23.02.2017 – Gypsy balloon turf wars

The Greeks are fantastic hosts and cooks, but they are the most aggressive and terrifying fucking drivers I have experienced thus far. [Albeit…I never drove while I was in Bangkok.] Several important moments of my life flashed before my eyes while racing through rush hour traffic, trying to deliver medications to another Syrian refugee NGO before they closed up shop for the day. Amazingly, I didn’t kill any of the motorcyclists who weaved through the narrow spaces between vehicles and lanes like water.

Once again, it’s time to ask myself what my role in the refugee crisis response is…am I needed? Would operations cease to exist without me? The answer to both of these questions is no…but not in the way you’d expect. They could find someone else to fill my role, they could operate with a skeleton crew and without a maternity know-it-all, but what I have come to value is how essential the TEAM is. Individually, we each make a small dent that is barely noticeable on its own. All of us, however…that’s a field hospital. That’s a cohesive primary health care system. That’s a support group after the long hours, people with whom you can drink sangria out of a bowl with. At least that’s what I’m telling myself…it really is the best feeling in the world to know that you are a part of something good, something pure in its intentions.

To say that I’m even more disturbed/unsettled by the rising alt-right rhetoric is an understatement. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I cry a little after seeing what you kids post on your facebook walls…mostly because I understand that you’re not terrible human beings, but I can’t reconcile how something so awful and misguided could ever cross your minds. This isn’t a lecture, merely a statement. Hate destroys the hater, not the hated.

So yeah…I believe the respectful term is Roma, but I’m not using the word in a derogatory manner so I hope this is okay. A gypsy chased me away because I was handing out free balloons on the waterfront, which is apparently her turf. True story.

17.02.2017 – Non maleficence and Meat Thursday


One of the camps emptied out yesterday, so the clinic went mobile. It was pretty awesome to be there and watch it happen. People were running around and hugging, stoked to be leaving the camp for improved accommodations. They are not permanently settled, but will be indoors with beds and running water. Small victories in crisis ❤

The current bane of SAM’s existence is this pop-up medical NGO who is illegally entering camps, handing out diagnoses without a proper assessment, distributing all the wrong medications, and posting pictures of children on their facebook page. Medical voluntourism enrages me…I understand the lack of faith in the system (especially given the global shit-storm as of late), but what motivates a person (who is obviously either not a health care provider, or an extremely incompetent one) to start dishing out narcotics to vulnerable people, and then pat themselves on the back? E.g. telling a woman who doesn’t have diabetes that she is indeed diabetic, and “prescribing” meds which could have dropped her blood glucose in her sleep, and potentially killed her! Yes…stroke your fragile egos and praise your efforts, you tools.

Once word got up to the Ministry that an unauthorized NGO was roaming around camps, the soldiers got spanked and our chronic disease survey was temporarily halted as a result of heightened security. This survey was started with a notepad, pen, and foot work, and it is something that I am immensely proud of. We did finally manage to finish it today!

Only 6 days in, and I have begun to question the effectiveness of my role here, as well as the role of the other providers. It is important to self-evaluate, ESPECIALLY if it takes away from the heightened sense of purpose that naturally tags along with relief work. The good (and best) thing is, we act as gatekeepers to the health care system in Greece, and advocates for our patients. Simple primary care interventions, i.e. family physician appointments, are taken care of with relative ease and more complex issues are referred out with a translator to tag along. Refugee quality of life and physical health are much higher than I expected them to be. However, I can’t help but feel like our roles are far too limited…we can’t even draw blood work! Also, the greater issue here are the unseen wounds, the burden of what has come to pass and what continues to happen. We are incredibly ill-equipped to deal with this, and I can’t help but feel useless when faced with the idiopathic stomach pains and headaches, the psychosomatic manifestations of emotional and spiritual trauma. It physically hurts to think about it.

That’s it for the dark stuff (for now). In milder news…the Greeks recently celebrated Meat Thursday. Apparently it is a pre-Lent binge-eating tradition of sorts that involves barbecuing various meats all day, then eating and drinking into the night. We are fortunate enough to have befriended several business owners in this town, and were well provided for on this lovely occasion. I was stealthy about the whole vegetarian situation…the woman who hosted our dinner scares me a little. The first time I met her, she stood over me after I’d had my fill, stared at my not-empty plate and barked, “Why aren’t you eating my food?!” I almost had to hide a kebab in my purse in order to avoid being beaten with a metal ladle. Please refer to attached picture^^^.

Well, tomorrow is my day off, and I plan on getting day drunk while riding a bike up and down the seawall, strolling the squares and gardens once strolled by Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and seeing what else the birthplace of democracy has to offer. Cheers kids!



12.02.2017 – I need an adult

After nearly face-planting into the communal tzatziki sauce at lunch today, I was forced to take a two-hour power nap, which was followed by 10 hours of being painfully wide awake. It is 5 am in Sindos, just outside of Thessaloniki, and I’ve given up on my circadian rhythm for the time being. Fuck it…I have a masters-level capping project and a potentially publishable lit review on the go. Might as well put on my cat onsie and be productive.

Some background info…this girl is super skeptical of medical aid NGO’s, due to this horrific clinic that I was stationed at in Tanzania (2012)…which basically consisted of a psychotic Texan who took one paramedic course (thus proceeded to call himself a doctor) and a few middle-aged European hippies who handed patients crystals and told them to pray the HIV away (not even joking…worst people I have met in my life). So…how pleased am I to be working with qualified physicians, nurses, and EMT’s who actually know what they are doing! Excellent!

Field report for first day on the job:

Most of the roads in and out of the city were blocked off today because someone discovered an undetonated 500-pound bomb from World War || next to a gas station. 65,000 evacuated, bomb removed, crisis averted!

The two refugee camps that we are working out of are quite different from the image I had in mind, which is a good thing. Think an industrial area, like Nisku, re-purposed. You pull up to a large abandoned warehouse within its own industrial compound, UNHCR tarps are flapping over the loading bays. Inside, rows and rows of tents on top of wooden palates (to keep families off of the freezing cement). Outside, portable washroom facilities like what you would see at a festival, several portables which host the multiple NGO’s working there, and a Greek soldier aimlessly toting his gun around the yard. The occasional skinny stray dog who I try to feed, but it snarls and chases me back to the clinic. If we are going to see more refugee camps in the developed world, this is what they will look like.

At lunch I was told that on top of regular nurse duty, I will be in charge of the field pharmacy, and next week I will be the Team Lead as well. Apparently…there is room for promotion in this line of work.

Despite the mind-bending jet lag and 90-degree learning curve (get it…because it’s a right angle), things are looking pretty good here. There is a lot of room to strut your clinical skills and knowledge, and a really great team of people with little to no pretension or ego. We’re all here with the same goals and the same love for what we do.

So yeah…that was Day 1.