.

I also sat with Zina* this morning, in the female surgical ward. Her breast bandaged from where she was shot by a stray bullet that narrowly missed her 8-month-old baby. She was breastfeeding at the time. While Zina sought care, she had to leave her baby at home with her eldest child who is still small. I think of this, left at home to care for a baby while your mother receives treatment for a gunshot wound.

As I got up to go, she asked me, “When can I go home? I need to feed my baby.”

*Names have been changed to anonymize the patients.