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Volunteer Diaries: Heartbreak, Injustice, and Other Bitter Maladies

Your patient is a young man with preexisting mental health problems and epilepsy.

He has a gran maul seizure.

You’re on the ground in an olive grove with no suction, no oxygen, no emergency doctor or neurologist to page, no PRN medications to pull, no code button to hit if he loses is airway, no rapid response, no charge nurse, no aid to help turn him.

You call an ambulance and it will not come.

You call for the medical team and they can not come.

You are surrounded by a foreign language in a foreign land watching this young man’s chest heave with labored breaths praying with each that it won’t be the last one.

You hold his hand and stroke his hair as he screams at the agony of a world he left behind but one that still exists in his tortured mind.

He has a splitting headache and a sluggish pupil. He keeps trying to fight the hands holding him down; one of them a gentle palm across his chest muttering prayers to a god who seems to have deserted us.

— — — — — — —

Out of a dark and humid prison cell, a familiar hand reaches through the window and takes yours. You run your fingers through the familiar hair on a head hung in uncharacteristic defeat. Tears stream down your cheeks for the first time in months just as you think you’ve become numb to all the things you have seen.

Sobs are stifled as you rest your face in the crook of your arm because the injustice before you is too distressing to see.

“No, my sister, please don’t cry.”

He’s committed no crime. He only seeks safety and peace.

One week later, the same familiar hands wipe more tears from your face, maybe for the last time, as the Sunday morning church bells toll through the narrow city streets outside.

On the blue-green water of Chios port, a ferry awaits to take a piece of your heart into the unknown.

A merciful policeman allows one last hug; as if we are supposed to communicate all of the love we’ve shared and all of the love we still have left in such a short and simple gesture.

A final embrace that may need to last forever.

Familiar feet carry him forward to a waiting police car. His shoes are stripped of their laces, but his stride can’t be stripped of his subtle defiance. He moves forward with calm and conviction.

He moves forward with a strength I have never seen and it is the most beautifully horrendous sight in the world... one I will never forget so long as I live.

My heart has never broken so forcefully before.

— — — — — — —

The situation in the Greek islands is beyond inhumane. Thanks to the gross negligence of the global community for decades, a select few have been allowed to weave webs of destruction all over the globe and force millions of people to handle the consequences.

The trauma and injustice I have seen here has left me grief-stricken and angry even when it is juxtaposed with some of the most beautifully resilient humans the world has ever seen.

This is not the answer. New laws, pushbacks, faster deportations, NATO patrols, closed camps, none of these things are sustainable solutions. Since 2016 I have watched this situation continue to deteriorate and I can’t help but wonder why so many choose complacency while we are here kicking and screaming.

There isn’t enough food.

There isn’t enough water.

There aren’t enough toilets or tents.

There aren’t enough doctors or medicine.

People don’t have shoes.

People are not safe.

This is life and death.

These are human beings.

This is our reality.

It is gritty and dark and dangerous and devastating. Like all the beautiful things in life, this too must be acknowledged.

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