By Asma Al-Mohattwari
It sometimes only takes moments for fun to turn to tragedy. When exposed to fire, a man may lose his capacity for joy, with his and family’s lives turned upside down.
Different circumstances may have exposed the man to fire, but the results are often the same. Among the many causes of burn injuries are gas leaks, fireworks, cigarettes and boiling water.
Behind each burn victim at Al-Jomhori Hospital’s Burn and Cosmetic Center – the only center of its kind in Yemen – lies a different painful story. Opened in 2005 with 24 total beds, Burn and Cosmetic Surgery Consultant Dr. Mohammed Al-Sharjabi said that the center accepts only serious cases because of the insufficient number of beds.
The center has two consultants, four specialists and six general doctors. Of the 600 to 800 cases received each month at the center, 70% of the burn injuries result from gas cylinder explosions, 20% involve petrochemicals and 10% are the result of electrical burns.
A patient at the Burn and Cosmetic Center, 85-year-old Ali Al-Tabna was burned as a result of a gas fire two weeks ago. Because the cold weather was bothering him and there was no heater to rely on, Al-Tabna went into his kitchen to boil some water. Unbeknownst to him, gas had been leaking from a cylinder all night. When he lit a match, a gas explosion immediately ensued, leaving large portions of his body burned.
With his sons beside him at the hospital and with tears in his eyes, Al-Tabna said, “I didn’t smell any gas when I entered the kitchen; what makes me feel most sad is that I am now the cause of my family’s suffering.”
Responsible but poor, Abdu Mohssen, 22, was working on a qat farm. Problems and worries got the better of him; in a desperate attempt to escape from reality, Mohssen poured oil on himself and lit himself on fire.
He thought he would die. Yet there he lay in a bed at the center, with regret in his eyes and with severe burns having disfigured his body.
“Instead of getting rid of my problems, I have caused both my family and myself to suffer greatly,” said Mohssen.
Dr. Al-Sharjabi said that although burns cover 85% of his body, miraculously, Mohssen survived. The doctor mentioned that since Mohssen has a very poor family, with hardly enough money to get by on, it is necessary to treat him for free.
“Abdu has been in the hospital for over a year, and his condition has improved,” said Dr. Al-Sharjabi.
Among the patients at the Burn and Cosmetic Center, there are stories of moments of happiness rapidly descending into grief and tragedy. It was 28-year-old Hevdh Allah Naji’s sister’s wedding party. As a way to contribute to the wedding celebration, Naji purchased fireworks and began driving home.
He was smoking a cigarette when a spark fell hit the fireworks, which led to a large explosion which severely burned various parts of his body.
Al-Jomhori Hospital Chairman Dr. Nasr Al-Qadsi said that before the Burn and Cosmetic Center was introduced, five to ten percent of Yemeni burn victims traveled abroad for treatment. Now, said Al-Qadsi, burn patients are received from all of Yemen’s governorates. At the center, they receive therapeutic and surgical procedures, in addition to cosmetic surgeries.
“In our beloved Yemen, the burn patients are poor, all from low-income families; so we try our best to provide them with the best service,” said Al-Qadsi.
According to him, the main cause of burn injuries in Yemen is the gas cylinder; devices which enable people to detect gas leaks are not used because they are deemed too expensive.
In general in Yemen, there is also no regular maintenance of gas cylinders, whether at the company, seller or consumer level.