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Mountains Beyond Mountains

Reading Mountains Beyond Mountains has been a transformative experience. Focusing on the medical and political change one man had on the world, Tracy Kidder followed Dr. Farmer on his journey over the years of establishing accessible modern medicine in places such as Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia. 


Kidder did an excellent job at transcribing the necessities of modern medicine in countries that truly need them the most. He thoroughly explains the expansion of hunger across the land and the terror of the soldiers who roam it. The people of Haiti were in such a horrendous position featuring the bottom of the pile of greed, violence, and disaster; their pain an almost direct result of economic destruction. The Haitians were- and are- truly doing their best and with Paul Farmer's influence and care, his team and anyone who hears his story begins to understand the necessity to love and help all people. “I felt as though, in Farmer, I’d been offered another way of thinking about a place like Haiti. But his way would be hard to share, because it implies such an extreme definition of a term like ‘doing one’s best’” (Kidder). 


After getting his MD and PhD, Dr. Paul Farmer became a professor at Harvard Medical School and the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. In 1987, Dr. Farmer co-founded Partners in Health, an international non-profit organization focusing on bringing research, advocacy, and medical resources to those in poverty. Through his business ventures, his love and passion for Haiti grew, knowing that each moment that he was traveling, each day he was lecturing, every second he spent away from Haiti was a second he could be there helping the people. As people called him a saint for his work, he felt the need to work harder. 


The receiving end of Partners In Health in Cange, Haiti consisted of Zamni Lasante, ‘Partners In Health’ in Haitian. This facility provided endless efforts to support Haitian citizens in their fight against AIDS, HIV, and TB. Within the cities of Haiti, where disease crawls the streets, Farmers' selfless rule reflects the mindset that no life is worth less than another and therefore no one can be/should be turned away. “I can’t sleep. There’s always someone not getting treatment. I can’t stand that.” Paul Farmer continuously fought against political injustice, violence and financial pushback inorder to provide the opportunity for poverty stricken people to receive medical treatment. 


With Farmer’s extensive knowledge and drive regarding the costs and realities to treating sick people, he based his philosophy off the fact that medicine shouldn’t cost as much as it does. “Farmer and his staff of community health workers treated most tuberculosis patients in their huts and spent between $150 and $200 to cure an uncomplicated case. The same cure in the United States, where most TB patients were hospitalized, usually cost between $15,000 and $20,000.” A large sum of the program funding was provided through a private donation from a Boston developer, Tom White. When the opportunity for his donation first came about, Farmer had no idea how much he would financially help throughout the foundation's journey and development. Over the past two decades, Tom White donated over $30 million to Dr. Farmer and his medical services, allowing the global revolutions to flourish.


Paul Farmer had a way of translating Haiti to people, redefining poverty and care to others. His close friends and team knew their lives were changed as soon as they saw his passion and perspective towards poverty. No matter where in the world Dr. Farmer went, he was constantly carrying Haiti and its people in his heart, never truly leaving it in body or mind. He was a man in demand, providing knowledge, care, and help in ways no other person could; “wherever he was, he was missing from somewhere.” 


While I found his journey and work awe-inspiring, my main takeaways from reading Mountains Beyond Mountains were found through the incredible qualities of the doctor. Paul had a way of showing individual care, not only within his clinical practices but also personally, giving each person one-on-one attention and care. With this approach, not only did he provide physical healing but also emotional healing. Yes, he was an incredibly wise doctor, diagnosing and treating diseases in ways that were unthinkable to others. But his true power lies in his passion and understanding for what a patient might need emotionally. People that he encountered needed to feel the care that he provided, the one-on-one connection and love that poured from him. Regardless of the size of a request from his patients, he did his best to provide. If it was at all a possibility, he would make it possible.


One characteristic about Farmer that struck me was his intention to disconnect to connect. When speaking with a patient, hearing a friend's concern or simply having a conversation, Paul would seem to take a quick look around before focusing in on who was in front of him. The concept of disconnecting with the world in order to fully connect with someone. 


From the multiple countries he cared for and influenced, he still remembered people. He knew their names, their stories, their pain, and their healing. Dr. Farmer had a philosophy and practice on continuity and interconnectedness that excluded no one. With how much he provided for others, he knew exactly what to request of other people to make them feel valued to him. Even if it were a small request, people in his reach were eager to feel like they could provide something for him, and what a good feeling it was to be needed by the doctor.


Dr. Farmer passed away in 2022, but his legacy lives on. Partners In Health continues to treat patients and influence communities around the world. His journey through medical care and personal touch can provide perspective for us. To truly understand people, their needs, and how we can provide, even in small ways. I encourage you to read Mountains Beyond Mountains to gain a true knowledge of Dr. Farmer’s influence and his journey providing love and care to those who need it the most, but even if you don’t do so, keep this in mind: we are all humans, and the only nation is humanity (Patria es humanidad).

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