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  • Writer's pictureLisa Paul IBCLC

Book Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains

On a recent trip to our local bargain grocery store (United Grocery Outlet), I happened upon a stack of books for 50 cents each. I didn't think that there would be anything worth reading, but my eye was caught by this book about Dr. Paul Farmer. Not because I knew who this person was, but because my maiden name is Farmer and my married name is Paul. I took it as a sign from the universe that I was to read this book Mountains Beyond Mountains.

I was hooked from the beginning and read every word, including the ending acknowledgements. In essence, it is about a doctor who tries to cure the world one sick person at a time, but in the most poor places on the planet. He tackles the big problems like Tuberculosis, & AIDS in places like Haiti, Peru and Siberia, while continuing a medical career in Boston, MA. He creates a team/nonprofit, and puts into action very basic public health initiatives.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when a benefactor who is basically footing the majority of the funding for these projects wishes out loud to join Paul in his work in Haiti. Paul states that it would be a sin for this man to do so. Meaning this man makes a bigger impact by making money to fund the work, rather than doing it himself.

Another particularly interesting philosophy was that treating disease only by what can be seen in the hospital or the clinic ignores a vast majority of contributing factors. What good does it do to give medicine to a person who does not have a source of potable water, or enough money for basic food staples. Let food by thy medicine takes on a whole new meaning, when obtaining it is beyond a family's reach.

After I finished this book, I wondered what to do with this information. For one, I considered how easily I consumed the words and the essence of what was conveyed. It felt a bit like coming home, which is probably attributed to my work in lactation, childbirth, health coaching, and nutrition over the years. I also considered the effect of disease in the home, especially as the cold weather forced my family inside and my daughter was sick. I imagined if someone in the home had such a contagious disease as tuberculosis and what makes it possible to care for an individual without succumbing to it oneself.

As I cared for my family, I made sure to keep up my own nutrition, and even did some exercise. I can't say that I am out of the woods yet, but I feel somewhat confident in my immune system's reaction to a week of exposure to some pretty potent germs. If people who work in public health can withstand the daily exposure to a variety of germs, it is possible to emerge on the other side of this family sickness unscathed.

I appreciate the work of Dr. Paul Farmer and his organization Partners in Health. The model they showed has inspired me to consider how I can make best use of the talents I have, and I do know that doesn't mean a trip to Haiti for me!


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