here goes everything.

by dr j


we’ve launched high into the clean, blue air.  below, clouds circle.  i read, that for some, it can take years to fall, that they don’t drop out of the air, splash onto the ground, just like that.

speaking of falling out of the air just like that, i would like to get the customary planefear piece of my travel writing out of the way.   for some reason, i am always seated by the wing, and just stare at them as they quiver like feathers.  not thousands of feathers cushioned by millions of smaller ones jutting at different angles from a hollow frame designed by millions of years of evolution, but two  flimsy feathers bolted ono a metal frame carrying a giga tonne of irish spring soap bars. the main problem is that most plane design takes place on the ground.  to make it better, aeronautical engineers should be seated by the wings and piloted straight into the blackest clouds with scratch pads. it would lead to better solutions like plane parachutes, or more wings.

but i’m not an engineer, i’m just a dj, like everybody else.

and a doctor, but i’m taking time fromthat for a year, at least from toronto’s ERs.  i’m flying to ethiopia to keep working myself out of a job. later this week, i’ll be delivering final exams to six young men and women who, should they pass, will be the second cohort of emergency physicians in the country, some of only a couple dozen in Africa.  there are more than that at my hospital.

next week, with friends from Toronto, we will celebrate them at the second-ever African Federation of Emergency Medicine conference in Addis, the first outside of South Africa.  I make a point of saying that because, South Africa has, in some places, for some people, a robust health system that emergency medicine can fit into.  in Ethiopia, these young men and women will have to grow it.  it’s different.  not only do they struggle for legitimacy, but for the right medicines, the right equipment.   in the meantime, they stand beside the beds of people, and watch them sicken when they know it could be otherwise.

it’s a necessary step, however.  there is always a lag between when you glimpse what’s possible, and the arrival.  only one thing that can shorten it.  it is the world’s only true magic: attention.  in its bright light, the world changes.  the question becomes, what do you pay attention to?  love or war? a place for some or a place for all?  with your decision, a future gets pushed slowly into view.

i’ve been coming back here for five years, and with others, paying attention to this idea: a place in ethiopia, open all day and night, where anyone who is sick or suffering can find what peace the environment can afford, no matter how many others have already sought help that day.  in that place, great teaching, not just on the new types of medicine necessary to make good on such a promise, but on how to take it from black lion, to other parts of ethiopia.  jimma, hawassa.  sudan, liberia, sierra leone.

it’s hard to watch old ways disappear.  day to day, change is almost imperceptible.  those of us who have been watching for years can see the slow turn to something brighter.  worthwhile movements seem incremental, almost glacial.  fear crashes stock markets in a day, threats cancel flights in an afternoon.  true love creeps into open space, timid at first, but then with more courage, and when it does, it becomes lasting,  inexorable, unshakable.

i have taken this flight, many many times, and have never seen it so empty.   my return flight was cancelled because of low numbers.  in a familiar collapse of world geography, there is fear about africa in general. the jaundiced eye knows that as soon as sierra leone is ebola free, attention will swing from it to the iwatch, as certainly as the rubble cleaning from port-au-prince stuttered to a crawl a year after the quake. a few countries away, though, 11 young doctors will be working on developing PPE equipment and protocols that are safe, effective, and sourced locally.  at the third annual AFEM conference, they will share what they know, and the ideas will pour into the gaps left behind, the empty tent pads and land cruiser ruts, like liquid metal, and on them, something that can last.

if you can’t pay attention to helping right now, money will do.  we’ll call it frozen attention.  MSF is sweating hard in those suits.  give here.  and for those of you who want to help these young doctors project, stay tuned.  they’ll need love more than ever.  it’s one thing to teach people how to do emergency medicine, it’s another to ensure they can do it.

almost chemical sleep time.  i’m a ninja at that now.  movie, glass of wine, a dollop of this, smidgen of that, and….soon, suddenly, ethiopia.