Given the shortage of resources, Dr. Tom relies disproportionately on makeshift treatments from decades ago.
“This is a Civil War-era treatment,” he said, pointing to a man with a broken leg, which he was treating with a method known as Buck’s traction, using a bag of sand as a weight.
“Sometimes these actually work,” Dr. Tom said. “You use what you have.”
Pope Francis seems to be revitalizing the Vatican and focusing on the needy, and I have a dream — OK, an implausible one — that he’ll journey to this Catholic hospital in the Nuba Mountains as a way of galvanizing opposition to the evil of Sudan’s bombings.
One reason I’m so impressed by Dr. Tom is that most of the world, including world leaders and humanitarians, have pretty much abandoned the people of the Nuba Mountains. President Obama and other global leaders have been too silent about the reign of terror here, too reluctant to pressure Sudan to ease it.
That’s the context in which Dr. Tom stands out for his principled commitment. Dr. Tom has worked in the Nuba Mountains for eight years, living in the hospital and remaining on call 24/7 (the only exception: when he’s unconscious with malaria, once a year or so).
Dr. Tom acknowledges missing pretzels and ice cream, and, more seriously, a family. He parted from his serious girlfriend when he moved to Africa, and this is not the best place to date (although hospital staff members are plotting to introduce him to eligible Nuban women as a strategy to keep him from ever leaving).
For his risks and sacrifices, Dr. Tom earns $350 a month — with no retirement plan or regular health insurance. (For those who want to support his work, I’ve posted how to help on my blog.)
He is driven, he says, by his Catholic faith.
“I’ve been given benefits from the day I was born,” he says. “A loving family. A great education. So I see it as an obligation, as a Christian and as a human being, to help.”
There also are many, many secular aid workers doing heroic work. But the people I’ve encountered over the years in the most impossible places — like Nuba, where anyone reasonable has fled — are disproportionately unreasonable because of their faith.
I’ve often criticized the Vatican’s hostility to condoms, even as a tool to fight AIDS, and we shouldn’t tolerate religious bigotry against gays (which the latest Supreme Court ruling may chip away at). But we also shouldn’t tolerate another kind of narrowmindedness — irreligious bigotry against people of faith. Diversity is a virtue, in faith as well as race.
Certainly the Nubans (who include Muslims and Christians alike) seem to revere Dr. Tom.
“People in the Nuba Mountains will never forget his name,” said Lt. Col. Aburass Albino Kuku of the rebel military force. “People are praying that he never dies.”
A Muslim paramount chief named Hussein Nalukuri Cuppi offered an even more unusual tribute.
“He’s Jesus Christ,” he said.
The chief explained that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk — and that is what Dr. Tom does every day.
You needn’t be a conservative Catholic or evangelical Christian to celebrate that kind of selflessness. Just human.