For fifteen hours a day, the flow of wounded men, women and children from the remains of Syria’s largest city did not stop. Aleppo residents – evacuated to the safety of the countryside after a six-month siege – came with bones jutting through their skin, limbs succumbing to gangrene and shrapnel still buried in their wounds.
“They looked almost like they were coming out of a concentration camp,” said David Nott, a British surgeon who returned to Britain last week after spending eight days in Syria’s Idlib province treating the injured.
Dr Nott works in operating theatres across three London hospitals but has made repeated medical trips into Syria since fighting started in 2011. He trained many of the doctors who worked in east Aleppo’s makeshift hospitals throughout the regime siege and Russian bombardment and wanted to be there to help when 30,000 civilians and fighters finally left the city in early December under the terms of a ceasefire deal.
Over the course of a frenetic week of surgery, he operated on 90 people, including 30 children. “The patients were really in desperate state” after months with little food and harrowing journey out of the city through snow and freezing temperatures, Dr Nott said.
“They were coming in not just injured but dehydrated, malnourished, and psychologically traumatised.” Doctors in Aleppo focused on saving “lives not limbs” and performed hundreds of rapid amputations with only valium and ketamine to offer their patients for the pain. With no way of sterilising the wounds, the injuries became infected and Dr Nott and his colleagues were sometimes forced to amputate a second time in order to keep people alive.
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