God bless them, my parents have taken the “tire” out of “retirement” and thrown it off a bridge somewhere. I’ve kvelled continously over my mother’s literary accomplishments and generosity over the years (The Most Energetic Woman Alive just passed through town to smooch the grandkids and buy us new livingroom drapes on her way to realize a long-lived dream of hanging out in Paris for a month) but now it’s Dad’s turn:
After decades mired in the medical world as a surgeon, he closed his practice. For awhile, he played a lot of golf and cooked chicken parmagiana from scratch and drove my mother nuts.
He also began honing his photography hobby into something serious.
A few years ago, missing the adrenaline of cutting people open, he began volunteering his surgical services in fun, sun-filled places like Pakistan and parts of Africa so poor no one’s even heard of them. Last summer Dr. Skip (his favorite sobriquet these days – it’s chummy, easy to pronounce and ambiguously non-ethnic, which is convenient for Jews visiting countries where radical Muslims like to hole up) went to a small village in Tanzania, where he removed goiters and repaired appedixes and generally saved people’s lives with nothing more than a butter knife under a single light bulb. (Ok, I’m exaggerating about the butter knife. But the lighting part is true.)
His sporadic emails were full of appalling details about how little the villagers have (and heartening stories of how sweet and lovely they are) and as soon as he returned he started collecting medical equipment and materials to take back, filling two huge suitcases.
He’s there now, and this time he’s got a blog!
It’s great to get the daily updates, but it doesn’t seem like things at the tiny hospital have improved in the past year:
This one case points up so much of what’s wrong here. The equipment problem has gotten worse. Things like NG tubes , suction equipment and funtioning, reliable lights should be available. They don’t cost that much but nobody cares enough to see that they are on hand. It’s easy to blame the administrative personnel but I accuse the doctors. There is one cardiogram machine in the hospital and it is in the office of the physician/administrator who never sees a patient. The excuse you hear over and over is ‘Well, this is Africa. Things will get better poli-poli (little by little.)’ Well, people, poli-poli isn’t cutting it. I’ve been away from here over a year and from what I see things have gotten worse.They’ve gone from an occasional power outage to four or five a day with no improvement or even deterioration of back-up capacity. The conditions in the wards are dreadful. Most even lack a place to wash your hands … They have allocated a fortune to build a new surgical unit which will be beautiful but how can they use it when they lack the ability to supply the unit they already have? When built it will be a showplace to display to visitng dignitaries who have no idea that it is an empty shell providing the same crappy care as the old one.
It sounds so frusturating, but he keeps doing what he came to do, seeing patients, performing surgery, one stitch at a time. I’m so proud of him.
Maimonides categorized how we give of ourselves into Eight Degrees of Tzedakah – I wonder where Rambam would place continuing to give of one’s time, energy and skills even when the lights keep going out and there’s no antibacterial soap.