Elective placement with “Docmobile” in Athens July 2018 by Melanie Laws

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For my elective placement I went to Athens, Greece to volunteer with an organisation called Docmobile. I found out about them through contacts I had made at fundraising events and had contacted them to arrange a placement. Before going I did fundraising as as I knew Docmobile relied on contributions.  I took a stethoscope and an electronic heart rate and oxygen monitor with me as it was advised they were short of medical equipment.

‘Docmobile’ is a voluntary organisation which provides free medical care in Athens, Greece, for people of all nationalities. The patients we saw included refugees, asylum seekers and also Greek citizens who could not access health care due to austerity measures and other various factors. I met with some of the team in a Café in Pireas, which is when the tasks for the day were delegated. I was scheduled to work with 2 female doctors where we would visit a huge old derelict building which refugees had made their home.  For confidentiality purposes I was requested by the team not to take pictures of any patients we treated at this stage.  Many of the patients had been forced to flee war-torn countries where they faced extreme poverty and could have been killed. Therefore, it was crucial to them and their families’ safety that their identities remained anonymous.

These photos show one of the treatment rooms we carried out assessments in.  Treatments could range from adults with conditions such as diabetes who would attend for regular blood sugar level tests or with, high blood pressure, to acute wounds caused by incidents such as knife and bomb attacks and children with viral illness, scabies and side effects of vaccines.

These photos are of the one stop project. Twice a week the homeless people in Athens  could have their clothes washed, have a substantial meal, have any medical needs attended to (Docmobile) and socialise. The people I met on this visit llive in such terrible conditions, however, they smiled, laughed, danced, ate and shared what little they had as if they were the richest of the land. It made me reflect on whether financial wealth truly did give a person true riches. I witnessed true riches which came from the heart and soul.

As part of my experience and to benefit the local community, I carried out a hand washing project in the hope of reducing the spread of infection. With the funds I had raised from cake baking, I was able to provide families with soap and anti-bacterial gel. I demonstrated with families how to carry out the stages of hand washing. I also distributed copies of a pictorial demonstration of the six stages of handwashing, with “wash your hands” written in various languages. I used pictorial information, as this strategy is an effective communication method for some individuals within the field of learning disability nursing and I identified that it could be an effective approach to overcome communication barriers, in the absence of the interpreters.

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I feel very fortunate to have been granted funding from the Eleanor Peel Trust, and for the support people gave towards my fundraising, helping in the purchases of assessment equipment such as a stethoscope and an electronic heart rate and oxygen monitor.  The assessment equipment was later donated, prior to leaving Greece, to a refugee who had once been a medical student in Syria. Unfortunately, he had to flee his home and leave all of his family and friends, who he had since lost complete contact with. He then went on to seek asylum in Greece and he would help out most days with the assessment and treatment of patients. His aim was to eventually relocate to the UK to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.  He was overwhelmed by the offer and very thankful for the equipment I donated to him, which he said he would continue to use, allowing him to offer Docmobile vital assistance.

Alongside this friendship, I formed other relationships with people from all over the world, with whom I will continue to stay in contact as we plan to return to Athens at a later date to continue with our support for Docmobile.

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