Wednesday: to work

It has been raining during the night and in our caravan we may be the snuggest people in the camp. Last night before going to bed, we took another survey on the time and adjusted back by an hour, as it seems the French also have summertime time. However I forgot to change the gadget that handles my alarm so we wake at 7.30 when we meant 8.30. C, who arrives from her own volunteer sleep space, says in a variation of the same error, her own alarm kicked off at 6.30 instead of 8.30. We are fairly sure that we therefore started our work today at 8.30 – more by accident than design, since as soon as we open the door to safely make tea on P’s meth’s stove, people start tentatively appearing for help.

wound dressing table
wound dressing table

C said she had passed many people hobbling back from a night of trying to get past all the obstacles that stop them from joining us in the UK, and my very first customer is a young man with a palm sliced open in several directions by razorwire, largely paid for by UK taxpayers. He is stoically silent as I clean it with a dettol solution. No-one, I will find in the whole of our week’s work, makes a single sound of complaint as I do this, hardly even a single pained expression. Meanwhile, P and C are fielding the first few of an epidemic of cough/colds/sore throats, with the occasional flu thrown in. I direct my chap over to Medecins du Monde for stitching up; as we understand it, they do not suture at the camp but if he waits to see their GPs for assessment and then until their minivan is full, he will eventually be able to have suturing done at the hospital.

Our morning then goes something like this…

Coughs x 3. Burn. Cough. ?broken ribs and lacerations from being hit by a car in the night several days ago – several injured, 1 killed: “I saw my friend die in front of me. I cannot stop seeing it. I waited in the hospital for a long time to be checked but eventually I just left.” He has the blackest eyes I have ever seen, I cannot see the pupils. We send him to MdM as we do not have the skills to assess for internal injuries.

Lacerated hands + cough. Puncture wound to hand. Scabies: Aha, ok! We have made a series of pictures to explain the scabies cream instructions, ok, so…you need to cover yourself with this cream, but keep it away from your eyes. Then leave it on 8 hours, maybe while you sleep. Then in the morning, wash all the cream away, and then – hmm there is no way to boil wash here is there – ok you need to throw away all your old clothes and bedding and put on…new clothes and get…new…. that’s all you have, isn’t it. What you’re wearing. That’s it. Ok, um then…see if you can get some new things from one of the distributions. Yes, it’s….pretty important to throw out all the old stuff. Yes, everything you have. I’m sorry.

Coughs x 2. Stitch beside eye cleaned (police beating). Cough/cold. Blow to head – ?concussion/fracture: Looking very distressed. Took to MdM but he didn’t want to stay and wait, so he left…Sprained ankle. Flu. Puncture wound to ankle. Parent coming on behalf of 5 year old with flu and toothache. Headlice. Scabies + impact pain to knee. Boil. Leg wound. Scabies. Lacerated hands. Lacerated feet. Thigh wound. Cough/cold x 3. Eye infection. Parent on behalf of ill child. Cough/cold x 4. Stomach ache. Small wounds to hands and feet. Sore throat.

I have always loathed antibacterial hand gel (soap and water is just as effective, more for some things, and for various reasons I wouldn’t normally touch it with a barge pole) but with the nearest water point a walk away, I am relying on it in combination with disposeable gloves for each patient I do a dressing for, and for the first time I am sulkily grateful for its invention.

C and P, dispensing single doses of cough medicine plus two cough sweets per person, along with cold spray and sometimes support bandages for all the fall impact aches and pains, have swiftly taken to rationing Vicks. One of the donations that came with us, Polyfield dressing sets, are made up of gloves, a plastic sheet to work on, and a small plastic bag for rubbish. I am regularly using the plastic sheets to put under feet as I work on them, but the plastic bags are not being used as we have bin bags kindly supplied by previous volunteers. One of us has the bright idea to cut these Polyfield bags up into little slips, and spoon a wodge of Vicks into each. It looks hopefully like enough to ease a cough for a night – lots of people are telling us they cannot sleep for coughing. “Come back tomorrow, you can have more if you need it.”

By lunchtime, we seem not to have paused for a moment, and we are deeply wishing we could do more for all these people who so gratefully accept such small things as a swab of Vicks from us, but we feel useful. We didn’t know how this would all work out, and now we know we are right to be here. We can make one thing a bit better, for one person, one person at a time.

But for god’s sake, who put us in charge of the universe? Why do we get to control the bottles of Vicks, and these good folks do not? Why do we get the passports and they do not? Why do we get the hot showers, the schools and jobs, the warm dry night’s sleep, and they are grudged even the hope of such things?


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