Nicole Dagher shares her story worth a thousand wounds

Dagher performs one of her first medical procedures while volunteering in Iraq

A mother of five runs for her life as she tries to escape ISIS fighters on Iraqi city borders. Wounded and breathless, she picks up her hit six-year-old son and continues to struggle with his weight and her fears until she makes it to the safety of Iraqi Security Forces.

Following her operation, with tears in her eyes, it hit her that she had left her other four children at the scene.

Similar hardships have become common for many Iraqi citizens living in war zones, as described by AUB Senior Nursing Student Nicole Dagher, who spent her winter break assisting at the Emergency Field Hospital in Iraq, which was set up by the non-governmental organization Samaritan’s Purse in partnership with the World Health Organization.

“It was very intense. I personally got nightmares for around a week just reliving everything because at the time you kind of tell yourself, no I can’t deal with this now, I need to focus on the people and so that’s what you do, you put everything in a little corner in the back of your mind and you focus on the people,” Dagher shared, “But, then on the plane back, you’re just sitting there for an hour and a half and you’re thinking of what you saw and what happened to these people and the stories you heard and then it just hits you all at once and you’re just like wow, I don’t know if I can deal with this, but slowly you manage to accept everything.”

Dagher didn’t expect to go volunteer in Iraq. It all came to happen in the blink of an eye, after her father told her about the field hospital, which needed help from more nurses. Those able to translate Arabic to English and vice versa, as Nicole was able to, were particularly important since most doctors and nurses were American in origin.

A week after her application, Dagher flew out to Iraq, not knowing what to expect from her first medical field hospital experience.

“I’ve never been put in a situation like this before so I guess it showed me how I can deal with things like this, with my own strengths and my own weaknesses at the same time. As an experience, I learned a lot, I was able to assist in surgeries,” Dagher said.

One of the main struggles Dagher faced was seeing many wounded people who were in life or death situations, despite feeling proud to be able to offer them her deepest assistance.

When asked about the age and gender of the patients at the hospital, Dagher explained that, “We were expecting to have mainly young men coming from the fighting, but for the first couple of days, all we had were women and children. We had a couple of elderly patients, but not a lot. Most of them don’t usually make it because it takes about an hour and a half in the ambulance and their bodies aren’t as resilient. So we mainly had a younger generation.”

Dagher also mentioned that the experience she had in Iraq was very different to that in AUB, which is mainly based on theory in comparison to the intense practical training that distinguished her time in the emergency field hospital.

While there, Dagher changed her perspective on helping ISIS patients as well.

“We would have ISIS members come in and we wouldn’t know at the time, but they would come in and we’d treat them and then it’s like ‘wait, but I just treated the person you shot. Why should I be treating you?’” Dagher said, “But then you kind of get to realize that, as a nurse and as a human being, it is not our place to judge others, it’s our place to just show them love and compassion and to help them out even if sometimes you think they don’t deserve it.”

Dagher plans to volunteer again after resting and recovering from the physical and mental exhaustion felt in Iraq. She also offered advice to all her peers willing to undergo similar experiences.

“I just want to point out that when they do go, they have to keep in mind that they’re going to be helping out people from all types of backgrounds, from all types of beliefs, and so it’s not really our place to be prejudiced against them. They need to go in the spirit of ‘I’m going to help out people, human beings who are hurt and in pain’ and should be able to just separate themselves from their own personal beliefs and even still be able to treat others,” Dagher shared.

After a while of supervision, the mother and child were finally discharged with hopes of finding her children, Dagher revealed.

*This article was originally published in AUB Outlook on February 7, 2017*

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