After our initial introduction to Jordan, we met as a large group to sort our medications and have lunch. We got to know each other a little bit as we went through our stash of medications in preparation for setting up our pharmacy in our clinic.

  Prior to arrival in Jordan, Flying Doctors made sure we all had a supply of medications to bring with us in our checked baggage, to streamline the process of setting up our mobile pharmacy in our clinic. 

Prior to arrival in Jordan, Flying Doctors made sure we all had a supply of medications to bring with us in our checked baggage, to streamline the process of setting up our mobile pharmacy in our clinic. 

  After we sorted through our medications, we mapped out our plan for the week. We would be working out of a clinic that we would set up in a town just outside the Syrian Border.

After we sorted through our medications, we mapped out our plan for the week. We would be working out of a clinic that we would set up in a town just outside the Syrian Border.

The Mafraq governate of Jordan is the only governate in the country that borders three other countries – Iraq to the East, Syria to the North, and Saudi Arabia to the South. Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011, there has been a large influx of Syrian refugees into Mafraq, due to its proximity to the border. Zaatari, the largest of the syrian refugee camps, was opened in 2012 and its population now pushes close to 1 million people.

Flying Doctors of America supplied all its team members with t-shirts for the mission, which we put on proudly on our first day, ready to treat as many patients as we could. We boarded our small bus, all in our “uniforms” and headed off to set up our clinic.

As we exited Amman, driving on the main road, we started seeing signs for the Syrian border. Even though we had already been in Jordan for a full day and had gone through the process of sorting our medications and debriefing, this was the first time it felt truly real. We had arrived.

As we got closer to Mafraq, the signs included Iraq, due to its close proximity (as discussed earlier on the map).

The landscape remained dry and barren, with an abundance of trash scattered on the sides of the roads in most areas. We occasionally passed people walking, sometimes with animals. My heart went out to them; in the hot, dry, dusty weather, we were lucky to be traveling with air conditioning, while they weren’t as fortunate.

As we arrived in Mafraq, our bus wove through the tight streets to make its way to the building where we would be setting up clinic. As I looked out the windows, I found myself laughing at this bodybuilding gym we drove past. Even coming halfway around the world, my passions still followed me.

  The Mecca of Mafraq? Perhaps.

The Mecca of Mafraq? Perhaps.

As we pulled down a small side street, men walked in the road, stopping to greet each other or do business.

  Security began to become more prevalent as we drove, with guards in towers and automatic rifles, and armored tanks making the occasional appearance.

Security began to become more prevalent as we drove, with guards in towers and automatic rifles, and armored tanks making the occasional appearance.

  The street where our clinic was located.

The street where our clinic was located.

Our bus pulled to the side of the road and a man rushed out of the building next to us, moving some place markers for a parking spot so we could pull in. We grabbed our things and unloaded our box lunches and medications. As we entered the clinic and went up the stairs, we found large groups of women and children already waiting for us and being triaged.

  We were lucky to have an old elementary school to use as our clinic. Set up in a “U” shape, it had a variety of rooms that we set up as our patient rooms, and a larger room that we set up as our pharmacy. The patients were triaged as soon as they got to the top of the stairs, and then were able to wait in the larger main area that had chairs. Jordanian medical students and interns worked diligently as our triage staff and medical interpreters.

We were lucky to have an old elementary school to use as our clinic. Set up in a “U” shape, it had a variety of rooms that we set up as our patient rooms, and a larger room that we set up as our pharmacy. The patients were triaged as soon as they got to the top of the stairs, and then were able to wait in the larger main area that had chairs. Jordanian medical students and interns worked diligently as our triage staff and medical interpreters.

  The main central waiting room.

The main central waiting room.

  One of the larger rooms in the building which we set up as our pharmacy. Due to the lack of air conditioning and air flow, we had two large cooling fans to use. We set one up in the pharmacy and one was set up in the triage area, as these tended to be the busiest and most crowded of areas over the course of the day. 

One of the larger rooms in the building which we set up as our pharmacy. Due to the lack of air conditioning and air flow, we had two large cooling fans to use. We set one up in the pharmacy and one was set up in the triage area, as these tended to be the busiest and most crowded of areas over the course of the day. 

Our Jordanian medical student friends took our bags of medications (which were already sorted) and quickly set them up in our room that was designated to be the pharmacy. We were then directed to our rooms where we would be working for the remainder of the week.

  Our Jordanian student doctor friends helped us by working in the pharmacy to dispense and distribute medications as prescribed.

Our Jordanian student doctor friends helped us by working in the pharmacy to dispense and distribute medications as prescribed.

Due to my background, I was set up in a family medicine room with the plan to see pediatric patients. A colleague had a family medicine room down the hall with a focus on gyn patients. We also traveled with 2 emergency medicine physicians, an opthalmologist, three dentists, a surgeon, an internal medicine physician, a urologist, a gastroenterologist, and two nursing students.

  My patient room.

My patient room.

  My set up in my exam room, with a table for my supplies, a chair for me, and a couple more for family members as needed.

My set up in my exam room, with a table for my supplies, a chair for me, and a couple more for family members as needed.

  The bed in my exam room and a few extra chairs.

The bed in my exam room and a few extra chairs.

Luckily, because of my training in family medicine, I knew that I could practice with minimal equipment and still provide good patient care.

  Things that we take for granted in a basic clinic in the States, I had to be sure to have on hand as best as I could here in my little set-up clinic. Although I started each day with a full water bottle, I quickly went through the entire thing in the first couple hours due to the heat and lack of air flow in the clinic. 

Things that we take for granted in a basic clinic in the States, I had to be sure to have on hand as best as I could here in my little set-up clinic. Although I started each day with a full water bottle, I quickly went through the entire thing in the first couple hours due to the heat and lack of air flow in the clinic. 

As I opened my clinic and started to see the children, my heart was quickly stolen. Each child I saw had a unique (often heartbreaking) story and I found myself wanting to give them as much love and hugs as I did medicine.

I learned to ask the parents “How long have you been here?” and at first I expected to hear answers within a range of a few months to possibly a year. But as the day progressed, my heart began to ache in my chest as I realized that it was a rarity to speak with a family who had been living here, outside their country, in meager conditions, for less than 4-5 years. This mean that so many of these children that I was seeing were born here, in a refugee camp, without so many of the things that we often think of as basic care…or even meager education.

  We saw a multitude of children with severe dental caries. Fruits and vegetables were difficult to come by, but processed foods and junk foods were easy and cheap in the market, like here in the US. 

We saw a multitude of children with severe dental caries. Fruits and vegetables were difficult to come by, but processed foods and junk foods were easy and cheap in the market, like here in the US. 

Whenever I travel abroad, I like to bring something small for the local children. This time, my parents sent me with a bag of these little fluffs…sticky feet with googly eyes and antennas. I could never have guessed that they would be such an enormous hit. Every kid I saw LOVED them and wanted one on their hand after their visit.

  If you look at this little one’s left shin, you can see the scar where he had trauma to his leg from a piece of farm equipment. He now has permanent ligamentous damage in his lower extremity, but due to his young age, he is compensating very well and will likely adapt as he grows if he is unable to get the surgery that he needs to correct it.

If you look at this little one’s left shin, you can see the scar where he had trauma to his leg from a piece of farm equipment. He now has permanent ligamentous damage in his lower extremity, but due to his young age, he is compensating very well and will likely adapt as he grows if he is unable to get the surgery that he needs to correct it.

  Most of the children, although they have been through some horrific traumas, were happy during their patient visits and tolerated me examining them. Some, however, were unhappy with the white doctor touching them, so we did the best we could.

Most of the children, although they have been through some horrific traumas, were happy during their patient visits and tolerated me examining them. Some, however, were unhappy with the white doctor touching them, so we did the best we could.

Over the first day of our clinic, we saw around 500 patients. And that night, back at the hotel, I cried. I cried for the children that I saw that were living in conditions that most of the world is completely unaware of. I cried for the families who were unable to provide for their loved ones, in a world that is beyond difficulty and the farthest thing from fair. I cried for the patients I saw that I couldn’t give adequate medical help to and were unlikely to be able to get help elsewhere due to living outside of an organized camp. And I cried for feeling so helpless.

In medicine, we are trained to help others. We spend years upon years getting an education so we can give people answers and treatments and make things better. But in situations like this, it sometimes feels like we are spinning our wheels. Yes, doing something is better than doing nothing – but sometimes, even that something is not enough.

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