After almost nine months I don’t feel like a ‘first missioner’ any more, even though I am technically. I feel like I have been here and breathing this air for many more months than nine.
I finally am part of a team; I am more than the “expat for six months”.
In the beginning I was super afraid, afraid of the predictable difficulties such as: a different country, being away from family and friends, a strange language and culture and the war-ridden circumstances (the extent of which I still cannot fully grasp but can only imagine with solicitude).
But there are things that no one could have prepared me for: the degree of tragedy the war has brought upon so many people. Those little lives born into a trauma, bereaved from a normal childhood.
I now understand – from an emotional and probably womanly point of view — the importance in us focusing on children younger than five-years-old. Among the vulnerable they are the MOST vulnerable, from more than just a medical point of view.
They are facing a tough life and an unclear feature. Parents here are the same as anywhere else, over concerned, watching every red blotch on their toddler’s bottom, watching their little ones taking their first steps in stumbling through life, worrying that they walk in an ‘odd way’.
I see young mothers tossing their baby around like bread dough attempting to fix the diaper. I face these parents with a smile; I take their baffled kids for a walk in the hall way, walking in front of them watching them follow me and their “odd walk” just to discover that they are so much enjoying it and are perfectly fine.
I tell the young mothers to give their babies a rest and not to wonder when they puke if the mother is rocking it so hard all the milk comes up straight away. In such moments I feel the world is fine, we are facing the same little hiccups in growing up and mastering life’s challenges.
In our monthly visits to the ITS I look out for their behaviour, their way of interaction and I have been concerned about many. When I enquire the parents would tell us about their kids being upset after witnessing bombings and explosions, wetting their beds at night and being easily frightened at day time.
They wouldn’t participate much in playing with other kids, making sure their mothers are close. We, the sensitizers (health promotion team) and I, motivate the mothers to see our clinics to have a talk with our counsellor. And then there are those kids who just catch my eye and heart with their zest for life and curiosity for what is happening around them.
Often I wonder: Are these kids blessed with a higher level of resilience? Did their parents manage to protect them better? I don’t know. I am just pleased to see them laugh and interact.
For the GPs sick kids are a stress factor. For every GP to be precise. All over the world.
We are trained to take responsibility for our actions but it is a different thing with children. They don’t have the capacity adults possess.
Our decisions have to be taken carefully, having the calculator near to our brains to avoid giving the wrong dose. “How do I convert the mg to ml again?” It takes experience and pressure resistance to not loose one’s nerve at the first encounter with a shrieking baby and start crying oneself.
Work is work. Always and everywhere. You establish a routine which makes you cope with the work load. But there is no functional strategy to cope with the circumstances these children are stuck in. Sometimes it is more helpful to forget it and pretend it is a normal kid with normal kid problems. On the other hand we have to be more alert than with “normal” kids.
We have to be gentler with parents caring for handicapped kids, as they have hardly any support. We try to offer them psychological and social support, regular check-ups with our GPs and sometimes a few minutes of holding their babies and thereby taking the burden from them is a great aid to them.
Personally and honestly I am very happy to be the baby valet. There is nothing more worthwhile I can think of than an infant’s warmth against my cheek.
I will miss the intense and earthed work I was doing with the team of Tripoli.
I will miss the gratitude, but also the difficult situations we went through. But most of all I will miss following how our little patients grow up to be the heroes of their lives, whatever the obstacle. At least this is my hope…