The last time I saw Paul Farmer was less than a week ago.
I had traveled to Rwanda to teach the inaugural medical school class at the University of Global Health Equity in Butaro, a rural village. It is a place Paul Farmer helped dream and blossom into reality, a gorgeous, pristine medical campus arising in a very rural area among the beautiful hills of Rwanda.
I did not expect to see Paul Farmer there. I had last seen him at his 60th birthday right before the pandemic. That was a star-studded affair in New Orleans. He seemed comfortable among the rich and famous.
But there he was in rural Rwanda, teaching, seeing patients and spending time with Rwandan colleagues. He seemed more at home. He knew each medical student and gleefully came to the daily morning report — the discussion of clinical cases — with a cup of tea and a bright grin. He said he delayed his travel to Sierra Leone, where his organization Partners in Health has worked for years, because of one patient.
The patient was a young man in his mid-30s, had AIDS, and an infection that arises from end-stage AIDS and a profoundly weakened immune system. The infection had ravaged his body and mind.
In a span of two weeks with treatments, the patient had gone from minimally responsive to opening his eyes and nodding. Paul had cancelled his travel plans to try to see this patient through. He believed the patient would get better and wanted to be around to see it.