Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders,” directed by Mark N. Hopkins, was a unique inside look at the harrowing circumstances that volunteers had to deal with during their mission in a foreign country. We were given the chance to follow four doctors: Dr. Tom Kreuger and Dr. Davinder Gill were on their first mission while Dr. Chiara Lepora and Dr. Chris Brasher were returning doctors in Congo and Liberia. The film was effective because it explored each of the doctors’ psychology: what being a physician meant to them, more through their actions than words, and why being a part of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was an important part of their respective careers. The director wasn’t shy in showing us images that most of us would normally look away from. For instance, there was a man who was shot in the head but, though unconscious, he remained alive. We saw blood pouring out of his skull and the nervous tension in the room was palpable. The upcoming operation verged on horror as the doctors were taken out of their element. In their countries, they were used to having first-rate equipment which allowed them to effectively do their jobs. However, this was Africa and resources were, to say the least, scarce. They would run out of simple things like gloves, a basic defense from contracting diseases and infections, and getting the precise instrument needed to open the man’s skull and relieve the pressure was, sadly, sometimes an impossibility. So the doctors had to result to other means and quickly come up with rather creative ideas to make up for what wasn’t readily available. It was a different kind of tension than, for instance, watching a horror movie. There was something more primal about it because it was real. I loved that Hopkins showed the doctors being angry and frustrated. To most people, Dr. Gill probably seemed like he wasn’t a very good doctor because he often lost his patience and sometimes wouldn’t admit when he was wrong. But Dr. Lepora, Head of Mission, made a point that really made me think. She stated that when a reasonable man was placed in an unreasonable situation, the reasonable course of action was to be unreasonable. Each of them had their way of coping, some liked to yell at their colleagues while others turned to quietly smoking cigarettes, and we have to realize that the doctors who volunteered were assigned to their post for months. Scenes that showed them partying and having fun, completely opposite from being submerged in stress while on the job, was a reminder how much they’ve chosen to given up. Doctors, as much as we’d like to hold them in such high esteem, are humans, too. They doctors in the film are heroes, at least in my opinion, not just because they intend to do good but because they’ve sacrificed every aspect of their lives to be of service to those rendered invisible. “Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders” was educational, powerful, and inspiring. It should be required viewing for those interested in entering any branch of the medical field.

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