Hospital Hotel: The Man from Room 257, Part 2 of 4

I have been taking orders for 35 minutes. It would seem that having an opportunity to tell someone exactly what you need, as opposed to selecting one item from a box after you’ve queued for ages to get it, is downright outrageous. It is crazy. It is a very special gift indeed.

Women tug on my arm while I’m talking to their neighbors and children squeal “My friend! My friend!” while they jump up and down between me and the person I’m talking to.

My notebook now contains 10 pages, each full of hastily scribbled orders like “Girl dress size 3; Men’s shorts size M; Women’s bra, size????”

Guessing bra sizes is hilarious.

No one seems to know their size. So I stand back and stare at their chests, then turn them around to see if their current bra has a tag with a size in it. Nope. Crap. So I turn them around again and squint at their boobs with all the intensity of a voyeur inside a Victoria’s Secret dressing room. I guess I’ll just do my best.

Then Ahmed walks up to me and asks politely for my attention.

“Excuse me, Madam.” He says. He looks about 70 years old with a strong and kind presence.

The woman whose order I was taking backs away to let him speak.

“This woman here,” he says, gesturing to the woman next to him, whose list I had already written down, “is pregnant. Her husband died two months ago because he had stomach surgery and there were complications so, after two months, he died.”

Oh my God. I remember reading about her husband. The doctors wouldn’t fly him to Athens, where they send people whose medical needs surpass what they can provide on Chios. He died a terrible death, but volunteered to let a journalist document his story so the rest of the world could learn about the injustice. I saw a photo of his dead body along side his grieving widow, because she had stayed true to his wish that the world stay informed.

His widow, who was standing right in front of me, asking me to help her.

“She is nine months pregnant and wants to go to Athens to deliver her baby,” he said. “Her friend delivered her baby here but there was something wrong with it. So they took the baby to Athens and left her friend here. She doesn’t want to leave her baby. Can you help her?”

What. The. WHAT. They took a newborn and left the mother? What about bonding? What about breast milk? What about you just don’t ever do that? I’m hoping this is a story that got lost in translation, or a rumor, or anything but the truth.

I turned my gaze to the woman, who looked at me with a wide-open face as though I held the answer to her giant concerns. I put my hand on her arm. I had no idea what to do next.

“I’ve been here two days,” I said to Ahmed. “I have no power but I can ask some people and let you know what I learn. What room does she live in?” I asked.

“Room 263,” he said.

I looked at her and smiled. “I’ll do my best,” I said.

I turned to her page in my book and added, “newborn clothes, diapers” to her list.


Ahmed’s broken glasses. When I pressed him, he agreed to let me replace them.

Every hour brings a new reminder that the help I can give is not the help they actually need. But I remind myself that volunteers are here to make lives more comfortable in the here and now, hoping the world’s governments will pull themselves together quickly enough to end this misery soon.


Then I ask him what he needs, but he says he doesn’t want anything. He shows me two tablets he’s just received from the doctor and says, “I have angina. It hurts to lie down, and it hurts to walk. But this is all they gave me for treatment—what am I supposed to do with these two tablets?”

I tell him that I just don’t know. I need to learn how to say this in Arabic and Farsi, because it is often the only response I have. I had just met a mom whose 3-year old daughter had a 104 fever, and received only one dose of anti-fever medicine. She asked me the same question Ahmed is asking me now: what was she supposed to do when the medicine wore off?

I told him I would look into it, and added it to my growing list of questions for which no one can find answers.

Then I press him to see if I could bring something that would make him more comfortable. Finally he says he could use a new pair of sneakers and a pair of sandals for his wife. Then he gets his reading glasses and shows me that they have fallen apart and he put them back together with a thin wire on both sides.

“What is your prescription?” I ask.

“2.5,” he says.

“I’ll get you new glasses,” I say.

“Thank you,” he says, and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Thank you.”


Read more from this series about the Hospital Hotel:

Learn the story behind the widow’s husband who died in Chios.

I am home now but will continue to post stories from my time volunteering for refugees in Greece. I extended my fundraiser to fill five important needs: strollers, suitcases, food for new arrivals at boat landings, organized activities for unaccompanied minors, and the Refugee Garden Kids in Istanbul. Learn more:…


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