For a month, starting in December 2016, Bruderhof member Russell Mercer worked with Samaritan’s Purse to deploy an emergency field hospital near Mosul, Iraq. Families fleeing the terrible conflict between the Iraqi army and ISIS terrorists in Mosul have few options for medical care, and the facility will save hundreds if not thousands of lives. For more details about the situation in northern Iraq, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.
The hospital complex was all powered by generators. With one other man, my primary task was to keep the generators fueled and running. We also did other maintenance work; it got down to thirty degrees Fahrenheit some nights, and we had to keep the diesel heaters going, too. So unfortunately I couldn’t be in the hospital with the patients very much; in any case, I’m not a medical professional. But I went inside as much as I could to hear their stories and witness their suffering.
A major concern was that ISIS fighters might come right into the hospital to attack us, because ISIS will do anything to kill Christians. A Christian-run hospital couldn’t be a better target. We had an enemy combatant ward where any males of a certain age were brought until it could be completely verified that they were not ISIS. But we didn’t turn anyone away and ended up keeping quite a number of ISIS patients in there; they were under armed guard all the time.
We had the Iraqi Army set up a hard perimeter, and there were only two entrances to the complex. The patients would arrive by ambulance; they were checked up on the highway by the Iraqi Army, then they were brought through the security check by a private security company, then local medics took the patients out of the ambulance. The clothes of each patient were removed completely before they were brought inside the wall – the chance of someone having a bomb on their body was never ruled out. After all that, Samaritan’s Purse medical staff would finally see them and either send them to triage or into the trauma tent.
We accepted the first patient on a Sunday, a four-year-old girl who had been injured by a mortar blast at twelve-thirty in the afternoon. She was carried by her father for three miles to get her to an ambulance, and only arrived at the hospital at four that afternoon. She was in bad condition and went straight into surgery, on a ventilator the entire time. The next morning at our daily devotion service, with all eighty of the staff, we heard that she hadn’t made it; she had died at three that morning.
During the following days many women and children came in. There was one family – a couple and two daughters – where the brother of the wife had been taken by ISIS and killed. So the family knew they had to get out of the area. They got in their car and were trying to flee but were hit by a mortar blast. The wife had shrapnel in her face and was blinded; she had to have a foot and a hand amputated. One daughter did not survive the trip to the hospital and the other daughter was in very bad shape and I don’t think she lived much longer.
Later I saw a man being wheeled out of the hospital; he was being discharged because there are only forty-eight beds. As much as staff would like to keep patients longer in the hospital, they always try to have a few beds open for the next arrivals. This man had shrapnel all over one side of his face and was crying like a little kid. I asked one of the nurses who it was and they said he was the father of the family. I think he had just come from seeing his wife, the double amputee. For all I know, it may have been the last time he ever saw her.
These are just two stories. The suffering continues in Mosul, and even if you can’t get over to help like I did, please consider a donation to support the work of Samaritan’s Purse. And please pray.
Russell Mercer spent the second half of 2016 working with Samaritan’s Purse in North Carolina, Haiti, and Iraq. He now lives at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof in New York.Comments
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