On the 9th September I took an early morning flight from Manchester and joined Team Rubicon USA on Operation Hermes. For the next fortnight it would be my job, alongside my American colleagues, to deliver healthcare in a clinic for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Greece.
I discovered Team Rubicon whilst I was studying for my MSc in International Disaster Management at the University of Manchester this year. My new American classmate, Kate, with her no nonsense attitude and bright blue hair, took me up to Keswick to help with the flood response. Team Rubicon with its dual purpose, to reintegrate veterans and provide disaster response, and welcoming, enthusiastic ‘Greyshirts’ had me hooked. Without hesitation, I rejoined the team in Tadcaster over the New Year and completed my initial training and initiation this summer in Wiltshire.
So fresh from completing my MSc, I landed in Greece for my first international deployment. Dave, the logistician, and Jerome, the ‘tech guy’, kindly collected me from the airport and after swinging by the apartment to drop my bags we went straight to the clinic. There were patients to see! Prior to leaving, I had chatted with Charlie, one of TRUK’s Operations Managers, who had already been out to the clinic, so I had a rough idea of the situation. However, I definitely wasn’t prepared for the stark contrast of the refugee camp against the backdrop of a busy tourist destination. It was very unsettling.
Back in England I work as a Paramedic for the London Ambulance Service and so I am well used to communicating with others without speaking. The diversity of our sprawling capital centre means that often a talent at charades is very useful! However, the skill and dedication of the translators in the clinic meant that I didn’t need to rely on my acting or drawing skills that often. Although it came pretty close when Health Point Foundation and Dentaid lost their translator to illness and they took me up on my offer to draw for them. Luckily, we managed to spare one of our translators from the clinic.
The clinic is a really impressive set up. Donations have enabled teams of appropriately qualified health care professionals to deploy with the resources they need to assess, diagnose and treat an extremely vulnerable community. The pharmacy is well supplied with both emergency medications and those for the management of chronic conditions. The examination room contains two beds for assessment and treatment and also a 12 lead ECG and ultrasound. This was used regularly during my deployment: a lady had her 20-week scan and two patients presented with cardiac chest pain. We also administered intravenous fluids to a patient and lanced an abscess on a child’s leg.
Although the clinic was open from 1000-1800 every day, with out of hours covered by an ‘on call’ rota, it was generally busy from 1330 to 1800. Firmly on Mediterranean time, the refugees often went to bed between midnight and 0300 meaning late starts. Often families would present to the clinic together and talk all at once, exchanging both pleasantries and complaints. As my team were running the clinic with skeleton staff, I was frequently in the clinic by myself. I often found myself reflecting on my first TR deployment during which my TR mentor would regularly ask me, “Are you in control?” TR has certainly taught me new skills and has provided me with the opportunity to work in challenging environments. Disasters are our business.
I really enjoyed chatting to the Syrian and Iraqi refugees during my stay. Many longed to go home but knew that was unlikely and, for some, that it wouldn’t be in their lifetime. All I could leave behind was faith and hope that their current situation is transitional and that they will have a new place to call home soon. I am very fortunate that I have my health, family and friends, education and career. If Team Rubicon can go some way to alleviating the suffering of these refugees with the knowledge and skills, empathy and compassion of their members, then I look forward to deploying again soon.