Something completely preventable

In the final installment of my audio diary from Yemen I talk about a desperate mother, an airstrike and working in the emergency room.


I am in the emergency room of a health centre that we have been supporting. It’s up in the hills, in the mountains of North Yemen. Really quite near to the border with Saudi Arabia.

It’s an area that has heavy bombing and all the villages and towns nearby sustain airstrikes most days, so we have come to implement an emergency room in this place.

We've opened it inside a health centre. The health centre really is pretty much the size of a small British GP practice, a couple of rooms, one doctor. It's where patients would come just to have consultations normally for malaria or normal illness.

But since the conflict started they've been seeing 40-50 wounded patients a week.

These are quite severe wounds usually from airstrikes. Major injuries that need stabilising and referring for surgical intervention.

Usually every time I come here there is blood all over the floor and there are injured patients lying on all the beds. They are often trying to manage what we call a ‘mass casualty event’ for four, five, six, seven wounded patients all arriving at once.

Today, for a change, actually there are no injured patients here at all and it's the first time I have seen that. It has been a bit quieter this morning, although the planes have been flying overhead all day.

There's one patient in the emergency room, it’s a month-old child, a little boy that the mother's brought in because he's not been feeding.

The mother's managed to come here, from over the mountain about half an hour from here, a village which receives airstrikes all the time - all day and all night. So I am quite impressed that she has managed to make it over here.

She tells me the baby has had some diarrhoea, hasn’t been feeding very well, and she is really worried about it. She told me this through a translator and the baby indeed is really very, very sick.

Now, this lady has been living in a cave in a village, like many other people. She gave birth in that cave a month ago. So for her to have decided to bring her baby, with the danger, over to this hospital means that she really is very concerned.

The mother is dressed in traditional Yemeni dress, she is wearing a full long black Abaya coat and a full black face veil. So I can't see her face. Normally, myself I just wear a sort of mid-length tunic with some trousers. I cover my hair with a scarf. But she is completely covered.

When my translator left the room, she lifted up the veil and started to speak to me in Arabic and she’s crying. It is very difficult for me to respond because my Arabic really is quite poor. So I can just say a few words to try and reassure her.

There is not much reassurance I can do. I am not convinced that her baby is going to get better.

At the same time there’s bombing I can hear from her village, it is quite quiet, the village is a little bit further away, but she knows, and I know, that it is very dangerous over there.

The staff have told me that we have to do what we can now, but she won't stay longer than an hour, because she needs to get back home to her village. This baby - we will give it some fluids, glucose, we will try and see what we can do. But in an hour’s time, she is going to take the baby away and it takes its chances.

Emergency room © Natalie Roberts

Emergency room © Natalie Roberts

I hate seeing cases like this. This is something that's completely preventable. If I was even in a GP practice in Britain I would be able to manage better, and if I had access to all the normal medical care we have in the UK then this baby would be fine by tomorrow.

Today I don't know, but the staff keeping telling me that before we were here, before this health centre was running with an emergency room, the mother would never have brought the baby anyway, and the baby would've just died at home. I think they are just trying to make me feel a bit better about being here though.

The last time I was in this health centre, there was heavy bombing just nearby, a couple of hundred metres away. Everybody jumped, everybody crouched. The windows of the health centre broke that time.

And we are still finding pieces of shrapnel in the compound of the hospital. So every time I come visit, people come and pick me up a piece of shrapnel as a souvenir. So I know the staff, they are very pleased when we come to visit, and they also like to reassure me that there is a reason for us to come.

Plane overhead

Flying overhead just bombed a few hundred meters from me.

It is still circling around, so I’ve made my team get out of the car. It’s just coming over again. Not quite sure what it's targeting, but in case it makes a mistake with our car, we have all got out and we are all crouching around the corner.

The plane bombed three times nearby and has flown off again, so we are back in the car and back on our way, but it gave us all a bit of a fright. I think it’s quite normal to be pretty scared in that situation.


Emergency Room

I am back in the health centre in the mountains today and this time there are injuries in the emergency room. There’s a six-year-old boy here with a piece of shrapnel in his eye that he sustained this morning.

It means he has lost his eye. We’re going to have to take him down to Saada, to have some treatment, probably to remove the eye, which is really unpleasant.

He is being very brave, he is lying on his bed. He is still covered in blood, unfortunately. His mother is talking to him. It is much more the usual scene for the emergency room here.

Yesterday, was unusually quiet, but today we already have three trauma cases so far this morning and it's half past eleven in the morning. So I am sure they will get some more during the day.