An American Doctor Packing Scrubs for Afghanistan

My love affair with scary areas in conflict mirrors those in my life. Both toxic bachelors and turbulent areas offer the same chaotic excitement, infused with frenzied passion and intensely exhilarating moments along the way. The travels offered more life lessons, but the relationships imprint more soulful memories. The travels are less painful, but neither have made me bitter; I can raise a glass of optimism to both and still conjure up a smile while reminiscing at the faded memories.

After many experiences in global health in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Palestine, and the Balkans, I am older, but only mildly wiser. I am now plunging head first into a medical trip to Afghanistan working with CURE International. CURE International Hospital of Kabul is not only a hospital that serves 55,000 patients annually; it is also involved in training Afghan doctors. In a noble attempt to place solid roots and plant a self-sustainable hospital that could conceivably continue in the absence of international staff, they offer residency training in Ob/Gyn, Pathology, Family Practice and until recently, Surgery, all of which are recognized by Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health.

CURE is also partnered with Smile Train, Women's Hope International and Fistula Foundation. Its medical care offers hope to a people who have been through too much, a people with a tragic, but proud history, a people who are full of resilience. In a country where the average life expectancy is 45 and the per capita health expenditure is $34, CURE medical staff have been valiantly working for years to provide quality health care to those who desperately need it. My role, a small one compared to those who live there, will not only be to offer health care to children, but also to provide lectures and educational material to the Afghan doctors at CURE, which I am incredibly excited about. When you treat a patient, you treat one. When you teach a student of medicine, you have helped treat thousands of future patients. It is an equation with infinite rewards, and selfishly, I get to partake in this.

I approach this journey and this blog with a sense responsibility, but my intention is not to school you in Afghan history, nor is it to indulge in the melodramatic adventure people like to project onto this land. I will make mistakes, but unlike most who paint this land with a dim and broad stroke of despair and violence, mine will be a genuine effort to simply walk you through my journey in Afghanistan. Hopefully this will lift the residue of manure, left by most mainstream media, on the glasses with which we view this region.

I offer a few dimensions that most cannot: the female perspective, the American perspective, the Muslim perspective and the physician's perspective.

I cannot finish this post without mentioning the fallen medical crew that was killed last week in rural, Northern Afghanistan. Trying to make sense of this senseless and heinous act of violence that has left the world a more destitute place, I engaged in reflection to make a particularly sobering decision. After much thought, I have decided to continue with my trip as planned, except with great caution and leaning on my colleagues more than anticipated. I feel this is where I need to be at this moment in time - offering services alongside my colleagues to a people in need of health care. It's as simple as that. As one of my favorite bosses in medicine, a 72-year-old Southern gentleman, always says, "Life's easy; we just like to make it harder than it is."