Band-Aid for a Broken Legby Damien Brown; c.2013, Allen & Unwin; $25.95 / $28.50 Canada, 345 pages
You hope you’ve gotten the healthcare coverage that works best for you and your family.
But what if there was no option, or that healthcare was days away, dispensed in a tent with little technology? In the book Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown, you’ll read about one doctor’s experiences, literally in the field.
So, following graduation from med school in Australia, he signed on with Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) and was sent to Mavinga, Angola, on Africa’s southwest side. It would be his home for six months.
Dubbed The Edge of the World by Portuguese colonists, Mavinga was little more than a collection of dusty buildings and tents surrounded by land mines. Brown’s job was to relieve the doctor whose stint was up but, never having been in charge of a hospital before, he was terrified.
It didn’t go well at first.
Brown didn’t speak Portuguese, and the language barrier gave his staff extra reason to complain about Novo Doctor. The illnesses he saw were things he’d only ever read about before. Patient treatment was hampered by lack of x-rays, oxygen machines, and modern testing; and a near-primitive surgery suite with hand-operated equipment. Improvisation was common, sanitariness was often an issue and, between adrenaline-rush emergencies, there was incredible boredom.
Six months. That’s all Brown signed on for and he counted the days – until he suddenly realized that things were better. His colleagues had become friends and his time in Mavinga was up too soon. From there, he “slid finally into Melbourne” and a hospital with modern equipment.
But the difference was “a glaring, uncomfortable reminder of the disparities…” and Brown missed Africa.
“By mid-year,” he says, “I’m trawling the aid-worker websites…”
You might think for a minute that Band-Aid for a Broken Leg would be like those commercials you see on TV, filled with misery meant to touch your heart.
And you’d be wrong.
Oh, there’s heart-touching here, yes. Author Damien Brown doesn’t miss a chance to share the mind-boggling things he saw, but we’re also privy to the goodness, too. That makes this book a nice balance between suffering that will make you very thankful for what you’ve got, and grace and forbearance that will make you smile.
This is the kind of book that will open your conscience – and maybe your wallet. It’s jaw-dropping and humorous, both. And if you’d love a story about a life you may never lead in a place you may never visit, Band-Aid for a Broken Leg is a good choice.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.