CONNECTING OUR STORIES—Medicine in Poland: Part II

The steps to Poland

Contributed by the WRIGHT CENTER
Posted 6/7/22

Editor’s note: In Part I (click here), we followed Dr. Chaitanya Rojulpote’s journey to Poland in April 2022. Here’s the backstory and more details.

From Rojulpote’s …

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CONNECTING OUR STORIES—Medicine in Poland: Part II

The steps to Poland


Editor’s note: In Part I (click here), we followed Dr. Chaitanya Rojulpote’s journey to Poland in April 2022. Here’s the backstory and more details.

From Rojulpote’s vantage point in Scranton, PA earlier this year, he assumed the conflict in Ukraine would be short-lived. After all, who would believe conventional warfare could rage in Europe in the 21st century? And who would think in this day and age that people on the continent, and across the globe, could face a nuclear nightmare? To him, it all seemed unimaginable.

Yet the truth of the unfolding tragedy seemed to worsen with each breaking news story. Europe is coping with its largest refugee crisis in more than half a century. Russian shelling and fighting have reportedly damaged more than 40 hospitals and clinics in Ukraine, including rehabilitation homes, maternity hospitals and children’s hospitals.

Rojulpote first told a trusted friend of his intent to volunteer overseas. “There was silence on the phone, and finally he asked me why,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t have a valid reason for you, I just feel like I have to go.’”

Then he told his father, whose response was swifter and more direct. “Yes, do it.”

A day before Rojulpote’s scheduled departure, however, he grew apprehensive. Should I even be doing this, he wondered. Then, as he passed a memorial plaque in the halls of Regional Hospital of Scranton, he noticed its inscription included the lines of a poem—a poem to which he had first been introduced in the eighth grade.

“I shall pass through this world but once.

Any good therefore that I can do

or any kindness that I can show to any human being

let me do it now.”

He boarded a plane in Philadelphia. A sign hanging in one airport concourse read, “United We Stand with Ukraine.” Two flights, three car rides and a frustrating number of vehicle roundabouts later, Rojulpote made it to Medyka, in southeastern Poland.

Camp offers meals, mercy

For six consecutive days, he worked among kindred souls, including a mix of aid workers and volunteers, tending to frightened families as they entered the soccer field-sized refugee camp.

The newcomers’ immediate needs for food and medical care are met by agencies such as UNICEF, Humanity First and World Central Kitchen, each occupying a different tent on the camp’s sprawling grounds. T-Mobile supplies SIM cards to allow individuals to connect with loved ones,  another organization dishes out free pizza, and yet another deals with animal rescue.

Collectively, the humanitarian-aid teams supply the same commodities that Russia’s president seemingly has stripped from the landscape: goodness and mercy.

“Every volunteer and aid worker came to the camp with the intention of helping out these people,” says Rojulpote. “Whatever you had, you gave away. There was nothing to sell, only to give away.”

Even so, constant threats persist. Human traffickers ply their ugly trade around refugee camps, taking advantage of young children and others separated from their families. (Nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have been forced from their homes, including those still inside the country, according to published reports.)

Rojulpote had signed up to serve in a medical tent operated by Sauveteurs Sans Frontieres, known as “SSF,” or Rescuers Without Borders. Its team there has treated thousands of people, mainly women, teens and young children. The medical tent contains a few plastic lawn chairs, often arranged near the wood stove, and a single bed. Plastic shelves are stacked with clear bins containing exam gloves, saline bags and medications organized by malady: antidiarrheal, antipsychotic, antidiabetic, antiviral, antifungal and antihypertensive. A defibrillator kit rests within reach.

From his post, Rojulpote, who often dressed in five layers of clothing to stay warm, treated arriving refugees for hypothermia, dehydration, chronic conditions and a range of non-specific symptoms such as headaches, fever and fatigue.

“When I went to med school I was 18,” he says. “And if you had told 18-year-old me that one day I would be the only night physician in a refugee camp providing medical aid in a humanitarian crisis, I wouldn’t have believed it. My younger self would have been proud.”

‘A golden heart’

He recalls one night at camp, watching as a family of five approached the border gate. The husband and wife, each holding a hand of the youngest toddler, were visibly anxious. The two older children, however, scampered ahead, giggling and jumping, as if playing a game of hopscotch.

“Children don’t know their lives have changed drastically,” says Rojulpote. “The parents are often just trying to hold it together. And it’s heartbreaking, because the life that they’ve known no longer exists.”

Amid this bleak reality, a single person’s kind or compassionate act can seem like a brilliant light.    

For Rojulpote, that fact was best exemplified during his stay in Poland by Sasha—the man who greets people at the border gate. Draped in a Ukrainian flag, Sasha stands a few yards from the gate every day from 8 a.m. until late evening. As incoming refugees pass through, he offers to carry their luggage, tells them in their own language what the camp has to offer and directs them to the appropriate tent for the services they need. He has vowed to continue his self-appointed duties until the war ends.

“We need more Sashas in the world,” says Rojulpote. “For someone who isn’t even sure his family is alive, who pretty much has had everything taken from him, yet who finds the inner strength to continue to do something good to help others—I mean, he has a golden heart.”

Now safely back to work treating patients at the Wright Center, Rojulpote urges that if your heart beckons you to do something for Ukraine’s citizens, or others in need, listen to it and act today.

Click here for Part 1 of this story.

Ukraine, Dr. Chaitanya Rojulpote, Poland, conflict, humanitarian aid


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