Touching Lives in Lebanon
Kristen Lameh's Lebanon Service Trip
I was privileged to travel to the country of Lebanon with a group that provided medical, mental health, children’s and youth services and humanitarian aid to underserved people. The primary people served were refugees. Many of these had fled Syria with some from Iraq and Palestine as well. I was able to put my PT training to work seeing many patients with lower back, knee, foot, shoulder and neck conditions. We saw the patients for one visit with interpreters helping us communicate. I enjoyed the people the most: my teammates, my patients and their families, our interpreters and hosts.
Going into this opportunity I had two major concerns. The first was that I felt very limited in my ability to help people in such a desperate situation. I asked myself “what can I offer people who have lost everything and live day to day with food, shelter and life threatening medical situations to worry about?” I found that regardless of situation, musculoskeletal disorders and pain can significantly impact quality of life. I was surprised by the number of directional preference lower back patients I saw. These former white-collar workers and moms were now spending their days bent over working the fields. So many of my patients needed education and simple exercise to help their situation. Most needed to be heard and many needed touch, just like here.
The cultural differences were challenging. I was going pretty much from an unveiled culture to a mostly veiled culture. This required a shift in approach to allow my patients to be comfortable. I found it challenging but enlightening; it was a great learning experience. I got used to being hugged and kissed by patients as many of my female patients said goodbye to me in this traditional manner.
As a group, we served hundreds of patients that have very limited access to medical resources. A few of the things I learned or was reminded of included: people need to be listened to and touched regardless of where they live. The lumbar revolution information is just as helpful in Lebanon as Albany. One visit can be beneficial if a patient is given understanding and tools to apply.
I was reminded how radically a person’s life can change in an instant and the resilience of people from the very old (104yrs) to the very young.
I was amazed that in the middle of upheaval and desolation, a mom can make a tent a beautiful and hospitable place for her family and visitors. Regardless of surroundings, given a ball, kids and some adults will stop, drop everything and play.
For me I found my hope grew, my faith was strengthened, and my sense of gratitude increased.
I was also able to mentor my interpreters a little. We were short interpreters so two recent high school graduates came at the last minute to help our hosts. By “chance” these two young ladies who worked with me were beginning PT school this fall. As far as I know, none of our other interpreters had a medical interest. When these young ladies found out there was a PT they were very excited. We still stay in touch as they try to mentor me in making Turkish coffee.
I am so appreciative for Therapeutic Associate’s contribution to this opportunity, for the provision as well as the generous and compassionate spirit behind it.