House Calls—Visiting Displaced Families

Young Hanin is surrounded by family, as she's examined by the doctor.

Hanin looks impossibly small, sitting on a sleeping mat. 

Her dark curly hair and big eyes distract from the signs that she’s unwell. There are red marks on her lips. Her skin shows signs of bruising. Her mother tells us there are white spots in her mouth, though no amount of coaxing convinces Hanin to let us see. 

Dr. Ali reads through a thick stack of medical reports—blood tests, mostly. Results show an enlarged spleen and liver. The words “bone marrow” appear on many pages. There is no diagnosis to be found amongst the pages, but it’s clear that this 3-year old girl is sick.

Hanin is far from home, far from the doctors who were investigating the cause of her illness. And her family, displaced because of the war with ISIS, feels farther from answers than ever.

We have a doctor on our team today, for a visit to displaced families. The local official translates from Arabic to Kurdish and back again. Translations are rudimentary at best, so we simplify, and simplify again.

In some homes it is so dark the doctor does his examination by the light of a cell phone. 

A few have simple ailments that are handled quickly. We check in on Marwa and her baby, burned at 1-day old (she’s doing fine!) We visit young sisters who have bald patches because of trauma-induced alopecia.

A few have serious health issues, like Hanin. They are starting a new life in an unfamiliar place and have no idea how to move forward—they are stuck.

The doctor checks Ali's heart beat.

That is the thread that stitches the day together: so many folks feel stuck. Many have serious illnesses but don’t understand their condition. Young Ali’s family has his medical reports but can’t read them because they’re written in English. Saad skipped the prescribed treatments for Guillain-Barre syndrome because he doesn’t understand the importance. And a man in the final stages of kidney failure doesn’t realize the type of pain medication he is taking hurts his kidneys more.

And so Dr. Ali explains. He reads reports and breaks everything down into the simplest of terms. He reassures and encourages. And then he explains it all again.

For Vilal’s family, Dr. Ali brings relief. Young Vilal had heart surgery when she was small. Her body twists a little when her yellow sweater is pulled up for the doctor to check her heart. Vilal has developmental disabilities, and isn’t always able to express how she feels. Somehow her parents never knew if their daughter’s heart surgery “worked” or not. They have worried for years that Vilal might still be sick. Dr. Ali carefully listens to her heart—the beat is strong and regular. Her parents sigh with the good news! 

For some families, the best medicine is an explanation and a little good news.

The doctor reads through a sheaf of medical reports, trying to make sense of previous test. An anxious father looks on.