When I arrived in Aleppo in May 2010, I was in a lot of pain.

While roaming through the fort of Saladin (the great Muslim opponent of the Crusaders), I had fallen hard.  Despite a sling and ice packs my wrist was now more than twice its size.

The x-ray office didn’t open until 11 am, so I decided to go ahead with the private tour a friend had arranged for me at the National Museum.   Dr. J. , one of the curators, did his best, but quickly recognized my exteme distress and hustled me into his office.

After preparing some tea to sooth body and soul, he produced the name of an excellent orthopedic surgeon who had set his broken leg a few years earlier.  Assuring me that the man not only spoke English but had trained and practiced in London, he called the office asking that they see me immediately.

Dr. M looked at the x-rays.  I had fractured my wrist.

Before I knew it, he had scheduled to set my wrist that afternoon at a local surgical clinic.   I scrambled to find an ATM to get the $250 I needed.  (The clinic couldn’t accept foreign insurance).   By 5:30  I was in a small ‘private’ room.

This was one of the few rooms with running water so periodically nurses would scurry in to fill pitchers, taking quick sideway glances at the “American” lying in the bed.  It was also used as a break room.  Two young nurses wandered in with their tea.   They spoke only Arabic and I didn’t.   So we smiled and laughed at our lack of communication.

Dr M arrived by 6:30.  Before I knew it I was in a simple, clean surgical suite.  He set the wrist as we chatted about his time in London and what I could expect in terms of recovery.    By 8 pm I had a new, much better, sling  (foam rubber, both comfortable and practical), a handful of pain meds and a deep appreciation for the kindess, professionalism and efficiency of the Syrian medical system.

Where is Dr. M today?

I hope he and the medical staff are uninjured.   I imagine the once orderly surgical center is now overflowing.

And what of kind Dr. JA?  Even if he is physically safe and sound,  I can’t imagine there’s enough tea to ease the pain of watching Aleppo burn.

I’m so angry and frustrated at what is happening.  Aleppans are suffering; their city is in flames.  But this isn’t the first time they’ve been subjected to war, invasion and disaster.

They won’t be broken.