Shelleyrae at Book'd Out's Reviews > Band-Aid for a Broken Leg

Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown
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Jul 20, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: arc-are, aussie-author, provided-by-publisher
Read from July 17 to 18, 2012 — I own a copy

In Australia, Medicare subsidises doctor visits, medicines and hospital care and access to quality health care is something many of us take for granted. Band-Aid for a Broken Leg is fascinating true account from Dr Damien Brown of his time as a volunteer with the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)organisation. In Angola, Mozambique and South Sudan, he is faced with the reality of medical care in isolated regions beseiged by war, in fighting and political indifference.

Born in South Africa, Damien Brown emigrated with his family to Australia as a child. After completing his medical training in Australia, he studied in Peru for a diploma in tropical medicine and then volunteered at a clinic in Thailand. He applied to the MSF and was offered a position in Angola an area of Africa still recovering from a 27 year long civil war.
Mavinga, a small township near the border of Namibia, and outlying areas, rely on the MSF for all aspects of health care. Damien describes the primitive conditions of the hospital surrounded by leftover landmines, staffed by a handful of expat's and semi-trained locals. The hospital treats hundreds of patients each day for conditions ranging from severe malnutrition and malaria to grenade wounds. While the conditions sound miserable, there is no modern plumbing and the generator is temperamental, Damien accepts the circumstances with remarkably good grace. He writes of the challenges of treating patients with limited resources, many of whom present when it is almost too late. There are cultural differences to work through, he knows little of the language and the hours are long and punishing, yet he takes solace in even the smallest victories and finds humour where he can.
After six months Damien returns home to Melbourne but finds it difficult to settle back into life and finds himself reapplying to the MSF. He is diverted from his first choice of posting after an outbreak of fighting in Somalia and winds up in Mozambique assisting with a vaccination program before being sent to Sudan.
Damien's experience in Sudan is not dissimilar to that of Mavinga, the hospital is busy and crowded and patient care challenging. But here gun battles erupt nearby, death seems to be more frequent and the stress of the circumstances gets to him. After six months he heads back to Australia wondering how much good he did. Damien's reflections on his experiences are thoughtful and make it clear answers are not easy to come by.
Damien Brown's style of writing is confident and accessible and I am glad he shared some photos of his time in Mavinga and Nasir within the book. I can't express how much I admire his willingness to share his skills with those who need them and his choice to confront the challenges of being a doctor with the MSF. I have no idea how the man is still single!

Band-Aid for a Broken Leg is a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, glimpse of Africa and the challenges of one doctor to provide medical care for it's poorest communities in difficult circumstances. Fascinating and thought provoking I happily recommend it to travelers, those interested in volunteering overseas and anyone who needs some perspective on their latest first world crisis.
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