“I tried to scream, but I couldn’t take a deep breath. No one noticed when I tried to scream — everyone was overwhelmed by the number of victims.”
I sat with my colleague Moustafa, a nurse in his early 20s, at a field hospital in Sarmin, Syria, as he described the chaos in his hospital on March 16, when barrel bombs filled with chemical gas struck.
At around 9 p.m. that day, the hospital received a wave of people experiencing chemical exposure symptoms — difficulty breathing, burning eyes, mouth secretions. He described washing and desperately trying to treat a small boy, Mohammad, who was foaming at the mouth. His sisters lay dead on top of their dead grandmother nearby. Moustafa says that as he treated the boy, he began to cough and was struggling to breathe. He rushed outside to breathe fresh air, but the air smelled like bleach. He passed out and woke up inside the hospital, receiving oxygen.
He survived the chemical exposure. Baby Mohammad did not. He died along with his two sisters, his grandmother, and his parents.
I decided to take the dangerous trip last month to Sarmin and Binnish in the suburbs of the northern city of Idlib, a major battleground in recent months, to speak with the brave doctors and nurses there. There are believed to have been at least six more similar attacks since the one in March, in addition to daily bombing and shelling using “conventional” weapons.