The Life of One Patient – Memories of Dr. Paul Farmer (1959-2022)

Nathanael E. Hughes*

The Life of One Patient – Memories of Dr. Paul Farmer (1959-2022)

Doctor Paul Edward Farmer passed away on 21 February, 2022 of an acute cardiac event in his sleep at University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Butaro, Rwanda, an institution which he helped found.

Paul and I were so close. I imagine part of it was his trying to grapple with being a medical anthropologist and a practicing physician, having left his family so many times to be in the field with his patients. .

He was devastated when he lost the patient, after trying out different life-saving therapies, interventions, and possible hospital transfers to save the life of one patient.

A few days later, exhausted and in bed to rest for only a few hours, the man who had the world’s biggest heart, himself died away of a cardiac event. Part of me thinks that Paul internalized the pain his one patient was suffering.

Paul inspired so many people and organizations to fight epidemics, social and political injustice, and the basic needs of the world’s sick-poor. He argued for a political economy of death counts.

At times there was a certain world-weariness as he made his back through capitalist foundations and the everyday sickness of needy bodies, just as he was impatient with medical anthropologists. He wanted more, much more from us.
I remember Paul saying that he refused to listen to one more Haitian story of ‘sorcery-sent’ illness when it was ‘for-profit medicine’ that was to blame for the dead.

Anthropol Open J. 2022; 5(1): 16-18. doi: 10.17140/ANTPOJ-5-126