We saw around 15 patients on our first day. If I this was a video game (maybe all of life is?), by the end of the day my strength bars would have been around 2/5.
Today we have nearly 30 people on the schedule, plus a smattering of missionaries who seem to filter in with loooong lists of medical questions.
The missionaries are amazing. Most consider themselves to be “married” to the mission field, and are here by themselves, living on donations. And not just for a week. For years.
If you’re looking for “underserved” medical communities, no matter your own personal faith persuasion, here’s one. Most Christian missionaries donated their health and bodies to their work long ago. They see a doctor when they can (read: every 5 years on average), but it’s never a regular thing for them.
One question from a missionary yesterday, “We’re so excited. We’ve been given permission to use an old elementary school from the Greek government. People have been defecating and doing drugs in there for the past 5 years. All we have to do is clean it out, and it’s ours! Do I need Hep B vaccination? I think I had one of those shots. What about that HiB thing? Oh, and what about tetanus. Can’t remember when I last did one of those. And should I wear gloves? Maybe a face mask?”
Another story: 12 year old girl with dizzyness. She left with her parents from Afghanastan over 6 months ago, running from the Taliban. The family took a number of cars overland from there to Tehran for around 20 hours. They then hiked from Tehran to somewhere in Turkey for days, eventually finding their way to a huge refugee camp there.
Then the family found a smuggler who, for most of their remaining money, agreed to put them in an inflatable raft for a trip to the island of Lesbos, which is officially “Greece,” and would allow them to begin the process of obtaining refugee status.
They were required to get from the refugee camp to the coast on their own. Upon finding the launch site a few days later, according to the mother, they found that the raft was about 8 feet long, and she counted nearly 30 people in it.
They were turned back by the Turkish coast guard 5 times before they succeeded. Each time they were turned away, they were “towed” back to the Turkish coast, which effectively half-sunk their raft because the front end kept getting pulled under the water. Although some had life vests, many did not, and nobody knew how to swim, so the affair was terrifying.
This young patient started her period 8 months ago. She has had to learn how to be hygenic in refugee camp conditions. She can’t understand why she feels so weak and tired all the time. I asked her how and what she eats.
“We got cookies on the road from Tehran to Turkey. They were good.”
“Do you eat the food in the camps.”
“Ew. It’s always bean soup, and they never cook the beans.”
I smile and look at the mother, she is looking at me, rolling her eyes. “Lentils, usually,” She says through my translator Sahar (and Superwoman). “But I can’t get her to eat anything. She’s my pickiest kid.”
Here I am, a billion miles from my homeland, from any Caucasian, from my life, and this mother is dealing with a UNIVERSAL problem of parenthood.
“I have the same problem in my house,” I say smiling. The mom laughs.
I then look at the daughter, “You are probably dizzy because you are losing lots of blood every month. It makes people feel weak, tired, cold and dizzy. The best way to take care of it is to eat. Cookies are not food.”
I look at the mom, smiling again, but shrewdly. “But I don’t know for sure if this is the problem. I need a,” (imagine the audio slowing down here for emphasis), “BLOOOOD TESST.”
The girl’s eyes widen. “Uh huh,” I confirm. “With a NEEEDLE.”
Cute, 12-year old crestfallen face. “So I’ll make you a deal,” I continue. “Lentils or needles, your choice.” Mom laughs again, getting it.
The daughter, I hope, got it too. The mother and I were able to make light of this, but it could get serious. The girl’s arms at the biceps are thinner than my wrists.
There are more stories from only this first day. To depict them is like trying to pour the entire Mediterranean Sea into a rain drop. It just can’t be done.
This world, these sorrows, these tragedies…they can only be know by walking, even for a moment, with those that are living them.