Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Press
Book Review: "La Clinica: A Doctor's Journey Across Borders"
December 8, 2008 —
It happened again the other day, and you could just kick yourself.
Somebody was looking for volunteers for something, and you – without careful consideration and though you’re short on time and already overloaded – you raised your hand.
Oh, well. Where would we be without community members who affect change, often anonymously, and never get paid for it?
Who volunteers? Can we see a show of hands?
David P. Sklar did. Just before entering medical school, he volunteered to work at a small clinic in the Sierra Madre of Mexico, serving poor farmers who had little. In the new book “La Clínica: A Doctor’s Journey Across Borders” (David P. Sklar c.2008, University of New Mexico Press $26.95 234 pages), you’ll see that the clinic changed that village and changed his life.
David Sklar’s marriage was breaking up. As his wife moved out of their house and into a nearby apartment, and as pictures disappeared from walls and dishes from shelves, Sklar, who was an exhausted, overextended attending physician at a busy Albuquerque emergency room, came across a photo album…
Sklar wanted to be a rabbi when he was a child, but his grandfather told him that doctors made more money. Years later, just before starting school at Stanford, Sklar realized that he didn’t want to make money. It was just after the Vietnam War and the King and Kennedy assassinations, not long after the idealistic 1960s, and Sklar wanted to make a difference.
He’d once read an article about La Clinica, a free clinic for poor Mexican farmers that was established by medical missionary Carl Wilson. Wilson’s infirmary operated entirely on donations, and he gave the villagers basic medical care that they otherwise could not get. Sklar tracked Wilson down, made a small monetary contribution, then volunteered his time.
La Clínica was staffed by locals and run by Wilson, who’d attained nearly God-like status in the villagers’ eyes. Much of the diagnosing was done by reading a book, and treatment was often the “try this and if it doesn’t work, try that” method. Payment came in the form of food or work. When people died, it was often in pain.
Sklar learned much during his tenure at La Clínica. He also learned that Carl Wilson had a secret that would re-surface again and again in Wilson’s life.
If author David P. Sklar ever decides that his medical career isn’t working out anymore, he always has another option: Sklar is a darn fine writer.
While “La Clínica” is a true story, it often reads like a creepy suspense novel. Sklar’s cast of characters will make you smile and some will nearly bring you to tears, but others are so unsettling that you’ll squirm as you read. Sklar’s story moves easily between his life in New Mexico and his past in Mexico, giving readers a peek inside two similar-but-different worlds. This book is easy to read and hard to put down.
Pick up a copy of “La Clínica” and enjoy. For fans of “medical stories” or anyone who loves a good biography, this is a book to get your hands on.
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