Psychological support for patients in distress

At the hospital in the Aleppo region I didn’t just see patients but their friends and families too because they were in almost as much need of psychological support as the patients themselves...

What these people are enduring makes them vulnerable and fearful. In a state of acute distress and pinning a lot of hope in the treatment, they are looking for a miracle and their unrealistic expectations often leave them disappointed.

Among the patients and their support networks, I saw many very anxious and depressed people. Syrian and international care providers are completely overwhelmed by requests for help. People have nowhere to live, nothing to eat, no money to pay to get to hospital for their treatment and sometimes no family left to support them or a school for their children to go to. They see no future and are racked with anxiety… They’re not only concerned for themselves but also for what the future holds for Syria.

The distress of patients who have suffered injuries and find themselves disabled is all too apparent. Accepting disability is grim for people who have been paralysed, or disfigured, or amputated because of injuries or burns inflicted on them in an explosion.

Disfigurement is particularly harrowing, as disfigured girls of marrying age will never be able to find a husband.

11 year-old D suffered severe burns to her face and upper body. Only her legs were left unscathed. Her injuries were already old by the time she arrived at the hospital. She hadn’t been able to get treatment any sooner as field hospitals only provide care for the war-wounded and most other hospitals have either been destroyed or have insufficient personnel and drugs.

D’s burn injuries were caused by a fuel cooking stove that exploded, a common occurrence as fuel is of very poor quality and often explodes. The effects of the burns were horrific and the little girl couldn’t shut her right eye or her mouth. Her head appeared to hang down and had stuck to her neck because the skin had contracted as it healed. She needed an operation. The surgeon made an incision in her neck so that she could hold her head up. And then started the dressings and the skin grafts…

The other patients and their families kept asking us: “Will she get a normal face back?”  “She’s going to have to get married one day,” they would explain. But sadly, the little girl is disfigured for life.

The all too visible distress stems from people’s feelings of insecurity and their incertitude about the future. And there’s the fear of the shelling. People are scared to move around on roads where they are forced to go through checkpoints held by armed men, making it increasingly difficult to get from one place to another.

How many times did I hear men and women say: “If I can’t cultivate my land, if I can’t sell my produce, what’s going to become of me?“

And beyond this distress, emerges a generation of disabled people, bringing with it its own problems of mobility, resources, social integration, and so on.