Mission to Heal
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Monica/UCLA Hospital, "I want to be there as a human and show other humans that no one should be allowed to suffer on their own." Her voice choking with emotion, she continues: "It's nice that countries all over the world are helping in the effort, that love is pouring into that country. At the same time there is such an evil force. I do feel like an emissary for my family, my friends and my colleagues. Emissaries. And witnesses.
In the dank, former veterinary hospital at Shkoder, patients crowd into the narrow entrance to the "clinic," waiting to be seen by the medical team. They are suffering from myriad illnesses. The adults have dry, persistent coughs, the old country men and women high blood pressure aggravated by the enormity of what they've endured. There are mothers with urinary tract infections and complaints of odd pains. The children have sore throats, diarrhea, nightmares. The babies have fevers and blistering skin rashes. There are injuries from guns and grenades. And those who have no obvious symptoms or injuries are sick with grief, worry and fear. Within minutes, the line spills into the damp, dimly lit hallway. "It amazes me the way they just line up at the door," says Mortensen, as she unpacks boxes of medical supplies and a bag of balloons, bubbles, candy and toys that she has brought for the children. A round, old woman in a white kerchief and billowy trousers known as shallvare shuffles into the room. Tears streak her leathery face. She sinks down in the cot next to Chan. Dressed in green scrubs and a white IMC T-shirt, with a fanny pack around her waist that says UCLA Healthcare, Chan has a stethoscope slung around her neck and her glasses pushed up on her head. As she listens, Chan's colleague and partner for the week, a sweet-natured 32-year-old male Kosovar physician named Ekrem, translates. The woman has three sons in the Kosovo Liberation Army, the K.L.A., and she has no idea where they are or whether they are dead or alive. Another son - severely disabled when the bombing started, with a shattered spinal cord - is in Germany. Hers is not an unusual saga; Chan and Mortensen will hear many similar stories. Her face still, Chan pats the old woman's knee. Ekrem hugs her, and the woman babbles something in Albanian. His mouth widens into a big grin. She say, "I have one son like you, big and strong."
As the week goes on, the UCLA doctors and nurses notice a striking, and disturbing, phenomenon among the refugees they treat: the absence of men in their 20s and 30s. A woman with missing teeth in a worn sweater sits down next to Ekrem. She is holding a small boy in a blue turtleneck and pants with suspenders. The boy is coughing. Chan listens to the boy's chest, then Ekrem tries to peer inside the child's mouth with a light. He clings to his mother, crying. Ekrem laughs, then holds the boy's face in his hands, kissing him. Chan makes a silly face at the child; then, spotting a pair of surgical gloves, blows one up like a balloon and hands it to him. The boy has diarrhea and has been vomiting, so Ekrem orders something for dehydration. Nearby, Mortensen kneels on the floor by a cot where a pretty blonde girl, about 8, sits. Her hair is neatly brushed and held back with clips. She's wearing a blue T-shirt with the word "Surf" on it. She's red, flushed and has a fever of 102. The girl's aunt, a tall, nicely groomed woman in her 30s with long, curly brown hair, has brought her because the mother has a baby and couldn't come. After examining the child's throat, Mortensen and Ekrem conclude she has tonsillitis and prescribe antibiotics and Tylenol - a diagnosis they'll make several times as the day wears on. As they work, Chan and Mortensen ask their Albanian