Behind the 14-foot blast wall surrounded in razor wire, Dr. Jim Froehlich heard the “not-so-distant” sounds of a mortar attack at a hospital near Mosul, Iraq.
Not long after, an ambulance arrived with women and children injured in the attack.
“I started working within the hour when I got to the hospital,” Froehlich said.
Froehlich, of Gainesville, spent a month working as an anesthesiologist at a field hospital funded through the World Health Organization and organized by Samaritan’s Purse.
“We started reading about women and children getting caught up in the war for Mosul, and it really sensitized us to what they were doing out there, and they needed an anesthesiologist in a bad way,” he said.
Froehlich left Feb. 27 for the field hospital near the warzone, a conflict between Islamic State and Iraqi forces. Roughly 140 people work at the hospital, with two operating rooms and some 50 beds.
“Roughly 75 percent of the patients we saw were women and children who either were caught in the crossfire or intentionally shot and targeted by ISIS,” Froehlich said.
The first ambulance unloaded a patient who needed 13 holes repaired from mortar fragments affecting his intestine and bladder, leading to surgery for hours.
“In the other room was a kid (that) had taken a fragment into his chest, and it had nicked his heart,” Froehlich said. “They were busy repairing that, in a very rushed, extreme sort of fashion.”
Taking in about 350 patients per month, the doctors worked while jets flew overhead, rumbling in the distance and rattling the windows.
Never being in the military, Froehlich and others were “indoctrinated into working next to a warzone,” including how to get to a bunker in a mortar attack or getting out of a vehicle safely.
The stories of the men, women and children coming in day and night brought a welling of sadness as Froehlich retold his stories from the warzone.
One night, a man tripped on an improvised explosive device going out to help a child that had been shot.
“He came to us without tourniquets on, so he basically lost all of his blood volume,” Froehlich said.
Incidents like this required the “walking blood bank,” where anybody on hand would go to donate fresh blood for the type needed.
“We actually saved the guy’s life, which was great and somewhat miraculous, but the wounds were so bad to his legs (that) both his legs were amputated above the knee,” Froehlich said.
The man, who had eight children, was despondent. With two amputated legs, he wondered what he would be able to do next.
A group of children playing soccer were injured in a mortar attack, leading one child to lose both legs below the knees and causing another to be paralyzed from the waist down.
“For some reason, these people with their ideology feel that they need to specifically target women and children,” Froehlich said.
Froehlich, who also spent six weeks in Mali, came home on March 29.
“I don’t think people in the United States see the ravages either of war or poverty or disease,” he said. “We have some of that, but not the extent that different areas of the world have it.”