* * *
In the crowded emergency room, I was coming to grips with the enormity of the crisis. It was like a scene from a horror movie: Syrians streamed into the hospital, walking with outstretched arms to keep their burnt limbs away from their bodies, swaying side to side, their clothes shredded or gone. In the chaos and noise, I thought the hospital itself was under attack -- not such an unlikely prospect, as hospitals have previously been hit in this conflict.
"This is not the first or the worst scenario, and probably it won't be the last," one Syrian doctor told me. "But maybe this time someone will listen, because the camera is here. They don't listen when we tell them."
Ahmed, a 15-year-old boy, sat shivering and quiet on a chair. He was naked apart from his underpants. I looked at his hands -- the skin was falling off like he had been peeled.
"Assad, look what you have done," a woman screamed. "Why can't you die, Assad!"
The woman's husband was by her side. "Look what he did to her," he sobbed. She had suffered burns to her face -- the pain must have been horrific.
The staff tried to restore order to the chaotic emergency room. I couldn't recognize my colleagues -- their faces were obscured by white masks, as they initially believed that they were aiding the victims of a chemical weapons attack. Panic filled the air. I wasn't wearing a mask. I carried on in autopilot, unmasked, until a nurse forced one onto my face.
We ripped open bags of fluid to pour over patients, applied burn cream to their wounds, and moved the victims into wards. I treated five teenage boys: One of them, Mohammed, was so badly burned that his hair had melted. His body still emanated heat. "I want to sleep," he kept saying. I learned later that two of the boys I treated died of their wounds in Turkey.
If any one of these patients arrived to our London hospital, they would have instantly been transferred to a specialized unit to care for their burns. But here, with 28 victims and only basic care to offer, I felt so useless. The best we could do was move the patients around to ensure they had IV lines for fluids, and give them painkillers and antibiotics.
One girl spoke to me in English. Her mother cried by her side. "How bad is my face, my sister?" she asked, composed and calm despite obviously being in terrible pain. "Do you think they can fix my face?"