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In Hama, A Paramedic Turned Paraplegic

EHSIM, IDLIB — Khaled, who uses a wheelchair, remembers how his daughters used to ask him for piggyback rides around their house. That was before he lost his feet to shrapnel.

Written by Celine Ahmad Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

The 24-year-old from rural Hama province had always wanted to be an architect, but when the Syrian revolution began in March 2011, he decided to become a paramedic. He began working in a field hospital in the town of Ehsim in the northwest province of Idlib.

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Khaled and his wife Um Abir have two daughters, two-year-old Noura and four-year-old Abir. He had once intended to be the breadwinner for his family, but now worries daily about money and how to support his family in the future. He is one of the thousands of Syrian civilians who have a permanent physical disability.

The injury happened last October. “We tried to help those who were hit by explosive barrel bombs dropped on the village of Deir Sonbul in Idlib,” he said. “There was a 15-year-old girl and I tried to pull her to the ambulance to perform first aid, but a barrel fell nearby. Shrapnel was [flying] everywhere; my feet got hit and I passed out. I woke up in the same hospital bed in which I used to put the wounded.”

Doctors in the field hospital did their best to help Khaled, despite the shortage of medical equipment. In the end, they had to amputate.

Khaled said he woke up and cried when he realized he had lost all sensation in his feet. but that his greater pain came from the knowledge that he couldn’t be a paramedic anymore.

After a month of therapy, Khaled was discharged from the hospital. His dream now is to get prosthetic feet to help him regain some form of normalcy, to do half the things he used to do.

But with the tightening of the siege by government forces on his area and the rarity of finding prosthetics in war-crippled Syria, he settled for physiotherapy and medication. (On Tuesday, the U.N. said its aid convoys had been unable to reach 250,000 people in areas besieged by government or opposition forces throughout the country.)

“Things have changed after my husband lost his feet,” Um Abir said. “Now I try to look for any job, even if it pays little. My priority now is to help provide for my children and husband. I can never repay the field hospital for what they’ve done for my husband. They have taken it upon themselves to provide us with everything we need.”

She said her husband frequently has nervous breakdowns. When this happens, she calls the field hospital to send a doctor to ease his pain. Khaled spends most of his time playing with Noura and Abir, hugging them and taking them around the house in his wheelchair.

With options in Syria almost nonexistent, Khaled said he is seriously considering going abroad to fulfill his dream of getting prosthetic feet. He then plans to return home to continue his work as a paramedic.

Celine Ahmad is the pseudonym for a Syrian contributor based in the Damascus suburbs.

This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.

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