Dear Mr. Tracy Kidder,
Curled in the waiting room of the intensive care unit, I picked at the hem of my shorts, breathing in the stagnant scent of well thumbed Reader's Digests and Clorox cleaner. "Come in and see your grandpa," Mom said, kissing the top of my head. A pregnant pause hung heavily at the end of her sentence, weighing it down with words that were expected, but not said, "Come in and see your grandpa, one last time, because it may be the last time." Even silent, that unutterable truth burned caustic and cliché, a phrase too clean for the grimy reality of saying goodbye. I moved mechanically, taking my mother's clammy hand and we walked together through the sliding glass doors stamped with "MEDICAL INTENSIVE CARE UNIT — FAMILY MEMBERS ONLY", past the antiseptic blue curtains and to his bedside.
The descending peaks on the LCD monitor beeped slowly as the person who used to be my grandpa lay still and silent on the medical bed. I winced at the invasive breathing tube that snaked down his throat and left oozy, tomato-red sores on his lips, connected to the ventilator that pumped his lungs to the rhythmic illusion of breathing. Drawing to his side, I took down the side bar supports of the bed, so I could hold his hand, bruised by innumerable IV pic lines and stained yellow with iodine; and kiss his cheek, dry and soft, still smelling faintly of his aftershave underneath the generic hospital soap. Today, just like every other day for the past three months, I squeezed his knobbly hand and told him that the nurses missed his Norwegian jokes since he got the breathing tube; and that it was almost his birthday; and that he missed the Cubs game yesterday, and they even won Grandpa; and that I loved him and it's all going to be ok. Sitting there, leaning over him, I remembered one of the countless passages in Mountains Beyond Mountains, in which "Dokte Paul" knelt on the edge of a patient's cot and told him everything was going to be ok; even if he was dying of AIDS because he could not afford the antiretrovirals, or he was slowly suffocating of tuberculosis because his poverty left him with incomplete treatment and a drug-resistant disease, or just because every odd was stacked against him and he was too sick to get better, like Grandpa was.
Your book brought me a world of comfort during my grandpa's sickness and through his passing. It was all I could do but sit and stare at the waiting room wall, praying that something miraculous would happen, that a test would come back negative and things would finally take a turn for the better. But, as always, when they didn't, I would seek solace in the pages of your book, living out Dokte Paul's fantastic mission and his never-ending determination to provide quality healthcare for every person, regardless of whether the rest of the world thought he should or not. It was the overflowing optimism and gritty tenacity brimming from his story that truly touched my heart. To him, there was always a silver glimmer of hope in even the darkest situations, and it was this sterling faith that I carried with me through my own midnight hours.
Each day spent at the hospital, in the waiting room or by his side, struck a reverberating chord deep within me that rang with a jarring, dissonant truth: we are all subject to disease and it is our uniting mission to fight it and the poverty that it breeds. Watching my grandfather slowly die for three months, I could not pretend I was exempt from this horror. For although I never had to wrestle with the frustration and anguish from a loved one dying because of his impoverished circumstances, I knew the desperation and distress that comes with knowing he is suffering and there is nothing one can do to help. Through my own pain, I could see that this sort of unnecessary death happens too often, and through your book, I could see there was a solution to it. Inspired by the life-changing story of Dokte Paul and his work in Haiti, I now plan to become an infectious disease doctor like him, working in the places where others will not go and serving those whom the rest of the world ignores.
Despite the fact my grandpa died in a sterile, silver-brushed modern American hospital and Dokte Paul's patients suffered under the dusty, tin-roofed huts of the poorest country in the world, they are both bound by the fatal constraints of disease, which erases borders and boundaries in its equalizing devastation. While I could not help my grandpa, I hope that someday I can help the world in the way Dokte Paul does: with a compassionate hand and soft-spoken words of comforting assurance.