REYHANLI, Turkey — The first missile struck when Najeebeh Ahmed Hussein was clearing dishes from breakfast. The debris had barely settled when the second one hit and she found herself running from her village home on al-Zawya Mountain in northern Syria, her 5-year-old son bleeding in her arms, paralyzed from the waist down by shrapnel.
She fled to a neighboring village, Kansafra.
“Then the planes came and bombed that village,” Hussein said.
The rest of her travels that hot day in early September were difficult for her to recount — the car that took her to a third village, the field-hospital ambulance that appeared, presumably called in by someone in a rebel-controlled area, and then the 60-mile drive to the Turkish border, where instead of a passport, all she could present was an injured child.
Another ambulance, this one Turkish, rushed them to a hospital. And once it became clear that her son’s injuries would require long-term care, she embarked on yet another transfer and arrived at Dar al-Istshfaa, a haven for those wounded in Syria’s deadly civil conflict between rebel forces and those of President Bashar al-Assad.
With a name that roughly translates as “house of healing,” the Dar al-Istshfaa Syrian Medical Center sits here in this dusty Turkish border town, a few hundred meters from the Syrian border and next to a meandering mini-mountain of exposed rock and scraggly golden grass, a landmark that serves as a boundary between the two nations.
Founded by the Paris-based Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM), an aid organization created by Syrian physicians from Europe, the U.S., Canada and other Middle Eastern countries, Dar al-Istshfaa was designed to provide free medical care to all Syrians, regardless of religion or politics.
The three-story blue-and-white concrete building is the UOSSM’s largest postoperative recovery center in Turkey, with capacity for 80 patients. It was the first facility of its kind in any of Syria’s neighboring states, opening its doors in July of 2012.
Since then, it has served more than 10,000 people whose stays lasted at least a week, along with 700 long-term patients who remained for several months.
Then government soldiers began to bring in prisoners — “prisoners who had been tortured,” Shareef said.
However, the doctors were not allowed to perform necessary surgeries, and if the prisoners needed drugs, they were rationed only enough for a single day. Then they were taken back.
“I had to leave,” Shareef said.
Last month the U.N. released a special report that said both sides had committed war crimes but that accused the Syrian government forces of targeting hospitals, field hospitals and medical personnel as well as preventing the injured from receiving treatment and using hospitals as centers for torture. The report also documented evidence that opposition forces attacked hospitals, but to a much lesser degree.
No one knows which side will win or when the war will end, but the daily hunt for funds will go on as long as the war does.
The cost of running Dar al-Istshfaa averages $75,000 per month. The greatest toll on its budget is medication, particularly the wide spectrum of painkillers the center goes through.
If there is a supply shortage, they must turn patients away, said head nurse Maisaa Ahmed.
While patients and staff are focused on the now, questions of the future are met with a prevailing sense of uncertainty. Some want to go home, but their homes are rubble. Some want to get back in the fight but are no longer able. Some want to emigrate but have little hope of doing so because of poverty and complicated refugee policies. All hope the war will be over tomorrow.