Friday, March 11, 2016

Trauma Victim--One of Many

I spent much of last night with a trauma victim. He's a young man from near Islamabad, the capitol of Pakistan--only 17. I got involved with him when he cut his hand. This is a fuller story than the one I briefly outlined in the post The Pakistanis.

I was in the info tent when he came in about a week ago with blood all over his palm and somebody took him to the doctor at the other end of the camp. Not long after, someone from the health tent came down to info asking if we had seen him and saying he had left. I was a little surprised but didn't really know the situation and didn't think much more about it till I saw him at the campfire that evening.

His hand was wrapped in an a torn up white t-shirt which he had also fashioned into a sling. I asked him about the doctor since it was obvious no doctor had done the bandaging, and that was when he told me that when he was asked his name, he was afraid of the police. Since his English is very limited, and my Urdu virtually non-existent (he taught me a few words last night) this was communicated without much context other than what I knew of the political situation.

Knowing there was an Urdu speaking doctor around, I went to tell her the situation She talked to him and between us we convinced him--I with a cigarette bribe (he had asked and I had demurred, saying I'd give him one if he went to the doctor). The doctor, by the way, is awesome. She cleaned and wrapped the wound, and somehow managed to convince him to accompany her inside Moria registration camp so MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) so he could get a tetanus shot. He had a deep wound from a razor blade. He said he fell on it.

I saw him the next day and he showed me his medical papers. MSF had also given him an Hep-B shot. Then I didn't see him again for a couple of days, but yesterday there he was--his bandage soiled and bloody. I told him he had to go back to the doctor to have it cleaned and rebandaged. We joked about no police at the doctor. I finally convinced him and he asked me to go with him, so I did.

That evening I attended the second in a series of three psychological first aid mini training courses offered by a catastrophe specialist psychiatrist. At some point during the meeting, she referenced a trauma case she had talked to that afternoon--a Pakistani minor who might be cutting himself. I instantly thought of the young man with the razor wound, and indeed, that was the young man in question.

I saw him again after the meeting and he conveyed to me that he wanted me to go sit with him. He took me to the casbah--the nickname of the comfortable quiet room in the medical tent where we had had our meeting, and we sat awhile. At times he was agitated. He opened the blanket sealing off the room from the rest of the medical tent. He wanted to know what was going on, and he wanted the Urdu speaking doctor to come talk to him. He taught me a few words of Urdu, including one phrase he was adamant I learn. When he was ready to leave, I went outside with him and repeated the phrase to the Urdu speaking doctor. She was surprised and asked if she was rude. Apparently he had taught me to say someone was very rude. The doctor asked me to stay with him. We then went to the info tent where he pointed to a volunteer and repeated that phrase. The volunteer in question is actually very nice, but communication is difficult and combined with frequently limited resources, misunderstandings are frequent. His impression was that the volunteer in question was very rude, though I doubt if  that was really the case in this instance.

He then took a guitar from another volunteer with a gesture asking if he could play, and began to strum. He didn't know how to play guitar, and it was out of tune, but it didn't matter. He was obviously soothed by the music he was making. A group of boisterous Pakistanis entered the tent then, and in moments he asked me to follow him outside. He took the guitar with him and we sat down nearby where he continued to play around on the guitar. Then the same group followed us outside and showing some agitation, he again asked me to walk with him. He seems to be torn between wanting to talk to the other refugees who share his language and wanting to avoid them. Playing on the guitar along the way we went again to the medical tent, to the casbah room. We sat there--him playing--for a long time. The psychiatrist sang a beautiful old folk song, which he enjoyed, but when she started playing the spoons he gestured his displeasure and said calm--an English word he seemed to understand. Then another worker in the tent--a medical student--sang to him while filling small bags with gummi-vitamins to hand out to kids. Finally another Urdu speaking doctor who would be on the night shift joined us and they talked a little, translating for me sometimes. After a while, we took the guitar back to the info tent where we hung out a minute. Then he told me I should go to sleep and he disappeared.

A few minutes later I walked down to the medical tent to see if I could ask about his story since he had latched onto me. There he was. They filled me in briefly, but it wasn't much more than I knew. Apparently, he hasn't really shared his story.

Throughout the course of the evening I sat with him, the second Urdu speaking doctor, and another young doctor. I learned he has four brothers and a sister; I got him some clean clothes and dry shoes that fit. They made a bed for him in the medical tent out of two exam cots because he said he was afraid he'd fall off. I brought blankets and a sleeping bag from storage. At one point we inquired about a bleeding cut on his knuckle of the same hand whose palm was cut. As the doctor cleaned and bandaged it he said that he had cut it at the same time he cut his palm and that sometimes it opened up and bled. It was a much smaller cut, but I don't recall seeing it before. And it's a little hard to believe that he cut his hand on both sides by falling on a razor blade. The bleeding started while he was out of our sight, changing into his clean clothes.

I went to bed around three, though I carried a radio with me in case they wanted me--it was a long day. How does an untrained volunteer help a young man who doesn't speak her language? I wish I knew.


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