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In Beirut Tragedy, Doctor Finds Renewed Sense of Purpose

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Dr. Bassam Osman says his life changed on August 4. At around 6 p.m, he was getting ready to leave the hospital in Beirut where he works. Then, a huge explosion shook the city.

Hundreds of wounded people came to the American University of Beirut Medical Center, one of Lebanon's best hospitals.

Doctors who had worked through Lebanon's civil war said they had never seen anything like it. In six hours, they used as many emergency supplies as they would normally use in one and a half years.

Osman, a 27-year-old resident, worked for the next 52 hours. He treated more than 20 people. One of them died.

Dr. Bassam Osman (right) working under the supervision of his mentor, Dr. Jamil Borgi (far back of the photo). (Courtesy photo from Dr. Bassam Osman)
Dr. Bassam Osman (right) working under the supervision of his mentor, Dr. Jamil Borgi (far back of the photo). (Courtesy photo from Dr. Bassam Osman)

Problems in Lebanon

Explosive chemicals, left for years at Beirut's port, caused the disaster. The explosion has increased public anger against Lebanon's officials, who are also blamed for the country's economic crisis.

More than 190 people were killed. Thousands of people were injured. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed.

"Day by day, these (crises) are becoming our normal life," Osman told the AP. "We are tired...It feels like one long marathon."

Osman's earnings dropped in value from nearly $1,300 a month to just around $200 a month because of the local currency's crash. He worries harder days may be ahead. Osman, at the beginning of his career, finds himself in a medical field that is having problems.

Lebanon's medical centers were once considered among the best in the Middle East. In a short time, they have been brought to near collapse. They have been hurt by Lebanon's financial problems and an increase in coronavirus cases.

New medical supplies are not coming fast enough. Medical centers hit by the economic crisis are firing employees. More doctors are leaving the country. It will cost nearly $30 million to repair medical centers damaged by the explosion, the World Health Organization estimates.

At the same time, the health system faces a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. The International Rescue Committee, an aid group, says that, since August 4, there has been a 220 percent increase in reported infections.

Question marks

One woman recently contacted Osman on social media. She asked for suggestions about finding a plastic surgeon – a special kind of doctor who repairs or improves people's appearances.

The reason for her question: her wounds from the explosion were stitched badly. Stiches are special pieces of thread that are used to hold wounds closed. The woman did not realize that Osman was the one who did the stitching.

Osman admitted responsibility, noting that the work was done under mobile phone lights. He asked her to return. She did, for coffee. He apologized to her in person. Later, in an Instagram post, she thanked him for "putting her back together" and saving her life.

Osman has two more years in his residency program. Then he plans to go on a fellowship in another country. He said that in the past it was "a question mark" whether he would return to Lebanon when it was over.

After the explosion, he is sure he will.

"After I witnessed how much potential there is to give as a doctor in a country like Lebanon...I realized that the question marks have all gone away."

I'm John Russell.

Sarah El Deeb reported on this story for Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

Words in This Story

resident – n. a doctor who is training at a hospital to become a specialist in a particular field of medicine

marathon – n. something (such as an event or activity) that lasts an extremely long time or that requires great effort

mobile phone – n. a small telephone that people can take with them and use outside their homes

fellowship – n. the position of a fellow at a university or college

potential – n. a chance or possibility that something will happen or exist in the future

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