Thursday, February 26, 2009

Focusing on the Needs of Others (Instead of Our Own)

Tungiasis--Am I Glad to Know What It Is or Not?

A friend of mine called my attention to WebMD's Senior Medical Writer, Dan Denoon, who has spent the last week in Haiti doing public service. He's traveled with an obstetrician, an electrician, and a photographer. He's a writer. Some combo, huh?

He's posted a few blogs about his experience, and they are amazingly powerful. I urge you to read them.

He posts first before his trip. His opening words are pregnant with expectation--The person writing this post will be changing over the course of the coming week. Can't you just feel his unspoken concerns about what will face him, his ability to deliver? I'll be sharing with you what happens when someone from outside that world tries to make himself useful.

His first post from Haiti In Another World marks his transition starting with the airport and a security guard's unspoken agreement to look the other way about their duffle bag of medical supplies in exchange for a few baby acetaminophen. He describes the drastic contrasts between Mardi Gras in the city and the sobering conditions along country roadsides.

Next, in his post People Everywhere, Water Not, Dan describes a watering hole that has the surreal quality that I've only experienced from watching movies. In our world, we do very little for our extended families. . . there folks carry their families' empty buckets for hours to reach water--uphill on the return trip. I was appreciating Dan's prose all along, but this is where he got me:

People will sleep all night at the spring, hoping their bottles will fill by morning. Then they'll trudge home --
most with just a single bottle for their families.
Some of the children at the spring had their heads shaved, and bore patterns of little scars on their scalp.
Ringworm, Dr. Leo said. If you hardly have enough water to drink, bathing is not a priority. Of course, cattle share the stream, and people bathe along with them.

They also bring their families clothes to wash, and dry them on the bushes high up the side of the hill. All this being said,
the people we met were in high spirits. They laughed at our pathetic efforts at Creole, and joyfully helped hand us across the slippery rocks to look into the wellhead.
Eyes were bright with intelligence, humor was everywhere, and despair was nowhere evident. If you don't believe that resilience is a human quality, you haven't been to Haiti.

Wow, what a slap to put my life in perspective. When it's called to my attention the situations and conditions that some people live through EVERY DAY, it can at least momentarily jolt me out of my self pity. My focus on such minutia. I know the distraction won't last long. . . our own pain is always the most palpable and magnified. . . but it's a welcomed distraction, despite the sting of breathtaking awareness . I have no desire to mimic Dan's altruistic actions, but I admire him for them. I'm inspired by his compassion.

It's in Dan's next post A Death and a Life where the climax appropriately happens half way through his trip. It's amazing the kind of medical assistance Dan is able to give. And here is the full story of the tungiasis. I couldn't help myself I had to go search for a picture. If you are squeamish don't follow the link. Dan's kind-heartedly shed tears touched me deeply. I will forever remember his experience--everytime I see a Tootsie Pop.

In Dan's next post. . . A Big Country, One Doctor he asks the thought provoking question . Give a local boy a dollar, and have you helped his family - or made him a beggar?

In Rain, Mud, & Water, he writes: It rained last night, turning the dust into an unbelievably sticky mud that clings to everything. It's sticky and gummy when wet, and dries into concrete. The country of dryness and drowning. . .

From his most recent post, Time to Leave Grand Bois, it sounds like Dan is on his way home. . . truly a changed man. Read his words, I believe, they'll have an impact on you as well.


  1. I had never heard of that and I sure can't pronounce it either but your post was a great way to draw attention to the suffering of others who don't have their basic needs met. We take so much for granted in our every day lives. I can't even begin to imagine how much some people have to struggle just to have water and basic necessities.

  2. Thanks for the blog tip. I can't wait to read through the posts.

  3. I lived in a third world country for a while and it truly was an eye opening experience to see exactly what people live without. I will never again be ungrateful for everything that comes so easily to us!


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