Mission to Heal
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it to his younger brother. "It's so nice," says Chan. "He just did that automatically." The boys' family has been in the Shkoder camp for two months. They fled from their village, Isnig, by tractor when Serbian police gave them 15 minutes to get out and then began burning their homes. One of the four children was injured by a grenade. On the way to the border, their tractor broke down and they had to walk the rest of the way to Kukes in the rain. Their passage to Shkoder was purchased for 300 German deutsche marks.
"They seem like a very strong people," observes Mortensen. Even the children are resilient. A sweet girl of 13 in an orange sweatshirt who's been hanging around the tent sits down on the cot next to Ekrem. Her name is Lieta. She has rosy cheeks and her blonde hair is twisted in a ponytail. She is fine, but Lieta's mother is not. Twenty-seven of her relatives have been killed and there are still two daughters in Kosovo. Their home was burned a year ago by Serbian paramilitary police; after a month in another village, that town was attacked and burned and the woman had to pay 350 deutsche marks to a policeman to spare the life of her youngest son. The family escaped to Kukes by tractor, then walked to Shkoder. Lieta came to the medical tent because she wanted the doctors to see her mother, who has stomach pains and is depressed.
Inside the olive drab army tent, with its bright yellow, Indian bedspread lining, Chan and Mortensen are solemn, quiet. It is now 6 p.m. Sitting on cots, they are exhausted. Mortensen, especially, seems overtaxed. "It just seemed like we were skimming the surface all day," she says, wiping her wet eyes. Outside, thunderclouds soar over the dark mountains and a rainbow arches across the wide blue sky. "I'm whipped." As they drive to a small hotel on the outskirts of Shkoder, along the bumpy, dusty, two-lane road, their IMC driver, Zenny, asks Chan how her first day went. "I think it's very sad talking to them," she says of the refugees. "A lot of what they're coming in for is stress. Whether it's walking all the way here or having somebody die. And we can only do so much. These people don't have medicines; they'e running out. The care here is very fragmented, there's nothing central. Everyone's being treated differently. We saw people being treated for things that maybe they didn't have.
"Everyone has a story," Ekrem tells Mortensen late one afternoon. Ekrem is a refugee too. He was training to be a gynecologist in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, when Serbian forces stormed the city in late March. His house was burned, and with it his most prized possession, his medical library. Ekrem now lives with several people in a small, one-bathroom apartment in Tirana. There are several Kosovar doctors and nurses working with IMC who were just weeks away from finishing their medical training when the Serbs accelerated their campaign of ethnic cleansing, forcing them to abandon everything and flee. One Kosovar nurse is extremely bitter and complains openly about her hatred of Tirana, how much prettier and more civilized it was in Kosovo.
Many things are hard for the UCLA doctors and nurses to accept. Medicine in Albania is a grim reflection of the country's battered economy. There's no way to do a blood test in the camps. No way to give an X-ray unless the patient is referred to a hospital, which are scarce and already overburdened. A person could have a serious heart condition, as opposed to severe anxiety, and it would be almost