My son and daughter-in-law, Scott Matson and Amanda McIntosh, both young M.D.’s, spent the last 10 days in Jordan, under the auspices of the Syrian American Medical Society, treating and healing Syrian refugees. Here are some excerpts from their experience:
Amanda: Overall, it was a great first day of work. Despite the news from Syria, outside of the camps and clinics where there are visible reminders of the emotional and physical trauma from the war, you would not know there was a crisis only a few hundred miles away.
Scott: The days in clinic are humbling. We don't have the medicines or labs and equipment that we are accustomed to and the challenges faced by these patients would be too great even if we did. Medicine has a way of doing that, humbling us all, because the limits of the art are real and insurmountable, the human experience is, in the best circumstances, painful and heartbreaking.
Amanda: Both of us saw our fair share of common maladies (colds, abdominal pain, etc.), along with the more sick (Scott sent a woman to the hospital very ill with a kidney infection), while I saw a few cases very rare in the US but common in refugees (vitamin D deficiency causing rickets and a large open soft spot in the head in a toddler and leschmaniasis, a skin infection caused by the bite of a sand fly ).
Scott: We've seen about 100 patients each over the three days since we arrived in clinics and refugee camps all over Jordan. The thing that has struck me most in that time is: we are all the same, knee pain afflicts us all.
Amanda: My translator was a medical student who attends university in Jordan but is originally from Syria. He has plans to go the US this summer (would like to do residency here and then come back to the Middle East to practice) but it is unlikely he will be approved for a visa with the current restrictions in place, so his plans are in flux currently.
Scott: Amanda is on her way back from zataari where I worked the first day. I haven't spoken to her yet but I've seen pictures and I know two things about her day: 1. She charmed the children there and 2. She continues to have the most beautiful smile.
Amanda: Nearly every child had some degree of malnutrition and terrible dental problems (cavities in nearly every visible tooth), neither of which we had much control over with the exception of handing out tooth brushes.
Scott: We've commented so many times on the headlines that have ripped through the consciousness back home and the placidity and calm understanding that the people most affected by the horror have when confronted again with the truth of this world.
Amanda: The refugees have been kind and very thankful (and the children enjoy stickers as much as any child in the US). The other volunteers are doctors and nurses from the US and multiple other parts of the world, and Syrian refugees. All are impressive people, and I look forward to getting to know them better.
Scott: But, maybe the important thing is that we all keep showing up and keep trying, to let them know we hear them when they cry.
Amanda: It's hard to put into words what this trip meant to me. A constant feeling of inadequacy, interrupted with moments of true connection. But the stories of humanity persisting in the face of egregious tragedy will remain…