Feb 28, 2014

The non-doctors without borders

People often think that "Doctors without borders" (MSF) is an organization for doctors - not a far fetched assumption given the name. Some people, though luckily not that many, think it's an organization only for doctor which is very far from the truth. It's not even an organization exclusively for health care providers - it's an organization for everyone. I would say that most people (if not everybody) could find a way to contribute if they wanted to, and luckily for us doctors, many non-medical people do contribute and get involved, because without them we couldn't do our job.

I've heard from both logs and fins (logisticians and finance people) that "sure, what they do is important or interesting but not as important or interesting as what the doctors do". I've even heard people talk about how insignificant their contribution is when they're not doctors - and worst of all - I've heard (ignorant) doctors talk about how they're the only ones doing any "real work". These statements make my blood boil - or depending on the mood my tears flow. The thing is it's just not true.

When working in the types of environments that MSF do (actually working anywhere in the world, but that's kind of beyond the scope of this text) working together is the key to everything. We're so completely dependent on each other. Good work is done when everyone involved is doing what they're good at. During my months in the field I think I've been most grateful to and most impressed by the non-doctors for their hard work, often done behind the scenes. They are the people who take care of all the stuff I wouldn't even know had to get done much less know how to do them.

 Just to mention a fraction of what they do;
  • Provide drinkable water
  • Find a proper place for us to sleep
  • Fix leakages in the grounds of the hospital
  • Manage hundreds of people - and their never ending complaints over everything
  • Fire people when needed
  • Figure out how to transport us to our patients (or the opposite) come hell or high water, which literally means hellish conditions and high floods
  • Build wards trying to please the doctors very optimistic requests
  • Build boxes to heat blankets and water bags for cold patients
  • Make them selves available when I call in the middle of the night to inform them that we don't have any electricity in the neonatal ward - where the babies kind of need the electricity driven oxygen machines...
  • Figure out how to manufacture clothes so that my babies can get skin to skin care in a muslim environment where skin isn't something you show - ever
  • Provide food
  • Make reasonable budgets where they see the bigger picture - and not only my irrational wish to use all the projects money on one case
  • Make new expats feel welcomed
  • Make the whole team feel safe - no matter how unsafe an environment you're in

And like I said, this is a fraction of what they do seen from the clueless doctors point of view. They do something hugely important for the community and are essential for any project. The thing is, I get why they sometimes might loose track of why they are doing what they are doing. I always say that sure, I have a hard job, calling the death of a child chips away at your heart, and they don't have to do that, but at the same time I get to see the effect of what everyone is working for. I get to discharge healthy kids and I get the thank you from the parents. I see first hand how important the effort that we've done together as a team has been, and that makes it easier for me to se the point of it all when things get dark. So I've tried to make sure that whenever possible the people not working directly with the patients get to come along and see what we're doing, see the tiny babies now sleeping in the cradles they've built, under the roof that's no longer leaking and having received the skin to skin care that's going to help them survive.

So here's to the Fins, Admins, Logs, HR's, FieldCo's, WatSan's and Supply's that make the projects go from elusive ideas to tangible walls and floors, you have my deepest respect and admiration. 

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