Quratulain Syed, M.D., also known as “Annie,” is no stranger to medical relief work. Her passion for helping others has already taken her to Peru, where she accompanied medical students helping local people in need of medical care, and to Greece, where she treated Syrian refugees for two weeks. It has been two years since she last did a mission abroad.
Now, in 2018, her zest for service took her back overseas as she joined IMANA Medical Relief (IMR) in Amman, Jordan to treat Syrian refugees housed there. “Last time I volunteered (with another organization), I was impressed by the energy of my peers and I felt a renewed sense of faith in humanity,” says Dr. Syed. “It’s time.”
Born in Pakistan, Dr. Syed spent part of her childhood in Yemen and went to medical school in Karachi, Pakistan. She currently specializes in general medicine and geriatric medicine and is an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta. “I knew of IMANA from what I’ve seen online and wanted to join their cause. They send a SaveSyria team out every two months and the timing worked out for me.”
“Living in turbulent times when we hear news about natural and man-made catastrophes 24/7 on cable TV, we get so desensitized to the struggles others face. Seeing these refugees with such resilience in life…they’ve lost everything yet are still so open. They still want to give you everything they have — inviting you in for tea or dinner despite barely having enough for their own families.”
“Life is unpredictable, and while today it is them, tomorrow it could be me. I want to help.”
Annie chronicled her experience via a daily blog, listed below.
Days 1 & 2
These past two days, we have set up a clinic in a government healthcare center in a rural town roughly 40 km from the Syrian border. Our team comprising of internal and family medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine and obstetrics/gynecology clinicians, provided care to local Jordanians and Syrian refugees. The clinic provided acute/urgent care and primary care services to children, pregnant women and adults.
As basic healthcare services are scant in this town, we encountered numerous local residents and refugees who had not seen a physician for their medical problems in many years. We encountered refugees with symptoms of PTSD, who were in need of mental health services, individuals with poorly controlled diabetes who were rationing on insulin to make it last longer, and children presenting with signs of protein-calorie malnutrition and parasite infestation. We also treated local and refugee patients for upper respiratory infections and asthma exacerbations.
I really enjoy working with the team. The mission is very well-organized. The team is a group of very dedicated professionals. It’s fun.
We visited two refugee settlements close to the Syrian border. At both locations, we were welcomed by children singing and laughing. Their optimism in the face of calamity was admirable, cheering us up as we eyed the erected tents on a desert land where one couldn’t see any other signs of life across miles. I think adults can learn this very important lesson from these children.
In addition to seeing children for acute upper respiratory infections and wellness visits, we provided care to adults with acute conditions as chemical dermatitis, electricity-induced skin burns, possible acute diverticulitis and unstable angina; and poorly-controlled chronic diseases like decompensated heart failure and uncontrolled diabetes. We also provided care to pregnant women, and did some house calls in the refugee camps for frail older persons with conditions as seizure disorder, brain tumors, etc. Medical missions provide urgent and primary care services for this population.
We set up a clinic in a local community center. The community center is run by The Collateral Repair Project, an organization that provides community learning and recreational resources including yoga, music and language learning classes to the refugee community.
We provided medical care to a diverse group of refugees including Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees. Our team saw children presenting with upper and lower respiratory infections, gastritis, congenital heart diseases, brain tumors, etc; adults presenting with signs and symptoms of breast malignancy, endocrine disorders, decompensated heart failure, poorly controlled diabetes, acute asthma exacerbation, and unstable angina. Additionally, we saw adults with combat-related injuries like skin burns from bombing and symptoms of PTSD.
A majority of these patients don’t have access to affordable routine primary care services, and rely on medical missions for provision of primary care and refill of their chronic disease medications.
The last day of our medical mission, we set up a clinic at a local community center. Our patients included a diverse group of refugees including those of Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese and Palestinian origin.
In addition to acute conditions like infections and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, COPD, Familial Mediterranean Fever, etc., our team saw numerous blast-related injuries, including skin burns and otologic blast injuries like ruptured eardrum.
A medical doctor on our team with expertise in yoga conducted one-on-one sessions for refugee patients with PTSD to teach them meditation techniques. A team member with expertise in rehab medicine worked with patients with numerous musculoskeletal disorders. We did a house call visit for an elderly homebound refugee woman who lived 2 miles from the clinic but was too frail to be able to walk there.
During these 5 days, our team provided medical care to roughly 1200 individuals. In return, we learned from them lessons of optimism, gratitude and resilience in face of tragedy.