Monday, August 11, 2003

He had been hit by the what the doctors call an "indirect" bullet, fired off by somebody in some distant part of the city, zinging through the hot and humid air, before choosing, by some cruel twist of fate, to barrel its way into his leg. His friend Kanaan Tofeeh had bundled him into a car and driven him to the emergency room of Yarmuk hospital in the centre of the city.

He had arrived just before 9pm, as the night shift was beginning, but the register on the counter in the trauma room already listed six others admitted for "bulleting" [sic] injuries that day.

And this, according to the surgeon, now was digging around deep inside the hole with a pair of small forceps, is a quiet one.

"Before the war, people with this sort of injury we would put them to sleep, but now we do not bother - there are too many," he says before finally, with a flourish, holding up a small copper pistol bullet and dropping it with a clunk into a kidney shaped metal bowl.

He sews up Mr Fahd's wound, and the guard limps out of the hospital clutching a little glass vial filled with antiseptic and the bullet wrapped in a cotton swab.

The trauma ward at Yarmuk is a brutal place in every sense of the word.

There are no sheets on the trolleys, or pillows on which patients can rest their heads. There is no room for sentiment here, no caring bedside manner from the doctors, no kindly nurses to mop a brow in the suffocating heat.

It had risen to 52C (126F) during the day and by 10pm is still in the high 40s; the electric fans mounted on the ceiling do little to take the edge off the temperature.

The doctors who are not tending to patients huddle around a single, small air conditioning unit, the only one that is working in the entire room. it all.

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