This is not Hollywood movie or a Broadway play, this is not a fictional story or an ancient myth. This is a real story written and witnessed by Siham A., a young Syrian woman who came to know life for what it really is as a paramedic in Homs.
It was a very difficult day for Homs… the dreary sky was a perfect reflection of our gloomy and empty souls as death was easily smelt in the air…
In a normal world, we could’ve been woken up by birds or roosters – I don’t even mind traffic and car horns – but no, the citizens of Homs have lost this luxury long ago. Instead, we were roused by snipers who loved to play with our schedule, sometimes they woke us at dawn, other times they decided to keep us up all night long depending on whether they wanted us to be glued to our sofas by fear or just the daily amount of despair that left us with the strength to purchase our daily needs.
That day we were glued, sleep-deprived and utterly scared… I was on call that day; fear wasn’t a convincing excuse to cancel my shift.
Back in the center, we were trying to distract ourselves, either by playing UNO cards or by discussing what we should have for breakfast. Silly, I know, but we had to find a way to hide the terror that lurked behind our semi-opened lids.
And then we got the call, a man got injured while crossing the street. It looked like this particular sniper was on a killing spree this day, for this was the 3rd time we went to that area since that morning. We said our usual goodbyes and hopped into the ambulance reciting Qura’an verses and prayed that we would make it back in one piece.
When we reached our destination, adrenaline started shooting through my veins, people were moving alongside walls cautiously doing their best not to be bait, a body was lying in the middle of the highway with cars going around it too scared to stop and lend a helping hand. We asked for permission to help and luckily, the guards were feeling merciful that day for they gave us their approval.
As the car was slowing down indicating that we were getting closer, my heart started pounding rapidly in my chest, terrorized by the view trying to leave its place with whatever breaths it could manage to steal.
There, in the most radiant blood pond I have ever seen, a 23-year-old young man with a bullet in his head was lying face down and was somehow still breathing. The puncture in his skull was so big that I could see right through to his brain. Yes, his brain.
I was paralyzed by panic; my own body was disobeying my brain’s commands to get moving, thinking that by draining the color of my face, I would blend with the whiteness of the ambulance and become invisible. The team leader asked me if I would like to get out since it was dangerous to stay inside because we were an easy target, but I couldn’t move. My lack of words made him leave me alone for we had only few precious seconds to rescue the guy.
Miraculously, they managed to get him inside the ambulance before I had time to register the facts. Yes, we had an injured man inside, yes, I was nauseated by the strong smell of blood – even though I was used to it –, yes he was still breathing, and yes… I wasn’t able to complete that thought because we hit a ramp and the car was swaying, but that’s not what brought me back to reality… It was the cry of my friend who was taking care of the case, for he sounded like an injured animal.
My reaction was to turn my head back and see what the hell was wrong, and I wish I hadn’t. There, in the back of the ambulance my friend was holding a brain in his hands trying to stuff it back in cursing everything and everyone. We reached the hospital in a minute, but to all three of us it felt more like a decade because back then we were still not accustomed to the sight of brains, loins or corpses.
Being a female paramedic means that you can’t let others pity you by witnessing your weak moments and especially not your tears, so I stayed in with my chin up high waiting for the team leader to come back and then I would cry my eyes out back home. But again, I was interrupted by sobs, heart-breaking sobs and again my reaction was to turn my head back only to see that my friend who, seconds ago, was holding the man’s brain was now burying his head in his hands and crying like a baby. I got down, went to the back, sat next to him and we sobbed together until we both lost the ability to breathe and could no longer differentiate between the taste of blood and tears.
I have to stop writing now because I can’t continue this story. The man died after 2 hours and his name still haunts me until this day. Anas al-Dekess, a newlywed on his honeymoon, I hope that you have forgiven me for being utterly human and so afraid….
May your soul rest in peace