I have been working for nearly two months with refugees trapped here in Greece. During these weeks the triaging nurse, interpreter and I have seen around 60 patients a day, sometimes more. For me this is tantalising as I know each refugee has stories I should hear. If I had time to listen I might better understand, but I only catch occasional fragments and glimpses of broken lives. Sometimes there are external signs, like the guy with a neat bullet wound in his left chest which must have missed his heart by a couple of centimetres. When I commented on his good fortune he agreed that yes God is Great. For many others, the scars are invisible.
I have come to know a cohort of cowed women, angry men and bereaved children. Awful experiences and testosterone make the men’s moods unpredictable and confusing. Many fight amongst themselves or seek oblivion with medicines or other drugs. Often their frustrations boil over, and who can blame them?
As their doctor, it can feel as if I am able to offer so very little in the way of comfort or healing. We have excellent psychologists in our team and a psychiatrist who comes to work in the camps once a week but sometimes the distress and traumas of these men get in the way of them accessing help. Women too can find it hard to talk to us about what they are experiencing. Sometimes they are just too busy as lone parents caring for their children or elderly relatives; sometimes a husband forbids them; sometimes they are just too shy or uncomfortable speaking to strangers. At least we are there for them six days a week though, and I hope that knowing that someone cares offers a degree of comfort.
The refugees' physical living conditions are tough and the camp in the decommissioned car factory at Oreokastro, although warmer than outside in the naked countryside north of Thessaloniki, is loud with sounds echoing around the vast stark building. They are townies, not used to camping or roughing it. They used to live in air conditioned apartments and houses. I can’t see how anyone could rest in such a noisy environment even if nightmares didn't disturb their sleep when it eventually comes. Their dreams are tortured. They’ve seen family members destroyed by bombs. They’ve suffered on their journeys to safety. Nearest and dearest have died on these journeys. They’ve been separated from the loved-ones who have survived.
There was a horrible accident last Sunday. A car - probably speeding - was driving down the long straight road that passes the camp. It hit a refugee family. A mother and daughter died at the site. The whole camp was traumatised by the loss of their friends and subsequently I was inundated with people collapsing with anxiety attacks, patients overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, and many with a recrudescence of the symptoms of being out of control with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some days are just heart-breaking.
I have posted a series of blogs since I first started work with Doctors of the World in Greece in early September. The first is : In Diavata Camp