Source- Review copy
Publisher- Allen & Unwin
Publication date- 1st July 2012
Synopsis- Damien Brown, a young Australian doctor, thinks he’s ready when he arrives for his first posting with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Africa. But the town he’s sent to is an isolated outpost of mud huts, surrounded by landmines; the hospital, for which he’s to be the only doctor, is filled with malnourished children and conditions he’s never seen; and the health workers – Angolan war veterans twice his age and who speak no English – walk out on him following an altercation on his first shift.
In the months that follow, Damien confronts these challenges all the while dealing with the social absurdities of living with only three other volunteers for company. The medical calamities pile up – a leopard attack, a landmine explosion, and having to perform surgery using tools cleaned on the fire being among them – but it’s through Damien’s evolving friendships with the local people that his passion for the work grows.
Band-aid for a Broken Leg is a powerful, sometimes heart-breaking, often funny, always honest and ultimately uplifting account of life on the medical frontline in Angola, Mozambique and South Sudan. It is also a moving testimony of the work done by medical humanitarian groups and the extraordinary and sometimes eccentric people who work for them.
Review- Band-Aid for a Broken Leg is an inspiring account of Damien Brown, an Australian doctor who is posted in Africa working for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres).
Born and raised in South Africa, Damien Brown relocated to Melbourne as a child with his family. Seeking an alternate medical education experience, Damien practiced tropical medicine in Thailand before accepting a six month post in Angola, Africa. He arrives to a mud-hut village, with a make-shift hospital full to the brim of patients presenting with a range of injuries, illness and diseases. Apart from communicating with his ex-pat colleagues at the Hospital- Tim, Andrea and Pascall- Damien must quickly learn Portuguese if he wants to earn the respect as head doctor in this tight-knit community. He soon realises that his western training in logic and complex medical machines and processes is of little use in Angola and he must get back to basics, connect with the locals and understand a foreign culture.
When his post comes to an end, Damien struggles to assimilate back into a Western hospital in Australia and is soon in a debriefing for another post in Sudan where he spends another six months. With some experience under his belt, Damien has more confidence in this country yet is presented with much more confronting issues pertaining to war and corruption.
Written in first person and present tense, Damien immediately grounded me in his experience as it unfolded. He is an engaging narrator and his honesty provides an insight to him as a real person with flaws and vulnerabilities as he discovers that very little of what happens in these foreign lands is within his control. I think it is the hurdle of ‘the unknown’ and lack of control that Damien learns to accept as an indicator of the growth we see in him as a person and a professional during this role.
Damien was exposed to so many sad, unthinkable cases; extremely malnourished children, gunshot victims and ultimately many deaths- yet must work long hours day after day and not become overwhelmed by this day to day emotional experience overload.
Despite the difficulties of Damien’s work, his experience is truly inspiring. Before I even finished the book I was on the website looking up volunteer opportunities abroad for my line of work (mental health) and found there are- very tempting!
Band-Aid for a Broken Leg is a very humbling story and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the volunteers of Doctors Without Borders and various other humanitarian organisations who assist underprivileged communities across the world.
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About the author: Damien Brown is an Australian doctor based in Melbourne. He began writing seriously after his last humanitarian posting, encouraged by readers of a blog he kept while working in Africa. This is Damien’s first book.