Tuesday, December 16, 2014 has in all likelihood changed the way the city will feel, the country will think and the individual will interpret life and death after seven cold calculated militants looked for the blood of innocents as they lay siege to Army Public School.
By the afternoon, Pakistan had seen one of the worst attacks on civilians on its soil. A siege on a school left 141 gaping holes in the city’s feeble fabric. At least 132 of those were students, preteen to 18 year olds, according to a statement given by ISPR DG Asim Bajwa after security forces cleared out the militants holding over 1,000 children and several staffers hostage at Army Public School.
While many of the deceased and injured were at Combined Military Hospital, its security protocol did not allow for the release of more information. Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) was another story altogether.
LRH is not just any hospital. It has helped Peshawar withstand almost every deadly blast in the past 10 years. Tuesday was no different from those blood baths, except when it was.
Inside the trauma ward of LRH, nurses and doctors huddled over rows of small children in their winter uniform of forest green jumpers and jackets, all the more diminutive in their fear and shock. Medical staff had been called in from all wards to cater to the emergency. Amid the rush of blood and gurney wheels, another layer of sound permeated through. Doctors and nurses trying to soothe young children,
“Can you tell me the name of your mother?” asked doctors of their confused patients.
Meanwhile, the dead ones were being frisked, their pockets emptied so their school cards could give doctors a number to call on.
Khalid, barely 14, was also lying on a gurney, not very injured but very much in shock; his mother sat on the ground next to him, feeding an infant. As a doctor covered him with a mylar sheet (which helps regulate body temperature), Khalid’s mother started and could not stop screaming, scared the gesture meant something was terribly wrong with her son.
Nearby, a man lay limp on a stretcher. When asked, the doctor explained he was in shock as he had lost one son and the other one was injured and badly shook-up.
“We need people to come in and help with such patients, but we don’t even have enough to cater to all the injured,” said the LRH doctor.
As medics tried to triage patients and make room, frantic family members kept piling in, trying to search for survivors.
While the living looked for the injured, the dead waited to be recovered. The remains of school teacher Hafza from Arbab Hayat Chum were lying at LRH. Having spent her life among children, at her end she was surrounded by children.
Eighth grader Asad Aziz was also among those who had breathed their last on Tuesday. A brilliant student at APS, Aziz was also shot in cold blood by militants who had hunted down innocents. Shaking uncontrollably as he wept, Haji Khan Muhammad, his father, tried to tell Asad’s story.
“He was like one of those perfect children which you find in books and stories.”
The shock had only started setting in for Asad’s family, and “Now we have to bury our most beloved child on Wednesday morning,” said Haji Khan, before bursting into tears.
By the time the operation, which started at 11am, ended, Principal Tahira Qazi had also been pronounced dead. For the few hours before, her family had been frantically searching for her.
Many of those at the hospital gates were there to donate blood.
“We have come from Government College of Commerce and heard the hospital needed blood,” said Muhammad Shoaib. Around 85 students have reached here to donate, he said.
Residents from near and across the city rushed to LRH as news of blood donations spread through social media and the television.
The LRH blood bank, however, said they did not need blood but encouraged people with rare blood types to donate.
Outside APS, five-year-old Noman could not stop crying in his father’s arms, who kept kissing his forehead in his relief to have his son well and alive. Only in grade one, he was one of the children who witnessed the organised slaughter, which was later claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
APS was the most secure school, said Shah, a resident of Warsak Road, as he stood there waiting to receive his children alongside dozens of other parents. “If this was not safe, where do we send our children?”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2014.