Since the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders is our favorite humanitarian health organization, we were expecting the first documentary to focus on their work to be a heroic tribute to the courage, creativity, and goodness of those medical personnel who volunteer to serve in hot spots of violence, war, and suffering around the world. Instead director Mark Hopkins presents a vivid and unforgettable portrait of how constant contact with death, pain, and savagery can lead to burnout in even the most gifted and compassionate doctors. The documentary, by showing us the real situation this organization faces, increases our desire to donate to this cause!
The settings for this profile of four physicians are the Congo, still caught up in war, and Liberia, where civil conflict has left its devastating mark on the country. We are struck again and again by the breadth and depth of human suffering these doctors witness. In the face of such unrelenting and staggering horror, it is not surprising that they feel inadequate to the task of helping the victims.
Tom Krueger is a Tennessee surgeon on his first assignment who has his hands full handling emergency cases in a place where the doctors' stress is palpable. He admits that fixing other people is his way of coming to terms with what is broken in himself.
Chiara Lepora is an Italian toxicologist in charge of a mission in Monrovia, Liberia, who is distraught about the necessity of closing it down. Chris Brasher, an anesthesiologist in his ninth year of service, is burnt out and depressed; he knows that he is running on empty. Australian Davinder Gill is a rookie trying to cope in a far-away Liberian clinic.
We are told in the documentary that over two billion people in the world have no access to medical care at all. These stressed-out doctors struggle to stem the tide of disease, pain, and the after-effects of war. It is understandable that they self-medicate with alcohol, given the nonstop agony they confront every day, not to mention muck-ups and failures that come when they do not have the proper medicines, tools, or supplies they need. Seeing them doing the best they can in hellish circumstances makes them more human and heroic than ever!