A doctor’s memoir expands on his blogs, written while he worked at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Sudan.
In 2007, Maskalyk (Emergency Medicine/Univ. of Toronto)—young, single and willing to go to an isolated, dangerous place—arrived in Abyei, a small village where conflict between militias of North and South Sudan compounded the stresses of extreme poverty. Here, the author avoids the political story, concentrating instead on the human one. Just getting from Canada to Sudan was a test of patience and endurance, valuable traits for anyone charged with providing medical care under the conditions in Abyei. The hospital’s job was to treat acute illness, but it was besieged with emergency cases as well—victims of gunshot wounds and car accidents, women in protracted labor, children with rabies. A measles epidemic began shortly after Maskalyk’s arrival, adding to the usual cases of tuberculosis, pneumonia, infections and fevers. Not everyone could be treated—those with chronic or minor problems had to be turned away, and hunger and death were common. The author’s own trials included brutal heat, sleeplessness and a pervading feeling of helplessness. Maskalyk alternates entries from his blog with more reflective chapters written after he returned to Canada. The blogs have been slightly edited but retain the syntax and general format of the original, which slows reading but lends his work a you-are-there immediacy. A few photographs bear out his descriptions of the conditions. More about the culture of the Dinka, the tribe that made up most of his patients, would have enhanced Maskalyk’s account, but he could not speak their language—a translator accompanied him in the hospital—and he spent most of his nonworking hours inside the compound that he shared with his co-workers.
A grim glimpse of stopgap measures in a world where humanity is desperately needed.