11 June, 2014

Book Review: Band-aid for a Broken Leg

From Goodreads: A powerful, surprisingly funny, and ultimately uplifting account of life on the medical frontline, and a moving testimony of the work done by Medecins Sans Frontieres Damien Brown, a young doctor, thinks he's ready when he arrives for his first posting with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Africa. But the town he's sent to is an isolated outpost of mud huts, surrounded by landmines; the hospital, for which he's to be the only doctor, is filled with malnourished children and conditions he's never seen; and the health workers—Angolan war veterans twice his age who speak no English—walk out on him following an altercation on his first shift. In the months that follow, Damien confronts these challenges all the while dealing with the social absurdities of living with only three other volunteers for company. The medical calamities pile up—including a leopard attack, a landmine explosion, and having to perform surgery using tools cleaned on the fire—but it's through Damien's evolving friendships with the local people that his passion for the work grows. This heartbreaking and honest account of life on the medical frontline in Angola, Mozambique, and South Sudan is a moving testimony of the work done by medical humanitarian groups and the extraordinary and sometimes eccentric people who work for them.

Thoughts: I picked this up as it came through the return chute at work. It's not like I actually needed something else to read, but it sounded too interesting to not borrow. Damien Brown has done what most of us only vaguely think about and volunteered with an organisation that deliberately goes into some of the most dangerous places on earth. What I really loved about this book is it's in no way presumptuous or preachy.  Damien's recollection of his time with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is honest, heartbreaking and thought-provoking. I often find with books from this genre a slightly holier than thou attitude from the author who somehow makes you feel inadequate for not doing what they do. Damien Brown though manages to relate his story with none of that. At different times this book has me crying, laughing, cringing, turning green, despairing and cheering. The places Damien went surely bought out the best and the worst in people, exposed him to great hardship and incredible joys. He acknowledges the good and the bad of both the volunteers, the local workers and the patients. He offers no justifications for any of these people and the way they react to what is going on around them, instead just relates their stories and lets the reader make up their own mind. His honesty about the effect it had on him is refreshing. It wasn't easy, he doesn't pretend it was. The final linking of his experience to Australia was a perfect way to end the book. I hope where ever he and what ever he is doing, Damien is happy and content with his lot.

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