Trauma Center

How do you bring peace to a country where everyone has PTSD and the only therapy is prayer?


ASFAKHAN, Afghanistan — Two weeks ago, police delivered several bodies loosely wrapped in cloth at the gate of Mazar Civil Hospital. Taliban fighters killed in battle, the officers explained to Abdul Hamid, the hospital gardener who was pulling a night shift as a guard. Take them to the hospital morgue, they said.

Then one of the shrouds slipped off. A man’s ghastly head, decomposing and bloated after many hours in May heat, stared at Abdul Hamid from the stretcher. The ragged gash of an exit wound gaped blackly where the left temple once had been. Abdul Hamid passed out.

The next day, Abdul Hamid woke up without any feeling in the hands that had touched the grotesque cadaver. The morning after that, he woke up blind.

A five-day course of anti-inflammatory injections prescribed by an ophthalmologist had no effect. A textbook case of conversion disorder — a common dimension of mental trauma — a psychiatrist would have said, had Abdul Hamid seen a psychiatrist. But neither the gardener nor his family had ever heard of one. The culture of seeking cognitive therapy, like cognitive therapy itself, is almost nonexistent in Afghanistan. Its inchoate health-care system offers only 200 beds for mental-health patients in the entire country.

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