The Work

The other night we were involved in a difficult medical situation at the camp. It was a problem we actually saw coming but, despite our best efforts to prepare for it, we couldn’t find the medicine we needed anywhere on the island. Then, at the end of a largely uneventful shift, the patient arrived in the arms of her father.

I will never forget the events of that night nor the sense of purpose and unity in our team. We medics tended to the child and, together with our interpreter, pieced together the story. Our coordinator and co-coordinator managed the considerable red-tape around the transfer to the hospital, finessing the sensitive relationships with the decision-makers in the camp. In the end, everything worked-out, and we left with our little patient for the local hospital.

We spent the next day discussing what we could do to ensure the girl and her family receive the help they needed. Texts and phone calls went back and forth, ideas and updates. There were clarifications as to what we can and can’t do, the various sensibilities we needed to consider, and the risks involved in ignoring these realities. Later that afternoon I got a text from our coordinator, home sick with a bad cold, that the girl would hopefully be heading to Athens the next day. She had also been working on a back-up plan to get the family into a hotel room, as they were currently living in one of the small tents crowded among the rows of containers.

So much depends on not letting-up, not giving-in to the frustrations here. I happened to be the first doctor this family saw when they arrived in camp. There was no mistaking the urgency in this father’s eyes: they lost the girl’s medication on the journey here, and he was worried. I’ve never felt so much responsibility as a doctor—and I’ve never been part of a team that worked so hard to obtain even a bare minimum of the care any one of us would expect for our loved ones. Things have fortunately moved forward for this family, but not without new roadblocks and daily set-backs.

Relief
This is my last day here. It is hard to let go. The night of the emergency, after finally getting the girl to the hospital, my colleague and I went out for a drink. I was feeling elated, but looking back now I think I simply felt relieved. When we got our beers I proposed a toast. It surprised me because I hadn’t planned anything, it just came out: “to the work!”

Text: Scott Nelson – Doctor
Foto: Stockfoto BRF