Day 2, Arrival in Kunduz

Tomas blogs about his second day in Afghanistan and his alarming flight to Kunduz.

The night didn’t go well! A guard kept passing by under the window and waking me up. There was occasional shooting in the distance. At two in the morning, I was fully awake. I was totally afraid that we were about to have an earthquake – I don’t know why. I think I had read in the news before I went to bed that there had been two earthquakes in neighbouring Pakistan. I opened the door. That’s all I could remember about what to do if a quake hits – prevention and timely escape. The concrete ceiling over my head bothers me a lot...

Flight from Kabul to Kunduz in a Red Cross plane

This is what I feared the most – and is the reason why I actually started taking flying lessons. Ha ha, lame reason. Unfortunately, I never finished and got my license so – fortunately for everyone – I can’t officially get behind the controls. On the way to the airport, we drove through perhaps seven military checkpoints. Every time the gentlemen wore different colour uniforms, so I don’t know which forces they actually belonged to. Check-in was along the same lines: strip down to the socks. I do not understand it here, so far. The aircraft was pretty, a Beechcraft 1900 turboprop with about 20 seats. During the flight, the pilot kept on putting his head in his hands, but it looked to me as if he was laughing rather than crying. In the evening I learned that a technician had had to come from Kabul to Kunduz so that the plane would be able to fly back to Kabul. Everything was cool. From the plane, I saw an incredible desert, shallow canyons and oases of greenery around the rivers that flowed through the landscape. And mountains. High, high snow-capped mountains. The highest mountain in Afghanistan is almost 7,500 metres above sea level.


Kunduz, my sweet little village

It's very different here from in Kabul. There is greenery, there are tall trees – maples and sycamores – and everything seems very quiet. But the journey from the airport was similar, with military patrols everywhere. Fortunately, MSF is well known and respected here, so they don't bother us with security checks. On arrival, I got my first briefing session, with an Afghan ex-teacher with the euphonious name Purdel. He acted nobly and talked in the same way. He concluded the historical lecture with, “Here's a map, dude. These white pins are bombings where nobody was injured. The red pins mean that someone died there. Then there are the other colours to represent the local police, the state police and five other units, including the military. And the dots are opposition forces. These records are just for 2013, because the information for previous years wouldn't fit here.”

Separate surgical departments for men and women

At the hospital, I learnt that we are respected by all sides in the conflict and that we are not a target for any side. In fact, just the opposite: we are well accepted because of the services we provide to the community. The hospital is quite fancy, considering where we are. Not counting the fact that it is built of brick, it is well organised, clean and very nicely furnished. While it's not like our hospital at home, they do have, for example, two fans, a suitcase ultrasound, a digital X-ray, a C-arm in the surgery room, and – if I whine a lot – they have a CT [computerised tomography] scanner in a local hospital, although they print on canvas only and it comes out a bit blurred. At last, I see my first patients, though only briefly. There is a stage III traumatic rupture of the liver with the patient having had a splenectomy. The surgeon could do no more than leave 12 face masks in the belly and wait. There's a little boy with a leg amputated at the ankle because of osteomyelitis. They keep cutting it shorter but it doesn’t seem to help. There is a guy with spinal marrow, and small children in lower extremity traction with fractures of the thigh-bone or hip. I learn that the surgeons here commonly sew the diaphragm, perform a thoracotomy on gunshot victims, do a trepanation of the skull and sew large blood vessels. The surgeon before me, a Japanese woman called Miyuky, had apparently even sown a heart. So the bar for surgical performance is pretty high.


The dancing house

You'd wet yourself laughing if you saw where we live. It looks like a sheikh’s palace – but a sheikh with some kind of horrible, colour-related illness. They say gunfire can be heard from the roof almost every night from heavy machine guns. After that you are usually called to hospital. Oh, and there's a dog living with us. So it's fun.