48 kilo’s, seven teeth and one broad smile

The camp looks peaceful today. It is quiet and almost cosy with the red glow of the wintry evening sun on the tents and containers. The first patients have been seen: backache, sleeping problems, sore throat… Then the next patient enters. Two modest eyes in a meagre face look at me, somewhat anxiously. I realize that his appearance scares me; I hide this quickly. This man is unbelievably skinny. The cold makes him shiver, even in our heated medical container. He has brought a friend along to translate.

‘He come for pain.’ Pain, a toothache. Unfortunately he is not the only one. Tooth decay is one of the most common problems we see here. It causes intense sharp pain to many people in the camp, which refrains them from sleeping. Unfortunately for this man the pain is so severe that it also refrains him from eating. Soup is possible, as well as bread that he crumbles between his finger and mixes with his tea so that he doesn’t have to chew. I wish I could give him painkillers. I ask the man to open his mouth. Seven rickety teeth stare back at me. This has been a problem for a long time but a couple of months in the camp with its limited facilities deteriorated the situation quickly. I wish so badly that a dental team could come to the camp quickly! I repeat the teeth hygiene (brushing the teeth, flossing, etc.) and give painkillers for a day, according to our protocol. But what to do with this weight? The scale shows 48 kilo. It is a chronic problem, that’s why it is very important to be careful when increasing his calories-intake. The balance in the body of such patients can be heavily disturbed with sudden increases, which may have dangerous consequences. Preferably we would monitor this in his blood, but that’s impossible here in the camp.

That is why we do it really carefully. Every day we increase his daily intake a tiny little bit. We add foods that do not require to be chewed on: porridge, baby food… Like this a week passes by. He visits our medical cabin daily, together with his translator-friend. We evaluate how it’s going and see how we can best continue. It’s beautiful to establish a relationship with this shy man, and to see colour return on his pale face. At day seven he enters again, with a modest pride. On his arm he carries a little boy: his son. He looks better than I’ve ever seen him, and a little stronger.

It is incredible how resilient a human can be. This man lost so much, not only his 25 teeth and lots of weight. He also lost his house, his friends and the place where his memories were made. Yet he has an admirable strength to move on. I offer to weight his little son to monitor his growth, but curiously he steps on the scale first. The pointer of the scale moves. We look at each other… 49! It’s a small step, but secretly it feels like a victory. We will continue, step by step, until we will reach our goal. He smiles broadly at me. And exactly such a generous smile is the reason why I love it so much to be here. I hope his steps continue to go forward, that he and his son can leave this camp quickly and reach a destination, wherever it may be.

Text: Evelyn Brakema
Photo: Bas Bakkenes
*The person on the picture is not the man in the article.