Review: Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown


Title: Band-Aid for a Broken Leg: Being a doctor with no borders (and other ways to stay single)

Author: Damien Brown

Published: Allen & Unwin July 2011

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. Read an Extract

Status: Read from July 17 to 18, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

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.

Available To Purchase

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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.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 22:24:18

    i have nothing but admiration for Damien Brown and others who selflessly work in such trying conditions for the benefit of humanity.



  2. Helene Young
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 20:39:11

    Another one for my reading pile, Shelleyrae. MSF is an amazing organisation and Damien’s story sounds fascinating. Thanks for the review.



  3. Teddyree
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 19:08:54

    Thanks for highlighting this one Shelleyrae, it’s something I always wanted to do with my nursing but I had a family instead lol. It’s going straight on my wishlist, I have no doubt I’ll love it.



  4. The Australian Bookshelf
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 18:38:30

    I’m glad you enjoyed this story Shelleyrae, it’s sitting on my review pile and i hope to read it later this week 🙂



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