‘Emergency! Emergency!’ Several Syrian refugees were shouting at once. I emerged from the little room I’d been consulting in to see a toddler being laid out on the other examination couch in the half Portacabin that was our clinic. The refugees and the Médecins du Monde nurse looked alarmed. I don’t like it when nurses look alarmed. I pressed one of our interpreters for details of what had happened while I started to assess the lustily crying casualty. No-one was showing the terrified toddler any kindness. The story from several of the now assembled mass of people around me emerged piecemeal. The child, who looked to be about two years old, had been hit by a police car. It had been moving slowly but some of the witnesses said she’d gone right underneath.
The police are stationed in Diavata camp to protect the refugees so this wasn’t a good outcome.
As I tried to establish the extent of the girl’s injuries, I felt like half of the world had come into the clinic to see what had happened and offer opinions. Our nurse took scissors to the girl’s outer clothes. This is something I’ve seen done in Accident and Emergency countless times but here it seemed almost criminal. The child probably had no other clothes and winter was approaching.
The child had a badly bruised left arm and leg and her head had been hit too. I was pretty sure there were no fractures but we called an ambulance, thinking that a check and x-rays in hospital would reassure everyone. The child continued to cry. The child’s mother arrived and roughly snatched up her baby. Remonstrating. Trying to find out what had happened. There was no gentleness. She was distressed. She seemed too distressed to comfort her child. The refugees gathered in and around the clinic were shouting now, angry that one of their own had been hurt.
I suppose that to troubled refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder leading to hyper-arousal, we clinicians were classified as part of the establishment, just like the police and the army. We were to blame. A group of adolescent boys were shouting that they would smash up the clinic. Our interpreters tried to point out that the little girl was still inside so this wasn’t a great course of action but the bluster continued. Some were beyond reason. They'd had enough.
When the ambulance arrived there was a less-than-friendly reception for the paramedics too but they were allowed to take the child into the ambulance and they drove away to hospital with a sister and the mother. The crowd quickly dispersed.
I returned to the family I’d abandoned at the start of all this. The patient was a six year old boy with a chest infection. The mother was weeping now. I asked if she was worried about her son.
‘No, no,’ she said, explaining that the accident and the toddler’s crying was an awful reminder, recalling all that had happened to her and her family – how they had suffered so much because of Asad. ‘All because of Asad.’
I had difficulty keeping back the tears myself. I felt like weeping with her, but there was no time. The queue of patients was building up again.
I have posted a series of blogs about my experiences of working as a volunteer in two refugee camps in Greece and the first is here: In Diavata Camp