One Life at a Time
An American Doctor’s Memoir of AIDS in Botswana
by Daniel Baxter, MD
Skyhorse Publishing, Inc
Reviewed by Hank Trout
Can one honestly recommend a book even if one was tempted a few times to hurl that book across the room with great force à la Dorothy Parker?
One Life at a Time: An American Doctor’s Memoir of AIDS in Botswana is a remarkable record of one distinguished, skilled, dedicated physician’s courageous efforts to confront the AIDS crisis in Botswana beginning in the early 2000s. Dr. Daniel Baxter had been involved in treating AIDS patients, primarily at the William F. Ryan Community Health Center in New York City, through the 1980s and ’90s. After first becoming interested in AIDS in Africa at the end of the International Aids Society conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2002 he accepted a position to work for the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership in Gaborone, Botswana.
The book details the doctor’s difficulties dealing with an unprepared, unprofessional bureaucracy in the Botswana government’s National Treatment Programme, a constant lack of supplies, medicines and equipment, and a people beaten down for years by AIDS. His first patient is Comfort, a ten-year-old girl with AIDS, whose family decides that she should die (after all, girls with AIDS aren’t worth saving) and take her away from the Gaborone clinic. Other patients, other stories make up the bulk of this memoir, and those stories are indeed interesting and informative, often heartbreaking. The Batswana doctors’ and nurses’ struggles are many, their triumphs are few, but their spirit is indomitable.
One caveat: Seeing the suffering in Botswana, Dr. Baxter confesses to feeling “contempt for the whining, demanding, entitled patients in America.” What?! If you want to be infuriated—not to mention insulted—read the chapter entitled “American Interlude” wherein he complains again about “America’s whining, entitled patients with their…petty complaints.” Dr. Baxter does profess, near the end of the book, “I gradually realized that my previous attitude towards American patients was arrogant.” But to this reader, the mea culpa feels forced, disingenuous, like something the book’s editor insisted the doctor tack on at the end.
Despite wanting to Dorothy Parker the book across the room a few times, still I can recommend One Life at a Time. It might prove some day to be a valuable record of one doctor’s fight against AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.