Lesbos – Two fingers in the air

It wasn’t long ago that I was standing with two fingers in the air. Without doubt, and with the euphoria of recently completing my degree, I swore to God that I would obey the Nightingale’s Pledge. As I stood there, I imagined walking through the hospital in my white uniform, giving people the best care possible. This summer I swapped that white uniform for a summer outfit from the Boat Refugee Foundation to parade around on Lesbos. Nursing is the same everywhere. Right?

Friday night, my wife Martine and I went to Sykiminia to help 500 people prepare for the evening. We brought baby milk and a suitcase with equipment such as a glucose meter and a blood pressure meter. When we get to the camp we go in search of an English speaking refugee to help translate for us. We see babies with fevers, children that are vomiting, exhausted pregnant women, and old ladies with sprained ankles.

When I’m on my knees, placing a leg splint, a boy comes over to me. The translator says he has a wound, and when I ask him to show me, he removes a bandage that had been covering an infected gunshot wound. What has this eighteen year old boy been through? Fleeing Syria, running away from danger, and making a dangerous journey across the sea in an overcrowded boat. That should be no one’s life.

Two fingers in the air, their eyes showing the euphoria of recently surviving the crossing. That is what many refugees look like on the selfies they make on the beach. I have never seen euphoria disappear so quickly as when they start the 50 km walk in the sweltering heat of the Greece sun, or when they have to sleep outside or the hard ground.

At 01:30, Martin and I get in the car to go back to the hotel, completely exhausted. After driving 50 meters, we see a new family and I don’t stop the car, I’m drained! Or am I? What did I swear, when I held those two fingers in the air? Exactly! I look at Martine, put the car in reverse, and call out the window, “Any medical care needed?”

(By Christian van der Spek | Translation by Selma Rooseboom)