Faculty Member Richard Gieser, MD
Location Amman, Jordan [ MAP ]
Hospital Army Medical Center

Letter from Dr. Gieser (on Jordan and Syrian):

Cairo, Egypt

May 24, 1998

The privilege of caring for patients has been a recurring theme in my mind over the past few days. Direct care of those in need thrusts you into a relationship that usually takes a long period of time to develop. This afternoon, Marge and I were in a Bedouin village in the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. A boy, injured when young, with one blind eye, needed consultation and encouragement.

I gave some lectures at the army medical center in Amman. It is a large, sprawling center that practices medicine at a sophisticated level. It was also a delight to spend some time at Jordan University. Their eye department has good equipment and a staff that is anxious to learn. Attracting permanent staff is the primary challenge. The chairman has been with the university for 20 years. Usually the staff comes for a couple years and then disappears into private practice. The problems I saw were the usual mix of diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, with a detachment or two.

We just returned from Damascus, Syria, where we witnessed the power of love in the only home for the mentally and physically handicapped in Syria. The residents were often rescued from insane asylums where they experienced years of degrading care. They have regained speech, humor, and sense of community. I examined 20 of these folk with the help of a fine French-trained ophthalmologist in his office. Most had some congenital abnormality that was not treatable, but, we did find a 45 year old lady with a tension of 45 with cupped discs.

Roaming the streets of Damascus at twilight is an ethereal experience. The oldest continually inhabited city in the world proclaims a vast panorama of history. The streets where the Apostle Paul walked are well marked. We wandered down the "Street Called Straight," mentioned by Paul in the New Testament.

The market teems with commercial activity, almost unchanged in a hundred years. The spice market, with a dazzling variety of brightly colored powders in large sacks, the sooty blacksmith’s den, the paint shop with cans of pigment powders, and the blackening carcasses of lamb hanging in the meat shops, looked the same centuries ago.

The head of John the Baptists rests in a shrine in the Grand Mosque of Damascus, the most interesting mosque we have visited. Inside the vast mosque, the singing, preaching, chanting, and the quiet murmur of prayer, occurring simultaneously sounded like a large Charles Ives symphonic work. Our thoughts of wonder and curiosity quickly faded outside the mosque. Someone stole my shoes!! (Shoes are always left outside by tradition and respect.) The guard of the tomb of a famous sultan’s head was quite embarrassed and loaned me his sandals until I could purchase a pair of shoes that look and feel like army boots.

Viewing the turmoil of the Middle East through Arab eyes has been an education. Until the Palestinian problem is solved, the area will struggle economically. If allowed to control their destiny, they will become economically productive and this will relieve the despair which drives the forces of radicalism.

On the way out of the country, we stopped at Mt. Nebo and viewed the Jordan Valley, the north end of the Dead Sea, with Jericho in the distance. Moses stood on the same spot and was told he could not enter the land of his dreams.

The USA is a child compared to this land of the Patriarchs…young, but great!

God bless America.


Richard G. Gieser, MD