‘Band-Aid for a Broken Leg’

By Damien Brown

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 12/13/2013, midnight
Plan A or Plan B? This one or that? It was a big decision, and you made it with as ...

You sure had lots of choices.

Plan A or Plan B? This one or that? It was a big decision, and you made it with as much information as you could find. Now 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 (c.2013, Allen & Unwin, $25.95 / $28.50 Canada, 345 pages), you’ll read about one doctor’s experiences, literally in the field.

Growing up in relative affluence, Damien Brown only had the barest notion of hardship until he was in his 20s. By then, he’d lived on several different continents, had seen the effects of misery and poverty, and had decided that he “wanted to help. Or at least try, in some capacity.”

So, following graduation from medical school in Australia, he signed on with Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) and was sent to Mavinga, Angola, on Africa’s southwest coast. 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, sanitation 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 your pocketbook.

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 both jaw dropping and humorous. 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.