I Can Feel My Fingers

Bashir Ahmed crossed the Myanmar border with his right arm slung in a bloodsoaked Longyi. After two months of medical treatment and reconstructive surgery, Mr. Ahmed is now able to use his hand again, thanks to IOM.

SHAMLAPUR , Bangladesh -- Bashir Ahmed, an undocumented Myanmar national, doesn’t know his age but thinks he’s 16 or 18. He crossed the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh on Dec 2,  right arm bandaged in a blood soaked Myanmar dress called a Longyi. “I thought I was going to die,” he said.


Mr. Ahmed was one of more than 70,000 Myanmar people who crossed the Naf river since October to escape violence at home in the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar. He knew he needed urgent medical attention but he didn’t know whom to turn to. He neither had the funds nor knew where to go for medical treatment having only just crossed over from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Mr. Ahmed’s fortunes changed six days later when he attended a courtyard meeting where IOM’s partner, Bangla German Sampreeti or BGS noticed Mr. Ahmed’s arm and summoned Dr. Nai Mai Prue to inform her about his severe injuries. Dr. Prue rushed to a village near Teknaf, where Mr. Ahmed was residing with his relative.

“We didn’t even open the bandage,” said Dr. Prue, 31. You could see “it was severely infected.” She rushed Mr. Ahmed to IOM’s clinic in nearby Shamlapur,  where upon opening his bandages, maggots and puss oozed from his wounds. She determined the infection was too serious to treat at her clinic; he would also need reconstructive surgery to save his arm. “If he didn’t take treatment [soon], he would lose his arm,” I thought to myself.

Ms. Prue summoned the town’s only ambulance, purchased by IOM recently, to take the patient to Cox’s Bazar hospital where IOM staff were waiting to receive him. He spent three days under intensive care. “The pain was unbearable. I had a burning sensation in my arm. I couldn’t sleep...because it burnt so much,” said Mr. Ahmed.

The doctors at Cox’s Bazar struggled to control his infection. They informed IOM that he would have to be transferred to Chittagong Medical College Hospital, four hours away, if IOM hoped to save Mr. Ahmed’s arm.

“He was weak, infected and emaciated,” said Dr. Prue, who summoned the IOM ambulance to take him to Chittangong on Dec 10.  She had already alerted IOM’s two dedicated staff members, a nurse and a administrative assistant who work in the hospital, to prepare for his arrival. This meant filling out his paperwork and securing  a doctor’s appointment so he could be  immediately treated.  Such a feat would have been unthinkable for Mr. Ahmed, who had no documentation, can’t speak or write in Bengali, Bangladesh’s official language  and has no funds.

The doctors interned Mr. Ahmed for nearly two months.They had to first control the infection before carrying reconstructive surgery on his forearm. He was allowed to return to his family on Feb 1 where  Dr. Prue took care of cleaning his wounds and changing his bandages every 10 days at the clinic. IOM also arranged for Mr. Ahmed to travel once more to Chittagong so that the wire and staples inside his forearm could be removed.

Dr. Prue said “This was the worst case I have ever seen,” but she’s happy that Mr. Ahmed can now move his fingers.  He can grip objects, eat with his hand and even carry small items weighing less than two kilograms.

“I can’t express my feelings,” said Mr. Ahmed. “When I was first admitted to Chittagong hospital, I didn’t want to stay there but Dr. Prue explained that if I didn’t, I would probably have to cut off my hand,” he noted. “I am thankful to Dr. Prue, to IOM, and to God. I can lead a normal life now.”

Mr. Ahmed said he’s now focused on improving his hand strength so he can start working. “I have to [help] feed my brothers and sisters” said Mr. Ahmed, the eldest of five siblings. Currently the entire family depends on their widowed mother, who depends on the kindness of the community of Shamlapur, an impoverished fishing town, to feed her family.

IOM's health programs across the region, in both the makeshift camps, Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong, are supported by the US government, the Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM),  the European Civil Protection and Aid Operations (ECHO), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

-Write to Alex MacDonald at amacdon@gmail.com and Ashutosh Karmakar at akarmakar@iom.int