5 Harsh Truths You Learn as a Doctor in the Third World

#2. Sometimes You Might Be the Corpse


I have a job and an education and the opportunity to come to America for a while. I'm better off than the majority of people in my country. But violence is commonplace in Venezuela, and some folks start seeing every problem as a nail and murder as just the hammer they need.

"I'm in the mood for a fruit salad; better get out the chopping guns."

A friend of mine in another hospital once faced down a bunch of gang members who brought in their mortally wounded buddy and told him "Save him, or we'll kill you." There was nothing he could do, so he pretended to operate on a dead guy until he was able to get the "patient" to another hospital, where he hoped the police would intervene. Pantomiming surgery for an audience of gangsters is just part of the job description.

But even when you're not getting threatened by your patients, everyone in the country is threatened by "colectivos" -- organizations that aren't even trying to sound like the good guys.

Or look like them.

They're "unofficially" armed by the government and tend to silence people they disagree with by shooting their guns really loudly, so nobody can hear what they're saying. And also by killing them.

#1. The Living Conditions Are Even Worse Than You Think

John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

One morning, a woman asked me how to keep her son from being bitten by rats.

Oh, stop weeping: That's not even the bad part yet.

Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images
Sorry, rabies. You're going to have to settle for second place this time.

I got halfway through the explanation I really shouldn't ever have to have prepared ("elevate the bed, put out rat poison") before she stopped me and explained that she didn't have a bed, and hadn't since 1999, when there had been a flood and the government moved her to a shipping container. That's where she'd been living ever since. On the floor of a cargo container full of rats.

It's easy to feel like your work is futile -- we're patching up soldiers on the frontlines of a war that no one is actually fighting. People are so desperate for basic necessities that standard behavior is "If you see a line, get in it, because it's going to be for something you need."

John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Wait, this line is for wrist tattoos? Whatever, I'll take two."

Once, a representative from the government gathered a bunch of us to go on a penetration (a needlessly graphic name for a publicity stunt that also delivers poor people a whole bunch of medical care, so I'm on board) to "Sector 7." Ignoring the clearly ominous sci-fi title, off we went.

On the ride, I saw a lot of trucks in the distance and smelled a weird, sickeningly sweet odor. But it wasn't until I arrived that I realized we were going on a penetration into a dumpster -- and a whole shitload of people lived there. Nothing says "I'm making a difference!" like treating a guy for a sore throat, only to watch him walk back home to sleep on a pile of diapers.

Related Reading: Speaking of the third world, here's an article about life in cartel-run Mexico. Cracked also spoke with a undercover agent and another doctor with some harsh truths to share. If you've got a story for Cracked, message us here.

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