A tough day

I visited the camp for a little while yesterday, because I had to take a patient of us to the ophthalmologist in town, together with a fellow volunteer and a translator.

The patient was a forty-year-old man with type one diabetes. His vision was bad and the doctors in the camp wanted a specialist to take a look at it, because type one diabetes can affect eyesight. We were walking downhill to the city center and the man was struggling all the way down. Once we arrived the ophthalmologist was still engaged, but we could wait in the waiting room. The ophthalmologist helped the patient for free, so he didn’t have much time and was helping him between patients. Once inside, the ophthalmologist took some tests but realized soon enough that this was a severe case. He wanted to take a look at the back of the eye (the retina) and had to dilate the pupil with eye drops. In the meantime, the ophthalmologist explained that diabetes can be so severe that people even lose their eyesight, or even worse, lose their whole eye. Our translator translated what the ophthalmologist said and the refugee went very silent.

We needed to wait in the waiting room until the eye drops did their job. The man started crying. A forty-year-old man crying… Because of his past, the uncertain future, and the possibility that he could lose his eyesight completely. He arrived 7 months earlier in Greece. He fled from Syria after he was thrown in jail for no reason what so ever. He left his house one morning to pick up a piece of bread for his family and ended up in jail for six months. In those six months he saw a lot of people die in prison. He wasn’t given insulin in that time, what could have signed his death warrant, but luckily it didn’t. After six months he was released and decided to flee. We try to comfort him. We tried to make clear that we are doing everything in our power to help him. We are trying, because that is all we can do.

His tears vanished and he was ready for his second examination. Once inside, his worst fears were confirmed. His left eye was in very bad shape, and he almost lost all his eyesight. His right eye was functioning properly, but was starting to be infected by the diabetes too. The ophthalmologist told us that in a normal situation the patient should be under strict supervision and sometimes even needed an operation. His advice was to let the patient be treated in Athens, because these type of operations are not possible on Samos.

The man, very humble, was sitting there in silence. Maybe now there was an opportunity for him to move forward to Athens. We agreed to meet up the next day to talk things through. He went through so much and this felt like a stab in the back. I think for me personally, that was the hardest day so far.

Text: Harma Oosting
Photo: Bas Bakkenes
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