How I buried my Lebanese heartbeats under the Mar Mkhayel rubble

Fred Bteich
5 min readOct 17, 2020

This is my story. And this is the story of every human being in this piece of land we call Lebanon, who has left, who is leaving, or who will leave in the current and upcoming period of uncertainty that is looming over the country, and that has pushed many to consider not coming back, at least not in the near future, including me.

After months of dealing - just like everyone else - with the economic crisis, and seeing all of my - now unreachable - savings lose their value,

After taking to the streets, protesting on many occasions, and pushing people to do so over and over again, only to see the ruling politicians give us the middle finger by taking us back to square one a year later,

After having to go through the Beirut port explosion, with all its physical and mental trauma,

After seeing my peers and even professors in the medical field struggling to sustain a living,

I have decided that I’ve had enough.

I count myself very fortunate to be ‘forced’ to leave this country at this opportune timing, for we must normally do one extra year abroad to finish our specialization in order to get our diploma. After that, coming back to the country was once a commodity, that leads to a new career over here.

But things have drastically changed in the past 12 months or so.

I find myself today, at almost 30, going out of here with nothing in my pockets, for the banks have decided to swallow every drop of sweat I have personally worked for since I started earning some money.

People tell me to come back. To start a career here soon. But I can see nothing but suicide for a doctor nowadays in Lebanon. What was once considered a luxurious profession, that could earn you hundreds of thousands of pennies has turned today into one of the most dreaded. Uncertainty surrounding the health sector, a top division in the country alongside the educational one, in my opinion, is pushing many to think twice before committing an irreparable mistake.

The truth is, you cannot return ‘home’ today - as a freshly-graduated doctor - and expect things to go your way. With more than 13,000 colleagues of yours already registered in the Order of Physicians, finding your place in the country is becoming increasingly tough. Especially now, with the Lira devaluation, that is pushing many hospitals over the edge, unable to employ new talents for financial reasons, or being saturated with people from the field you’re specializing in. If ever you’re lucky enough - or benefit from a ‘wasta’ that enables you to be selected - you think you’ll now be rich (more like society thinks you’ll now be rich) in no time. The truth is - especially for a surgeon - the struggle is huge. Nowadays, you’ll have to cope with the yoyo dollar market to be able to pay for the rent of a new clinic you’ll be joining. Moreover, people fail to realize that we earn our wages for most of our surgeries around 18 months later. 18 months, if ever sometimes we do so. Yes, a newly-adopted surgeon by a hospital will have to perform operations for a year and a half for free before starting to earn some money from them. Meanwhile, he/she cannot count much on their clinic, for their clientèle and reputation are still very limited, and with the current consultation fees looming around 100,000 to 150,000 LBP, there is much to ponder.

Is it worth coming back with some euros, to waste them on renting a clinic while struggling for no less than 2 years to start a career in the current circumstances? You’ll be depleted of money in no time and find yourself in your mid-30s asking your parents again for some cash, you the doctor who’s been studying and working hard for half of your living so far. No, I will not go down to this level of humiliation. No, I will not come back and waste my golden years of productivity while waiting for a country to get better. I will be selfish for once, cause this is what it’s all about at the moment. Survival and fighting for some dignity. Earning as a doctor less than 0.5$/hour at almost 30, while working your ass off each day with a schedule of no less than 12 hours per day, is problematic in itself.

I’d rather earn some euros, a respectful - and more or less decent - salary, as well as valuable experience while giving myself all the chances to stay abroad and continue my career in Europe, with another nationality. This should be the aim of everyone in the field. Not to come back - if ever the thought will remain there after a while - unless with another passport in hand, which could breathe salvation at any moment in time.

This is our case as doctors and nurses as the exodus which started mostly around July, and intensified heavily following the Beirut explosion, is likely to continue. The downfall of one of the best sectors in the country is imminent.

I’m sick of sitting down in public with people, at any social gathering, to discuss nothing but immigration or thoughts of it, and the current depressive situation in the country.

I write this, not only to my friends and colleagues from the field. But for all those who have left. Those who are leaving. Those who will be leaving soon, and finally those who will be staying. This last category, unfortunately, is unable to leave due to various reasons: lack of resources, too much patriotism, family commitments, etc.

To those, I say today, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for some of you. And I’m sorry for failing you. Channeling yourself from the frontlines of the protests to the front rows of the airplanes is extremely sad.

To those, I say today, we count on you. More than ever. We count on you, to revive for us and for yourselves (I don’t know what resources are still existent to do so) what is left of this country we call Lebanon. Cause people like myself have wasted every idea that comes to mind and that could be handy.

We count on you to go back to the Mar Mkhayel rubble, every day, and look for a heartbeat. I’m sure you’ll find many dimming ones there. And it will be a matter of time before this booming sound inside the chest is silenced forever if ever we continue losing time. Cause this is what the Chilean team and Flash taught us. To be quick in salvaging the ones who still have even a few beats of hope left in this country. Maybe one day, very soon, someone out there will find mine among these, buried under the Mar Mkhayel rubble, before it’s too late, if ever it’s not already the case.

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