Mission to Heal
1 | 2 |
3 | 4 | 5
impossible to tell. Few of the Albanian or Kosovar physicians wear gloves or don masks. Sanitary conditions in the camps and community centers range from merely tolerable to truly wretched. The situation with drugs is not much better. Medicines go largely unrefrigerated because, for the most part, refrigerators don't exist. Many of the drugs the Kosovar and Albanian doctors use are no longer utilized in the U.S. Up until a month ago, IMC didn't even have aspirin.
Conditions in the refugee camps and community centers, on the other hand, are for the most part decent and reflect a semblance of order. Some have schools, mosques and large working kitchens. Many of the smaller refugee settlements are actually located in places that are quite scenic and beautiful - a hotel along the Adriatic coast, an old, rustic-looking school adjacent to a cow pasture. But others are nightmarish: a seven-story, abandoned tobacco factory off a dirt road strewn with trash.
Most of the UCLA teams have good working relationships with their Kosovar and Albanian peers. But their experience also is infected by the region's intense politics. There is the Kosovar nurse who rages against her plight and openly disdains the dirty, noisy atmosphere of Tirana. Suspicion between Kosovar refugees and their Albanian hosts stretches back hundreds of years. Kosovars have had a higher standard of living and traditionally have been better educated than their Albanian cousins. Now, with NATO continuing to provide money and aid to the Kosovar refugees, resentment is high.
"Some Albanians feel the Kosovars are getting more attention than the Albanians," says a young Albanian physician named Merita, who works on one of IMC's mobile medical teams in Tirana. "All of a sudden, these doctors are flying in to take care of them. The Albanian people up there don't get so much attention. I think they resent the Kosovars."
Nowhere is this tension more evident than in the untamed border town of Kukes, a beautiful northern village with steep, snowcapped mountains. Kukes is home to 100,000 Kosovar refugees and is the main border crossing into Albania.
One day, Martin Chenevert, a 39-year-old E.R. physician at Santa Monica/UCLA Hospital, hops on a helicopter to fly up to Kukes with an O.R. nurse from San Diego named Karen. Over three days, they will work at three IMC sites serving refugees. While they are there, mayhem reigns. One night a group of Albanian nurses at Kukes Hospital riots when the director of IMC refuses to hand over some recently donated clothes. They steal linens, medical supplies, drugs - virtually everything that isn't nailed down - while the local police do nothing.
Reports of Albanian men kidnapping young Kosovo women off the streets abound. At the United Arab Emirates refugee camp, there are reports that many of the Kosovar nurses have been raped. The week Chenevert is in Kukes, an Australian doctor working for IMC sets off a firestorm in the highly politicized medical community when he's quoted on the front page of Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, blasting Albanian health-care workers as incompetent and lazy.
During Chenevert's stay in Kukes, the Serbs also released 300 Kosovar men from prison who had been tortured. "They were starving. They'd driven them to about 10 kilometers from the border, then told them, "You just get out and walk the rest of the way." They made one guy