Borderless doctor recalls secrecy, primitive conditions in bloody Syria


An 8-year-old girl who had been shot in the abdomen and lost her left leg was rushed to a secret hospital in Syria to undergo an operation to save her life under lights powered by generators.

Japanese anesthesiologist Ikusuke Hatsukari, 42, pumped an old-style ventilator for five to six hours until the doctors finished sewing up the bullet holes in her gut.

“If we had been in Japan, a push of a button would have sufficed,” the anesthesiologist said, referring to today’s cutting-edge breathing machines.

As a member of Doctors Without Borders, Hatsukari, born in Saitama Prefecture, spent time in northern Syria from late August to mid-September. He was sent to help doctors there deal with the vast carnage.

“There were children who had lost body parts or who were bleeding heavily all over their bodies,” he recalled in a recent interview.

After getting a job offer from the international humanitarian body in August, Hatsukari flew to a neighboring country to enter Syria by road.

The hospital he was at had been a private house, but its location is a secret because hospitals are frequent targets in Syria’s civil war.

“One day, a hospital that was a 30-minute drive away was attacked and destroyed, and the patients there were rushed to our hospital,” Hatsukari said, recalling the stress of dealing with explosions and gunfire every day.

At the hospital, 50 doctors and nurses, including those from the United States, France and Australia, were working around the clock. Many patients arrived after hearing rumors about the hospital, he said. Some had been carried for days by family members.

There were so many patients that some had to be laid on mattresses outdoors, he said. Hatsukari himself napped on a bed on the roof, covered by a mosquito net to avoid contracting malaria.

It was difficult to distinguish between soldiers and civilians, but doctors at the hospital just continued to conduct one operation after another on those in critical condition, he said.

Afterward, the poor hygiene conditions only added to the infection risk, presenting a stark contrast with Japan, where there are “too many antibiotics to choose from,” Hatsukari said. “It was completely different from the television dramas where patients recover soon after their operations,” he added.

Since quite a few patients die on the operating table, Hatsukari said he was relieved to hear that the 8-year-old girl he was attending to is now recovering.