Herbs To Calais - Day 1

Date: 21/03/2016 Posted by: Dafydd Monks

Sensory and emotional overload, grinding despair and human optimism. Great need for medical care, and 6 clinicians working flat out. It can only be… Welcome to the Jungle!

I've been thinking about how I'd sum up my day's experiences ever since the working day here in Calais started for us - and kind of wondering how the heck I'd go about it. How do you even begin to describe today? I'm lost for words and left with just a sense of numbness. The jungle itself is a bit of a facer. That in 2016, in a Western country and member of the EU, something like this is allowed to come to pass beggars belief. This truly is the 3rd world in a 1st world country. And people are living here like this.

But in spite of this, some human dignities survive. Notably religion and commerce. Maybe there is little difference in some ways: hopes and daily needs to keep the wolf from the door uniting in making life just a little bit easier to manage. The "Jungle" camp has a main street actually - this includes the Ethiopian Church; an ornate place of worship made out of trash, a mosque; likewise made from salvaged materials, and about 10 tiny "shops" where the bare essentials of life are sold. Sweetsand pop, toothbrushes, SIM cards, cigarettes, etc – even shoes etc. The main street is noisy - bustling. Shop keepers, and the few food sellers set up those tiny Chinese 2 stoke gennies that get sold cheap in farm shops etc… so the whole place smells like a mix of a sewerage farm, a spice market, and a motor racing track. There are 2 "restaurants" + several vendors selling food: i.e. a baker. I bought two very nice flatbreads from one – they were only 50 Euro cents each and delicious.

People wise, it's mainly men that are visible. This isn't because there aren't women and children there - there most certainly are, but due to a mix of cultural considerations, culture, and safety they are kept out of the way most of the time. But they are there if you visit the tents doing "house calls". They're just kept out of the way. Which makes sense as there have been some incidents of sexual violence against women - last week two Afghan men tried to rape a Sudanese lady and it started a fight that lead to some serious injuries. Not condoning it, but this was just after the southern part of the camp was demolished and tensions were running high - the camp was like a powderkeg and things kicked off. Sexual violence is an issue amongst the men too: Colleagues tell us that there have been several cases of buggery in the past few weeks, including against some younger teenagers.

Clinic wise, we've dealt with about 400 - 500 patients today between 6 of us. So about a hundred each give or take as some patients were seen by more than one of us at the same time (if we were buddying up). The kinds of conditions we've seen fit into three categories really: Infections, infestations, and traumatic injuries.

The infections are par for the course - colds and flu mostly, often presenting with a viral cough. Some more serious respiratory infections that we'd refer on if possible or if not possible just do our best. Examples, heavy bronchitis or suspected pneumonia.

Infestation wise, the three areas of concern are fleas, lice, and scabies. The fleas and lice are not life threatening though they are uncomfortable. Generally we prescribe antihistamines and suggest they wash - and that a friend sprays their cloths with miticide/insecticide while they're washing. That's a good way of keeping a lid on it if the spray is available from the other clinic where French GPs are allowed to prescribe such things. Scabies wise, I must have seen it on a third to a half of the people I saw today. I didn't realise what it was for a while as it's mainly an atypical presentation; usually scabies leaves "tracks" on the skin - these people don't have that presentation, it looks like white-dry acne on the face, around the cheek bones. Scabies is a notifiable disease here and we have been referring to the local health services outreach clinic (the "Salaam" clinic). But in some instances they have not been re-prescribing miticide so we've been having to deal with partially resolved cases. Herbally we've been using a biocidal spray. Will have to see how it does over the coming days.

Lastly, we've been dealing with traumatic injury. People try to jump on moving vehicles, or trains, or jump off walls/fences etc. Today I had two broken fingers to treat: thankfully already bandaged / supported, and I also had a broken toe, and suspected broken ankle to treat. Also a badly torn meniscus (knee), and a few other ligamentous issues. Strong ointment and support along with a referral letter is the best we can do there without radiographic services.