Listening to the strains of Abba singing “Happy New Year”, sipping fizzy water and toasting the start of 2015, not too different from my friends all over the world but this was after my first 13 hour day of my first Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission.
I’m in Ar Ramtha, Jordan, working as an emergency doctor in the Emergency Surgical Unit which receives wounded people from Syria, two miles away over the border. I have been here just over a month now and am beginning to get to grips with things and today have time to write about some of my experiences so far.
That very first day was overwhelming. Everything about a new home, a new job, a new country, new colleagues and a new year all in one day and on top of that, seeing injuries which I was not used to seeing in rural Scotland.
What was more overwhelming was the welcome that my patients gave me. How could I feel anything but humility when I was hugged so hard by a nine-year-old boy who had lost both legs below his knees and lost his right hand, back in September? His smile and greeting in broken English were so amazing and something which I shall never forget. How could I really grumble about anything again?
I wasn’t here when this little chap was first admitted with such devastating injuries but I am told that he was quiet and sad and angry over those first few weeks. Who would deny him those natural emotions of grief and loss. Who knows what he went though before he reached our hospital and what thoughts still visit him when he is alone or asleep?
If he is still troubled, he doesn’t show it. He whizzes around in his wheel chair and awaits final fitting for lower limb prostheses and all the while tricks you into picking him up with his mischievous, irresistible grin. Such is his infectious cheerfulness that we ‘prescribe’ his presence to other patients who are struggling to cope with their awful injuries.
And he is just one of our amazing 40 or so patients who we look after on their journey from the Emergency Department, through life-saving surgery, into our only Intensive Care Unit bed and then into our rehabilitation ward. We have fabulous dedicated local Jordanian staff who support this unique MSF project. Eight committed, devoted young doctors have been here since the start of the project over a year ago and they continue to provide round the clock care for everyone.
At their side are ward and theatre nursing staff, physiotherapists and mental health counsellors whose work underpins the holistic recovery of body and soul. And supporting their efforts the back-room team, too many to mention, but nevertheless essential.
Maintaining the psychosocial care of the expats usually involves group-cooking on a Friday with a glorious international flavour, which is the benefit of living with people from so many countries. Sometimes it feels flippant to have these indulgent Italian suppers and English puddings but they are probably essential to the well being of the project.
Explaining the concept of haggis and Burns’ Night was almost impossible. The opportunities for ‘lost in translation’ moments are many and varied, they lighten the mood and set us up for another tough day at work.