Episode 10 of the Our Voices podcast introduces us to an incredible story of conflict, suffering and survival. Rema, a doctor from Libya, recounts her experiences working in the midst of a civil war and the bravery and resilience that was required.
“Whenever I went to the hospital, I always said goodbye to my family because I was thinking that I might not come back to them again.” The starkness of this reality is made even more vivid by her description of colleagues dying in front of her and the threat of violence and death facing her while she was trying to do her job. Part of that job was to treat those who were on the other side of the conflict, who had killed members of Rema’s community. As a doctor who had promised to help all patients irrespective of their circumstances, she was just as dedicated to treating enemy soldiers as she was to treating any of her other patients; despite this, she describes one soldier placing a gun under his pillow, threatening to kill her should anything go wrong with his treatment. Working under such stressful circumstances, Rema simply states: “I was kind to him because that is my duty.”
Rema found the strength to survive these circumstances and eventually became a refugee doctor working in the NHS. Although she had managed to continue throughout the chaos and violence that had surrounded her, it was upon reaching the UK that she first became aware of the trauma that it had left behind. She describes feeling lost when she first came to the UK and that it took her two years to begin to recover. Fortunately, she was able to receive support from both professional organisations and from her local community, she describes the support she received from her neighbours and how she felt welcome and relieved to be in a country where her children could “live in security and peace.”
As she talks about her experiences in the UK, we learn that Rema was “born to be a doctor”. She first became aware of this through caring for her grandmother from the age of seven. She provided physical support to her grandmother, while her grandmother nourished her dreams of working as a doctor and finally inspired her to follow those dreams. Now she experiences being thanked while shopping in a supermarket, a grateful family member tells her how much she appreciates all she has done for her loved one. She also relates the pride she feels at helping her patients to recover. Part of her treatment is to provide her patients with kindness and her great reward is the kind words she receives from those she has helped. In her own words: “I will keep on for these patients.”
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