Category Archives: writers

helping haiti

Hearing about Haiti’s latest catastrophe, with homes and hospitals reduced to rubble, mountains of corpses decomposing in the 90-degree humidity, dwindling food and clean water supplies — who doesn’t feel compelled to hop on an airplane headed for Toussaint Louverture International Airport? The impulse to do something, anything, feels overwhelming.

But then what? Let’s face it — this is not a time when just showing up is enough. The most effective rescue and repair efforts here will come from organizations that run a tight ship, with the structure and experience to roll out operations quickly. We saw that with Wal-Mart in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. We’re now seeing that in Haiti with the U.S. military, and with smaller non-profit groups like Zanmi Lasante, aka Partners in Health, Paul Farmer’s organization, that already have infrastructure in place.

Zanmi Lasante has helped to bring clean water and basic medical care to rural Haiti for twenty years and, importantly, has trained locals to operate and staff a network of ten small town hospitals and clinics. According to Tracy Kidder, Z.L. may be the largest functioning health system in Haiti at the moment, being located in areas not as badly affected by the quake.

So be smart in how you decide to help. Give money to organizations with a long track record of working towards social justice in Haiti such as Partners in Health, Fonkoze, or Yele Haiti, to quickly bolster their resources. If you’re a trauma surgeon, anesthetist, or surgical nurse, if you have large quantities of surgical supplies to give, or yes, a private plane that can get skilled hands and supplies to Haiti, volunteer or donate now.

And if learning about Haiti is “all” you can do, do that, and support efforts towards basic sanitation, schools, health care, and local economies even after the country fades from the headlines. Favorite Haiti readings are Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying, a story of growing up in Haiti apart from immigrant parents, and of our flawed border operations, and Tracy Kidder’s “The Good Doctor”, with reporting on how American agriculture policy in Haiti wrecked small local producers.

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Filed under do gooders, hard times, writers

a simple intervention

I was invited to participate in a public conversation last night with Atul Gawande, a surgeon who writes for the New Yorker on such things as the cost of health care, solitary confinement, and reducing errors in the ICU. What, you were busy organizing your sock drawer?

OK, so I really do think it’s fascinating stuff. Gawande makes it so — I learn interesting things every time I read his writing. And besides, I can’t help admiring his style and voice and the way he tells a story.

His third book, The Checklist Manifesto, is just out. It’s about adopting a simple intervention, a checklist, prior to surgery or in critical care, or other such clinical scenarios. He and colleagues have proven that well-constructed checklists save lives, and yet the hardest part may be convincing doctors to use them.

I’d love to see checklists created for patients to use. Patients are motivated to obtain appropriate health care — even more so than their doctors, I’m afraid — and we should make good on that energy.

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Filed under innovation, writers

portrait of a scientist

They say that doctoring calls for a balance of art and science. But is that balance possible? For me the right-brained stuff is mostly instinct, and I work much harder to stay on top of the science, which requires a very different mindset.

Maybe because of that, I’ve noticed that there aren’t many great fictional renderings of scientists. Allegra Goodman’s wonderful novel, Intuition, is one exception. Goodman really gets the characters in her fictional research lab just right.

Last week I went to Elliot Bay Books to hear Seattle author Midge Raymond read from her new book, Forgetting English. She read a short story about a young female biologist studying penguins in Antarctica. Everything about it was terrific — the story’s color and pacing, the way Raymond used science as metaphor, and most of all her sympathy for her two main characters, the scientist and the penguins.

In the Q&A, Raymond told the audience she’d been to Antarctica but otherwise made it all up. Now that’s truly a feat of art.

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