Friday 19 February 2010

Deye mon gen mon

Beyond mountains, there are mountains
Haitian proverb

In 2003, Tracy Kidder published a book titled 'Mountains Beyond Mountains': the Quest of Dr Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World'. Despite my years of prolific reading, I rarely recommend books. I am one of those who believes that books find us through some alchemy of their own. I am making an exception here. Read 'Mountains beyond Mountains'! It is the challenging and moving biography of Dr Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and compassion incarnate, as told by Kidder, who travelled with, observed, argued tentatively and finally deeply admired and felt blessed by 'the fates that allowed my paths to cross his.' Farmer found himself in Haiti in 1983, still pre-med, and has never really left. The poverty, human rights abuse, relentless political and structural violence, the horror of multi-drug resistant TB and the HIV-AIDS epidemiology, are extraodinarily lit with humanity - that gift that is spectacularly our own.

This is a picture of Dr Paul Farmer attending to one of his patients in Cange, central Haiti. I love the challenging, almost mutinous look on the little girl's face. She seems to be saying, "Ah oui? So you think you can save me?" And I like the corresponding seriousness of Paul Farmer's expression. "I'm trying cherie." But, despite her pretty lacy top, and the silver hoops in her ears, she looks tired, a little dejected. Does she have TB? More than likely. HIV-AIDS as well?

Kidder writes:
'In Haiti, we'd had a conversation about his daughter. A month after she was born, a woman had come to Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) suffering from eclampsia. It is a disease of pregnancy, of mysterious origin, found preponderantly among poor women. It leads to protein in the urine, hypertension, seizures, and sometimes death, for both mother and child. The treatment is magnesium sulfate and delivery of the child. The clinic was very busy. Farmer was rushing around trying to get the treatment started. He could hear the heartbeat. He later recalled, "The mother was seizing. I said, Hurry!" Everything was going okay. Then the baby was born, and it was dead. A full-term, beautiful baby, and I started to weep. I had to excuse myself and go outside. I wondered, What's going on? Then I realised I was crying because of Catherine." He had imagined her in the place of the still-born child. "So you love your own child more than these kids?" he asked himself. He answered himself, "Look, all the great religious traditions of the world say, Love thy neighbour as thyself. My answer is, I'm sorry, I can't, but I'm gonna keep on trying." (p212-3)
These are the last lines of the book:
'Haiti was still bleeding away, like its topsoil. But there were some spots of hope. The Red Cross had announced plans to establish a transfusion post at Zanmi Lasante. Nearly twenty years since Farmer had watched a woman die in Leogane for lack of a transfusion, and he finally had a blood bank that could serve the central plateau, a source of blood that patients wouldn't have to pay for. "No more weeping over blood," he wrote to me.' (p301)

Just as Kidder felt all those years ago, so do I thank the fates that brought this inspiring being into my field of awareness. I am blessed with my own medical opthalmologist and glaucoma surgeon who save my sight, my consultants and registrars who make the latest monoclonal infusions available to me; but it is the pioneering work of doctors like Paul Farmer that gives me a kind of inner radiance, a faith beyond faith to believe that mountains beyond mountains can and will be healed.


Ruth said...

Thank you.

I've heard his name a lot, especially recently. The book title, the proverb, is haunting, isn't it?

And I think your personal policy on recommending books is good. We tend to find what we're ready for. But thank you for superseding that this time. I will look for it at the library.

Bless you. said...

People move mountains all the time.

(I'm a bit intrigued, can I ask you, I do you post Che Guevara ?)

Stella said...

Those photos definitely speak volumes. Thank you for your words.

karen said...

What a beautiful man this Dr. Farmer. Thank you for introducing me. I will put this book on my library list.

With gratitude,

Tess Kincaid said...

Excellent review, Shaista. I'll look for this one at my library branch!

Muznah said...

thank you for letting us know about the book Shaista. when life refuses to hit back, I guess one must find joys amongst the ruins.

stay well.

Unknown said...

Shall keep the book in mind. Thanks too for letting me know of Dr Farmer - great people like him are gems we hardly hear of, at least to me.

Hope you got my mail sent before you went to the your query.

Fly Girl said...

What a touching post. Thanks for the info about the book. It will go atop my pile to read.

Sarah Laurence said...

Yes, this is a really good book about a remarkable man and an important cause. I actually liked the writing in his earlier books better, but the message in this one is a good one. I met Tracy Kidder when he visited Bowdoin College nearly 3 years ago and blogged about it. Good clip too. It's a cause well worth supporting, thanks for getting the word out.

Eila said...

Thanks for recommending this book, I would like to read it:0)

Paula said...

I just bought this book but haven't gotten a chance to start reading it yet. As a pre-med student, Dr. Farmer is one of my many heroes. We need more people like him in the world.

Excellent review, I now can't wait to start the book!

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