Mission to Heal
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and Kosovar colleagues questions. Is there enough to eat for the refugees? Do they ever ask patients about birth control? Is there a lot of diabetes in Kosovo? Are the hospitals in Kosovo better than in Albania?
Today, the medical team works six hours straight without a break, seeing 80 people. When patients come in, Ekrem notes their symptoms and jots down their ages, names and villages. All the information is collected and recorded on a sheet at the end of the day. The doctors are at a huge disadvantage because the refugees have no medical records. They have no idea of a patient's medical history, possible chronic illnesses, allergies to certain drugs or how long they've had a certain ailment. Often the doctors and nurses focus solely on the immediate symptoms and give what they can. Medicines are in short supply. Women with depression get Valium, the drug of choice in the camps, as do men with high anxiety. Children get multivitamins and Tylenol. For Chan and Mortensen, it's one of many frustrations they have to accept working in a vastly different medical culture. "There are so many things we could be missing," laments Mortensen. "When a child goes to the doctor in the U.S., he gets checked for signs of development. You assess how well he's eating and growing. None of that is being done here."
An old man in a conical Muslim cap, heavy trousers, with the thick, gray mustache worn by many ethnic Albanian men sits quietly on a cot, waiting to see the Albanian doctor working with the team, Agron, an easygoing 26-year-old dressed in tight, black jeans and a white T-shirt. Nestled on the elderly man's lap, in a pair of overalls with hearts and bunnies on them, is a 2-year-old boy. The man is the boy's grandfather, his only relative in the camp. As they sit, the old man gently strokes the toddler's head and holds him close. Tears fill the corners of his eyes. The mother is missing, maybe dead - no one seems to know. The father lives in Slovenia. Mortensen, kneeling on the floor, smiles warmly at the grandfather and tells Agron in a kind, loud voice, "You tell him that Grandpa needs to take good care of himself."
The language barrier is the greatest obstacle for the UCLA teams. In one team, the Albanian physician doesn't speak any English. Although Ekrem speaks English fairly well, Agron is just learning and much of what he says is confusing or has to be dissected. Complicating matters, the good-natured physician is far less educated and clinically experienced than either Chan or Mortensen. The kindness of the Kosovar refugees is overwhelming. Every day, the UCLA doctors and nurses are swamped with gifts and with symbols of hope. At the veterinary clinic, the well-dressed woman with the long, brown, wavy hair - the aunt of the girl with tonsillitis - suddenly materializes holding a silver serving tray with four pretty demitasse cups with Turkish coffee for the doctors. In an immaculate room where a family of 15 are living, a father insists that Mortensen accept a bouquet of wildflowers arranged in a can on a table. In another room, a 2-week-old baby lies snugly wrapped in a beautiful old cradle. Born on the road to the Albanian border town of Kukes, the tiny girl's name is Liberty. A Kosovar nurse working with Chan, a 22-year-old named Vjollca, tries to give the UCLA doctor her lipstick, one of the few personal articles she has left. Time and again the UCLA teams are overcome by the grace and dignity of the refugees, even the little ones. When Chan hands a 6-year-old with tonsillitis a piece of wrapped candy he, in turn, hands