In the mobile ambulance humedica surgeons treat waiting refugees in Idomeni. Photo: humedica
A review by humedica intervention team member Gerhard Gradl
When the situation of the waiting refugees in the Greek border town Idomeni worsened and all of a sudden thousands of people in disorganised camps needed assistance, humedica immediately took action and dispatched a medical intervention team to the border. The practitioner Dr. Gerhard Gradl was part of this group.
„Help is a humanitarian duty“
„I would never had thought that I had to relive my experiences of earlier interventions in Asia and Africa on European soil, but the situation in Idomeni called for it.
After arriving at the Greek border I walked through the area for a quick overview. There were tents everywhere, between railway tracks, on railway tracks or covering any other imaginable free space, in between people used open fires, which blazed and smoked strongly, to cook water or sometimes even something to eat. There were hundreds of small camping tents, which had occasionally been extended by blankets and slides of foil.
In some areas I saw large tents with beds and sanitary facilities set up by other aid organisations. But these are far from enough for all the waiting people and so you see dirt and garbage everywhere. In the middle of the camp there is a corridor, shielded by wire, which leads to the local food bank. It is hard to adjust to the sight of people crowded together in this caged corridor, waiting for something to eat.
Our workdays are all quite similar. Every morning our team crosses the Greek Macedonian border to reach the camp. It has proved impossible to find an accommodation nearer to the camp. Either they were severely overpriced or the willingness to rent out was lacking, so finally the humedica intervention team settled down in Macedonia. At the station we then set up our mobile ambulance, a „Sprinter“ transporter with awning.
Respectively one surgeon and one translator care together for a patient. Thus we try to provide the best diagnosis and therapy possible under these operating conditions. Time and again we reached of course our limits: for example most patients refused to go when we recommended them to get further treatment at a hospital. Often they feared not being able to get back to Idomeni and to continue their travel to Western Europe, sometimes they were simply lacking the money for the treatment.
While taking care of the patients we saw all sorts of common flu infections, respiratory and chronic diseases. But we also came face to face with all states of exhaustion, war injuries and burnings as well. We met all age groups from babies, who were only a few days old, up to 85-year-old grandfathers. Both the hot temperatures up to 33 degrees and the helicopters circling above the camp did nothing to ameliorate the already agitated atmosphere. The fact, that nobody knew, whether or when the camp would be evacuated, added to the general anxiety.
A few Arabian words were sufficient to relate to our patients in spite of contrasting cultures even without translators and were mostly received thankfully with a smile or a nod. Many refugees were simply glad to be able to talk to somebody willing to listen to their worries. They appreciated that our whole team tried its best to help under these difficult conditions and did not simply fob off anyone.
Of course there were limits to what we could do in the course of an emergency intervention, for example if a certain medicament was needed, which we could not provide, or people asked for surgeries we simply could not perform in our mobile ambulance. But for weeks now the humedica teams could at least tend to open wounds and deal with injuries, which till date were only provisionally treated.
At any rate we can give a little hope to people, who survived countless bomb attacks. We can splint the hand of young man, which he broke while trying to cross the Greek Macedonian border. And we can at least try to organise somehow an emergency surgery for a man, whose intestines and bladder got shredded when hit by the fragment of a bomb.
And even so the helpers in Idomeni give their best to improve the situation of the people on site, there is no solution in sight. In the next weeks the temperatures will rise further, the sanitarian situation will worsen due to diarrhoea and possible outbreaks of epidemics and many waiting refugees will only become more nervous.
Obviously my one-week intervention was only a drop in the ocean. But humanity calls for it and the gratitude of the people, whom we could help, proves, that it makes sense even so!"
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