The girl and her fellow students had been attending class in a quiet, relatively affluent Aleppo neighborhood when the attack started. The headmaster of the school, Mohammed Abu Omar, described fire falling like rain, burning whatever it touched. He put out the flames on the students' bodies with his hands, sustaining minor burns in the process.
The first bomb hit a four-story building, penetrating three floors and injuring my first patient -- the baby. Everyone ran out of the school to help the injured, according to one of the unharmed students. His quick-thinking teacher saved him by grabbing him and throwing him into a ditch. The second bomb hit the school courtyard, right outside one of the classrooms.
The bombs incinerated everything around. Three students were killed instantly. Their charred, unrecognizable bodies were brought to us in the hospital. I was told they were girls, but I would never have known.
The attack reduced humans to strange mannequin-like beings, with hardened skin -- impenetrable to our efforts to place IV lines into those still alive. One boy's body had been fixed in position; he was unable to move his arms, legs, or even face. Only his eyes were moving, registering that he was alive and terrified. Doctors sedated him and placed a tube down his throat so he could breath. I could not find a single patch of unburned skin to place an IV line.
I later learned that the boy died on the way to the Turkish border. He was laid to rest without anyone knowing his name -- his family was unknown, possibly refugees in Turkey. I have a strong desire to see a photo of him from before the attack -- to know who he was. To see his face before it was so hideously disfigured.
I visited the bomb site a couple of days after the attack. The same strange odor that I had smelled at the hospital -- a strong, sickening scent mingled with the smell of burning flesh -- hung over the ruined school. A student's charred notebook lay at the bottom of the crater left by the bomb, the writing still visible. But the author of those scribbled pages was dead.
Somehow, the attack has not broken the spirit of the Syrians living in the neighborhood. As we walked around the school, a young girl, just eight years old, ran out to see us. Her hair was cut into a rough bob, hanging above her shoulders. She brought us a bottle of water from her home. She told us that her long hair had been cut short because it had caught fire that day. Never mind, we told her -- it will grow back.