by Bill Frist, MD
by Bill Frist, MD
This weekend marks the celebration of the independence of a new nation, the Republic of South Sudan. A close friend, Ken Isaacs, was there to witness the joy:
"Today the Republic of South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of people were present as well as dozens of dignitaries and international representatives.
There were parades of the various military units of the South. Youth groups, wounded veterans, police corps and other citizen groups also marched past the grandstand.
I have never seen or experienced such joy in Sudan. People cheered as loud as thunder. They sang and cried with tears of joy."
I'm often asked why do governmentt service? I wrote and introduced to Senate the Sudan Peace Act on Jan 25, 2001 after medical mission trips with World Medical Mission/Samaritans Purse to southern Sudan. It became law Oct 21, 2002. The Act helped pave way for Comprehensive Peace Agreement and committed the US to involvement in the peace process. Today, the culmination in INDEPENDENCE for millions of people. Politics matter. Medicine as a "currency for peace."
In celebrating this momentous occasion, I reflect upon a patient, in Lui, Sudan, on whom I operated years ago. Here is his story from my book, A Heart to Serve:
"During our last case on our final day before departure, a message came to the operating theater that a patient in the recovery room wanted to see “the American doctor.” By that time, all I wanted to do was to go back to my tukul, wash up, tumble onto the mat, and fall asleep. But I couldn’t refuse this last request. Dick, David, and I walked next door to the one-room hut that we were using as a recovery room. In the darkness, I could vaguely make out the silhouette of a man lying on a bed in the corner. Drawing closer, I saw white bandages covering the stump of what had been his left leg; a similar dressing covered his right hand.
But what drew my attention was not the man’s injuries, but his bright smile, a smile that, even in the darkness, seemed to illuminate the man’s dark brown face. I noticed a Bible beside his bed, not an unusual sight at a Samaritan’s Purse clinic. I leaned over, put my hand on the man’s shoulder, and through an inter- preter, I asked why he wanted to see the American doctor.
The man told me his story. Two years earlier, his wife and children had been murdered during the war. Even as he spoke of the atrocity, he continued to smile, and his eyes remained bright. I nodded as I listened, my own heart breaking at the thought of losing my wife, Karyn, and our three boys in a senseless, seemingly endless war. I knew there was no way I would be smiling. “Then eight days ago,” he said, “I stepped on a landmine. I lost my leg and my fingers,” he raised his hand slightly, so I could see that most of his hand was gone. And yet he continued to smile. I nodded again, trying desperately to understand. I listened as he told how he had been brought to the hospital at Lui from about twenty kilometers away, and how the American doctors had saved his life.
Finally, I couldn’t resist the obvious question. “Why are you smiling?” I asked. “Or should I say, how can you possibly be smiling?” “Two reasons,” he said through the interpreter. “One, because you come to us in the spirit of Jesus. And two, because you are an American doctor.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
The man rose up on the bed as best he could on his mutilated limbs and uttered words that would remain indelibly impressed in my heart. “Everything I have lost,” he said, his eyes bright in the darkness, “my family, my leg, my hand—will be worth the sacrifice if my people can someday have what you have . . . in America.” He paused, then spoke as if uttering a prayer: “Free- dom. Freedom to live and worship as we please. The freedom that America represents.”
I swallowed hard. I looked up at Dick and David, and I could tell that they, too, had been moved by the man’s statement about the values that so strongly characterize the United States. Over the years, I’ve been back to Africa many times. I’ve made medical mission trips to the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Mozambique. I’ve never seen that man again, and I probably never will. But I’ve never forgotten his smile and his heart.
Moreover, in recent years, I have become increasingly convinced that medicine can truly be a currency for peace in our world—a way for America to reach out in friendship and com- passion, creating lasting friendships with people on every conti- nent. Looking back, the awareness of that truth may have begun in that dark room, fostered by a man who had lost nearly everything but his faith in God and his hope for freedom." (A Heart to Serve, pp. 11-13)