Global Humanities – A Refugee in the Clinic


“You see a war zone, I see my home”


Ayesha Ahmad


“In my land”, you say. I trail away from your story into my own exploration; I am wondering about your possession—about your land, what it means for your to be yours, or what it means for you that my land is mine, and not yours.

In hospitals all over Europe, doctors are practicing medicine on the frontline. The patients are seen as refugees, or asylum seekers, or undocumented migrants; categories that are formed to describe who the person is in relation to their status to the land they are in.

When the phrase “in my land” is embedded in a story of war and displacement, a question is begged: how is a doctor to receive a story of a refugee?

The idea of “my country” represents the host of an individual’s existence. There, in their, and our land, the familiarity that we use to navigate our physical, mental, emotional, and existential worlds can be found.

The language, then, between the patient and the doctor, each from foreign lands to one another, is a script from their books; their poems, scriptures, and literature.

Perhaps in this context of travelling cultures and exploring stories, the need for doctors to understand and respond to stories is the way to close the frontiers between the doctor and the patient, and between the clinic and the home.

Boundaries diminish humanity; they separate ‘you’ from ‘I’.

“My country was such a nice place”, you say when you talk to me about how things were for you. “I am here now, but there, there is my Motherland. Once she was vibrant, but now, now she is like a body in a grave”.

Land, like a person, can become ill. As a victim of violence, a country personifies trauma. The soil, then, is felt like blood in those who are cradled in their births, and deaths, in their land.

Translating the relationship between the land and the body takes time. The transcription takes place using the instrument of reflection to tell a story of “what is in my body now is what I have lived”.

“My body is my land, and my land is my body”.

To treat this severing in the clinic setting, new words and new concepts to add to the body the language of the land are needed.

Bringing forth narratives of a land’s literature and lyrics is a way to represent the person who becomes the patient. The clinic setting marks such a unique centre for the meeting point of cultures—medicine with poetry, storytelling, and narratives that otherwise would remain ‘the Other’ as marginalised and defined by boundaries.

As the humanitarian crises of war and forced displacement dispels and unfolds into the home of doctors, the opportunity to make medicine richer is before us. There is no greater practice for listening skills than to hear a language contain a different land, and an unfamiliar body.

There is new terrain on the horizon for the clinical encounter; new lands to be explored and new narratives to share as the doctor-patient relationship continues to learn how to heal.

“You see a war zone, but I see my home”. As the patient leaves, let us hope that we all see the same place.


Ayesha Ahmad, Global Humanities Editor

(Visited 82 times, 1 visits today)