As a doctor, I have trained to serve my fellow human beings. There have been few experiences that have touched me as much as volunteering on a mission trip with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). As a dermatologist, I knew my services were needed. These refugees did not have the luxury of getting basic medical treatment, let alone specialized dermatologic treatment. Many were children. The setup was very basic, and we had to improvise. My friend, Dr. Sarah Ferrer, and I prepared many samples, lotions, creams and medications to take with us. We worked with the SAMS team in Jordan to be able to bring local medications to this vulnerable population.
The refugee camps Zaatari and Al-Azraq were the areas where we saw the most patients. We alternated locations to increase our coverage. We were also lucky to have local medical students and pharmacy students to help scribe, distribute medications, and translate. We could not have done it without them! Above is a picture of the very basic clinic. I had to be the doctor and the pharmacist. Our medication supplies were limited, but the demand for our services was unlimited. One of the most painful moments was telling someone with a bad skin disorder (like psoriasis or severe acne) that I did not have enough medication to help. I did what I could and treated them with compassion and respect. Many of them waited for hours and sometimes the whole day for a few minutes of my time and a tube of medication. At times, we had to turn people away after running out of time. I really tried my best to see everyone, and on the days we were able to do so, I felt euphoric!
In some patients’ eyes I saw hope, but in eyes of others I saw despair and hopelessness. Rafif, a five year old eczema patient I treated (picture above), was so happy. She mentioned, “I hope to become a dermatologist like my kind doctor, who treated me today. I want to thank him for taking care of me and being so kind to me.” She is a refugee at Al-Azraq camp. It’s moments like these that give me hope. I am happy and hopeful that Rafif will be able to carry the torch and treat patients one day.
In the end, I know my trip was just a drop in the bucket. I hope it was drop that made a small difference.
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