Few people have helped as many people as dramatically, pugnaciously, and
successfully as Dr. Paul Farmer. Tracy Kidder's latest book tracks Farmer on his
crusade to improve health care to the world's most poverty-stricken populations, one
patient at a time.
What amazes are the lengths to which Farmer will go to
treat his patients. He speaks Creole, Spanish and French. He's logged more than two
million miles in flight time, traveling to Haiti, Boston and Russia.
He donates the
bulk of his salary. Once when he reached the limit on his credit card, his bookkeeper
told him that he was the "hardest-workin' broke man I know." And that's no
exaggeration, because in order to treat his Haitian patients, he's got to share their
circumstances, travel on their roads, and address their most basic needs, such as helping
them get food and water and better shelter. And then get them
For his patients, he has endless reserves of patience and
generosity. Drug companies, governments, and other bureaucracies see a different side of
him. He plays the part of Robin Hood to their Sheriff of Nottingham. If he sees a
patient suffering, he does everything in his power to save them; if he sees abundant
resources, then he does everything in his power to get them where they are most needed. A
patient's ability to pay, or the local government's ability to govern and provide basic
services do not deter him. He sees only the child in front of him, such as the one who
cries, "It hurts, I'm hungry," when he gives her a spinal tap. "Only in Haiti would a
child cry out that she's hungry during a spinal tap," he says.
bull-headed, charismatic, arrogant, determined, but especially brilliant, both clinically
and politically. He's also quite amusing and self-deprecating, which makes reading this
300-page story as enjoyable as it is uplifting. Farmer has transformed many lives and
saved many more. Through Kidder's book, perhaps even more will be transformed, as we
readers learn that saving lives in these circumstances isn't impossible after all.
Read this book, and then pass it around. This is a story worth sharing.