I’m currently volunteering as a Farsi and Dari interpreter at a medical clinic at both One Happy Family (OHF) refugee community center and the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesvos Island, Greece. In 2015 I volunteered as general labor and later an interpreter at refugee camps Pikpa and Moria and shared those stories here.
To protect patients’ privacy I’ve removed names, genders, nationalities, and identifiable health conditions.
23-26 October, 2017
After stints working in slums, war, refugee camps, and mental health clinics, I can honestly say I haven’t had a day at work as crazy as yesterday. Luckily I got to sleep in, though when you get back from work at one in the morning, sleeping in until nine doesn’t feel like the same prize it usually does.
The clinic today was as standard as can be. H, our Farsi & Dari interpreter, was back which allowed me to focus on running errands and taking care of odds and ends. It was boring, but it was also a relief that H was back — he had missed Friday and Saturday and hadn’t communicated with us since.
Instead of translating, I drove to and from Moria to pick up A, our Arabic interpreter, plus drop a few patients off, then I drove to the pharmacy for skin cream, then to the apartment to pick up a bag we left behind, then walked to and from storage several times looking for needles in a haystack. I translated for a handful of families but it was easy work, mostly just talking about coughs and runny noses.
And that was my day. Lots of errands, little translation, zero stress. It was a good change of pace from yesterday.
Between dropping the medical team off at OHF and picking up A from Moria, I got a text saying that a man at the OHF clinic needed to be taken to the ER in town.
Myself and D, a Greek-American pediatrician, escorted the patient to the ER. I have the common medical terms in Dari and Farsi memorized and I’ve studied for several conditions which we’ve escorted patients for consultations (various hernias, cancer, thyroid issues, swollen & blocked veins, genital conditions, etc.), but now I was accompanying a patient to the ER with a specific condition and zero time to study. It was sink or swim.
Over the next few hours I translated for an EKG, an X-ray, and blood panels, plus giving instructions to the patient and how to act without changing their condition. I was swimming, I think.
In the thirty-minute chunks between when we actually spoke with doctors, the patient told me the craziest life story I have ever heard. As soon as I thought the story was too Jason Statham Movie to be true, they pulled out their phone and showed me selfies of whatever event he was describing. Someday, if the patient’s family ever leaves the Middle East safely, I would love to share the story. Until then I just have to tell my own and pretend my life can hold a candle to the patient’s.
After the patient’s tests came back with good results, we left him at the hospital so they could do another blood draw that evening to check on his enzyme levels, then went back to the OHF clinic. We got there just in time to help pack up the supply boxes and translate for the trickle of families that shows up for cold and fever medicine as we’re closing every day.
After getting back to the apartment, I took a nap then drove back to the hospital to again translate for the patient regarding his blood tests. Everything went well so I swung by Moria to drop him off and pick up A for a team dinner.
The two podiatrists, clinic director, A and I spent the next two hours at an Italian restaurant which is on the street just below our apartment. On our first day in the apartment, the clinic director agreed that we should go there ASAP. A month later, we were there.
Was it worth the wait? No, but it was still good.
After getting back from La Dolce Vita I studied for a surgical consultation the next day and did my best to get to bed early.
The morning started early. At 7:30, D and I were outside Moria, waiting for three patients to take for hospital appointments. The third patient wasn’t there and didn’t answer their phone so we left without them after fifteen minutes.
I escorted Patient One to the surgery consultation office. A nurse took his ID, scanned a computer, and told him directly he didn’t have an appointment and would have to make one before being seen. I had hoped to have him show up as a walk-in and be seen, as this usually works, but it wasn’t happening today. Fortunately we had an answer quickly instead of wasting hours there to be told the same thing.
D escorted Patient Two to get x-rays of a lingering injury. Patient Two was the third person to arrive and roughly the twentieth to be seen. He is an African man and the Greeks at the clinic were and are given priority. After waiting for three hours, he saw a specialist, who sent him to get x-rays, where he waited in another line. After getting the x-rays done, D pushed straight through the line to see the first doctor about the results. We were told that the x-rays were good and we needed to come back tomorrow (Thursday) to see a specialty surgeon for a consultation. This specific surgeon is only on the island once a month so we immediately made plans to escort Patient Two the next day.
We arrived at the clinic at 2:00 p.m. and had an unremarkable afternoon. I translated for a few families, each having routine illnesses needing routine translation and routine medication directions.
I’m still shaking while writing this.
I started out the morning by picking up yesterday’s African patient and taking him back to the hospital for the surgery consultation. The man at the reception desk glanced at our referral and told us to go to the fourth door on the left, as he always does. At the fourth door on the left, the woman looked at us impatiently and yelled down! at us, which after asking a few more people we realized meant “go down the hall.” We planned for the delays and left early so we could still get a good spot in line. A half hour after the clinic opened, there were four African patients waiting to be seen along with around twenty Greek patients and a handful of people from the Middle East. Four hours later, the same four African patients were waiting to be seen along with three or four new Greek patients and a few from the Middle East.
While we waited four hours to be seen, our time with the doctor was over in a snap. He looked at the previous day’s x-ray, told us we were in the wrong place, and told us we had to make an appointment at the xxxxxxx surgical clinic instead. I told him we had been to the hospital the day before and we gave yesterday’s slip to the receptionist who told us to come here, then I said bluntly that we’ve been bullshitted every step of the way and needed a specific time, date, and doctor to see instead of just sending us down the hall to be someone else’s problem. He stared lazers into my soul, then agreed with me and sent a nurse down the hall with us to make an appointment at the xxxxxxxxxx clinic. The appointment slip did not include a time or specific doctor, it was just a date two weeks from now. We’ll need to arrive early to get in line and then hope that there aren’t too many European patients needing to be seen.
My blood was boiling. I could have dealt with being sent to the wrong place — we always are. I could have dealt with a condescending doctor. I could have dealt with waiting for four hours to be seen. But I couldn’t deal with waiting four hours to be lectured about being in the wrong place. I saw the original receptionist smoking a cigarette in the parking lot and lit into him, using words that would make a sailor blush while explaining that he sent us to the wrong place and we wasted the entire morning and might have to delay his surgery a month because he didn’t send us to the right place.
The receptionist kept looking at the security guards nearby while offering a meek apology. I took the hint and left.
I don’t remember what else happened today.