War Surgeon

There is an explosion, very close. It comes from the furor in the middle of the road. Dr. Chris Giannou is the first to recognize the sharp crack and acrid smell of a detonated cordite grenade. When it explodes, he happens to be only 50 meters away, inside a Red Cross Landrover leaving the guarded gate to the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in north Mogadishu, Somalia's war devastated capital city. Chris Giannou is one of the world's most experienced war surgeons.

He leans over the back seat of the Landrover scrutinizing the commotion for a wary moment before instructing the driver to move the vehicle to where a young boy curls in pain, fear and blood in the middle of the road. People wail, moan, shout, run; some stand stunned. An old man drops to his knees holding his bleeding head, his eyes pierced. It is impossible to know exactly what is happening or might happen next. Who and where are the perpetrators? Who are the victims? Who is injured and who is only bloody? In seconds, Chris identifies and loads three wounded into the back of the Landrover. Men from our two armed escort vehicles follow his abrupt orders and load more of the wounded into their trucks. In a convoy we speed out of Mogadishu towards Kasani Hospital, seven kilometers away. Fifteen people are injured and one is dead.

In the back of the Landrover, armed with scissors and flashlight, Chris cuts away bloody clothes, dispassionately assessing the injuries of his new charges. Apparently children were playing with a grenade that a five-year-old found at home. Chris maintains that accidents and stray bullets in war zones are more dangerous than shelling. He sneers with disgust at the wasteful carelessness. The boy we saw first in the street stares in bewilderment at his dangling ripped ankle, at the place where his foot used to be. Holes puncture both legs and a piece of flesh is missing from one arm. There are no tears in his eyes, only disbelief. The old man's eyes are closed. "Press here", Chris says, "there is a wound underneath." It throbs as I press a soggy shred of my towel to the man’s bloody neck. Horns blare and we bounce on the dusty road past a lime quarry obscured by drifting sand, abandoned except for hungry dogs foraging for food in the sweltering sun. We race through two security roadblocks and into view of Kasani hospital set against the Indian Ocean.


Robert Semeniuk – Somalia 1992