Our revolving medical team of expatriates and nationals treated nearly 4,200 patients, many of whom were women and children. More than 1,700 surgeries were performed since the hospital’s opening in early January—an average of seven per day. In total, more than 450 Samaritan’s Purse staff served at the hospital.
“Not only did they provide expert trauma care, but they also prayed with and ministered to each patient in the Name of Jesus Christ.”—Franklin Graham
On September last year, we officially handed over the hospital to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, a partner in this project since its inception.
As the sound of Mosul’s battle fades into memory, Kelly McCormick, a Medical Disaster Assistance Response Team member who spent time serving in the Emergency Field Hospital in Iraq, reflects on experiences that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
I felt like it was my duty to memorise all 18 chapters of ‘war trauma’ before I arrived on the battlefield. I vividly remember the chapter on triage* because as soon as I finished reading it, I prayed that God might use someone else in that position. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to live with those decisions. I felt that if I black tagged someone, that I was deciding if they should live or die. I felt that maybe I could avoid that pain and not have to live with those decisions if someone else was chosen for the job. I even wondered how my colleagues would treat me if I mislabelled someone because of an emotional tug that I felt. After all, who finds it easy to black tag a hurting child.
*TRIAGE: The assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. These are assigned by coloured tags —
BLACK: severe wounds – highly unlikely to survive – pain and comfort medication only
RED: serious wounds requiring immediate resuscitation and surgery
YELLOW: second priority wounds – currently stable patient – can wait for surgery/treatment – observe closely
GREEN: superficial wounds – walking wounded – no surgical treatment required
Because of my past experiences in the emergency services and as a fireman, I was chosen for the job. After reading that chapter I shared those feelings I was having with a friend back home by email when I landed in Iraq. He shared with me this passage.
‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ Psalm 139:16
Although I still find peace in that passage, I still live with those faces in my mind, in my dreams, and as I go about my day. I’m also reminded of the sovereignty of God in all of these decisions.
I replay one situation in my head so many times that it seems like it’s in slow motion. I still remember his beautiful little grey face. He came through those doors alone at 10 days old. When he was handed to me I knew that he should’ve been black tagged [to indicate there’s nothing that can be done for the patient]. I just couldn’t do it. He was the first one, the first among many that made the job of triage so difficult. What gives me solace is that God knew the number of his days before he was even born.
Unlike most of the people in a war zone that we saw, this child had no blood on his body, no penetrating injuries, and no visible reason to be so very sick. He had no palpable pulse, but I could see him breathing, barely. Even though his eyes were nearly shut, I could still see life. I really think that I could also see fear in those almost lifeless eyes.
Our mandate, at the Emergency Field Hospital in Mosul, was to treat war trauma. I couldn’t tell what was wrong with this child, but I didn’t see visible signs of trauma. The one thing I knew was that if he did not receive life-saving care right now, he would die. The next hospital was three hours away. So I red tagged him. Despite the near absent vital signs, and the continuous flow of people we could definitely help, I felt like maybe, just maybe, we could do something.
After 20 minutes of trying to save him we realised that we couldn’t. That decision was hard, but it was a reality. One of the nurses held him in her arms as he took his last breaths. I kept my hand on his head and prayed, periodically kissing his cold forehead. This 10 day old baby boy who came in without a parent, too sick to live here in the middle of a war zone, would eventually die in the arms of strangers who didn’t even know his name. Despite the ongoing chaos, God carved out a moment of time where a group of us could stay with him, touch him, hold him, love him, pray for him and grieve as we forever etched in our memories the pain of seeing this tiny baby boy pass from life to death. In those last moments, at just the right time, the nurse holding him looked at him and said “it’s ok to let go little fella” and he took his last breath.
There was one man that God did not let me black tag. When I saw him, I said “black, black” out loud to the other staff, but I reached up and grabbed a red triage tag and placed it on his arm. It happened so fast I just let it go. As busy as we were, God stopped the flow of additional patients so that all of us could focus on this one man who had both of his legs blown off by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
We worked on this man for well over an hour and a half. Periodically we reassessed what we were doing but for some reason God would not let us stop working on this guy. We were consuming so many resources, and he just wasn’t getting any better. We lost every IV, and so many other things went wrong including a nurse passing out in the middle of working on him. Each time we considered whether we should stop, some little, subtle spark of life would prompt one of us to suggest that we keep going. He lived through the night, and went to surgery. 24 hours later he was recovering and 48 hours later he had accepted Christ as his Saviour. He was praying for God to save him as our security forces were firing on a drone that was flying overhead, and I was there, by his side, holding his hand as he was reborn.
Within a day he was discharged. He left so happy and thankful. As we said our farewells, he begged me for my email address, I was unsure so I gave him an older one. As my focus moved to other patients, I often found myself thinking of him. I wondered if his salvation was real and if he survived after he left the hospital. A few months later I checked that old email address, and to my surprise there was a message in broken English in my inbox, there was no doubt it was him. He included a picture showing him sitting with five of his seven children, both his legs missing, but alive in Christ and with his loving family.
He was just checking in, thanking Jesus and those who were willing to go into a war zone to save people that not many others cared too much about.
Please pray for the hospital, now led by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, to continue to be a place of healing. Pray also for our continuing efforts to provide relief—food, clean water, clothing, and more—to many tens of thousands of adults and children.