On Angel Babies, Rainbow Babies and Taboos

Two and a half years ago I had a miscarriage. What appeared to be a completely healthy pregnancy ended, for no apparent reason, at 9 weeks. I had a delayed miscarriage though, which meant that as far as I knew, the pregnancy was progressing normally. I didn’t know until a scheduled check-up at week 11 showed that not only were there two embryos, but neither of them had a heartbeat. I had not felt any different, had had no bleeding or pain, and had not undertaken any dangerous activities. Until that ultrasound, there had been every reason to believe that…

Encounters in Moria refugee camp: Part 2

(In case you missed it, here is Part 1.)

— WARNING, these cases can be upsetting. It certainly was upsetting to listen to them first hand, but I have tried to keep them as non-graphic as possible —

What you don’t expect

The other category of situations are the things that you can’t prepare for, that you don’t even know you should be preparing for before working in a refugee camp. Torture and rape are two of those things. When training to be a nurse, looking forward to being able to do relief…

Encounters in Moria refugee camp: Part 1

There are some things that you expect before going to do relief or development work. You can brush up on infectious diseases and vaccination campaigns. You know that the setting will be low-resource; that there will be a culture gap between you and your patients; that you will often have to work through a translator. You read up on the politics and culture of the place you will be or where potential patients might be coming from. There are things you expect but cannot truly prepare for before being on site. Often, for…

The bad, the good and the personal

Moria’s boundary wall from the road, photo courtesy of Audrey Chien

I learned three things during my recent periods working in the Lesvos refugee camp of Moria. The first one is depressing; the second is hopeful; the third is about myself. First, I am horrified, saddened and disgusted by the cruelty with which people are capable of treating other human beings. There is always ostensibly a reason: race, nationality, religion, political beliefs, or gender. Whatever that reason though, the acts of atrocity undergone by patients I treated in Moria were very similar whether they were from Syria, DRC, Cameroon, Eritrea, Afghanistan or Iraq. The list goes on but no one nationality…

On attempting to alleviate suffering in Greece’s Moria refugee camp

Image courtesy of Audrey Chien

Night shift on a quiet Swiss ward. All is silent, all is well. I am alone, my colleague on his break. I have done my rounds and checked on everyone. We have an unusually high number of palliative patients at the moment, but they are all comfortable and sleeping. Except for one. Suddenly her voice shatters the silence. She is in her mid-eighties and has suddenly deteriorated. Stable and compos mentis two days ago, she is now increasingly disorientated and distressed. She was sleeping when I passed a quarter of an hour ago, but has now very audibly woken and…

The lifejacket graveyard, Molyvos, Lesbos, June 2018

I am often asked how I handle the transition from nursing in Lesbos’ Moria refugee camp to returning to practice in Switzerland. Don’t I feel contempt for my Swiss patients’ petty pains? Don’t I disdain their suffering, having seen so much “truer” suffering stemming from “worthier causes”? How can I bear the work and show the least outward compassion through this contempt?

Easily. Each person’s suffering is individual and unique. Take my palliative patient in Switzerland, dying of bladder cancer with liver metastases; a great pregnant belly and swollen limbs below a gaunt yellow face, groaning slightly from a cracked…

Erika C-B

Nurse errant

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