Rayah I. Touma Sawaya, Medical Student

Beirut, Lebanon

“It’s 6:00 PM on August 4, 2020 in Beirut. I’m home alone after an overnight shift at the hospital. I head to the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee. Suddenly, my world trembles. Coffee splashes from my mug. My window glass shatters and explodes into the house. The shards miss me by a few centimeters. There is a boom sound, then it is gone. I try to call everyone, anyone. I hear ambulance sirens in the distance. I receive a message: It’s Disaster Code in the Emergency Department. All colleagues available are to report to the hospital. When I get to the ER, I see people covered in dirt and blood. Some are silent, numb. Others are panicking, in pain. Some don’t move at all. Breathe. Find someone in charge, let them tell you what to do. Don’t overthink, just do. Whatever imposter syndrome I had experienced seems to disappear. I get to work. Someone hands me a saline water bottle and gauze. I take them and go wherever I am needed. I am comforted by the presence of my classmates, the residents in training and the doctors at the hospital. We are all calm and collected, a complete opposite to the chaos outside. We clean cuts and bruises. We staple wounds when we can. We suture to the light of our cellphones. We comfort the panicked. We triage and assess. As the day dies, the numbers in the ER grow. Hours pass and our hands become sweaty inside our gloves, our breaths heavy behind our face masks and our white coats now red with Betadine and blood stains.

Today, my white coat is still stained red with Betadine and blood. The blood of strangers, people I had never met, but now will never forget. I cannot forget their faces, the terror in their eyes, the way their hands trembled as they grabbed my hands, asking: ‘What happened?’

A couple of weeks has already passed and I’m not sure what happened either. They say it’s a blast. More than 175 dead, 6,000 injured, 300,000 displaced. All numbers on the news, but real people to me. There’s still a long way to go. More wounds to tend to externally. But what about the internal wounds? What do we do when headlines fade, aid tapers down and our beloved Beirut is still in pieces?” Rayah I. Touma Sawaya, Medical Student


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