Fighting Hepatitis in Cambodia: Big Mind

Sometimes it takes something special to remind you why you do what you do. Theresa blogs...


OK, so here’s a confession: sometimes work gets on my nerves.

I know this isn’t the kind of revelation that merits a neon sign, but in all the MSF blogs I have read (and I think I’ve read every single post since 2012), I haven’t heard about field workers getting annoyed on the job. Certainly I’ve read about insects, bad toilets, extreme heat, and questionable cuisine while in the field, but plain white-bread aggravation? Never.

What makes this blog-worthy is that the kind of annoyance I’m talking about is the same kind that used to get on my nerves when I was working in the US. You think you’re going to leave all of these commonplace problems at home when you go out with MSF, but it turns out they just follow you wherever you go. The sound of a mobile phone ringing in your exam room? Infuriating. The umpteenth patient complaining of itchy skin in hot weather? Tedious. Faulty ballpoint pen? Intolerable!

The truth is that the phenomenon I call my Small Mind accompanies me everywhere. This is the part of me which is easily bored, intolerant of other people’s minor failings, and wishes I were somewhere else. Yet my Big Mind usually steps in to remind me that where I am right now is the somewhere else I wished I could go to when I was annoyed so many times before.

Then Big Mind gives me a pinch to remind me to wake up and appreciate what is going on at this moment, and while I am mentally rubbing the sore spot of this reminder, something amazing happens.

Like this man walked into my exam room, exactly three months and three weeks after finishing direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment for hepatitis C, and I got to tell him that his tests showed no more hepatitis C virus in his bloodstream--which means he is cured.

Doctor Neat and a patient cured of Hepatitis C. Photo: Theresa Chan / MSF.

The woman standing next to him is Dr Neat, one of my Cambodian colleagues. She came into my room to ask a question, saw his face, and said: “I remember him! How did his test turn out?” And I got to share the good news again, and the next thing you know we were all smiling and laughing like it was Christmas and Khmer New Year rolled into one. And then I noticed some moisture at the corners of my eyes while I was laughing and taking this photo, and I wasn’t sure whether these were tears of happiness or silliness or plain gratitude, but it didn’t matter. They washed away some of the unpleasant, sticky residue that Small Mind leaves behind, and left me better than I was before.

I’m writing this to let you know that somewhere in the most annoying day you can imagine is a really amazing day waiting to be discovered. You’d better believe me, or else I’ll send Big Mind over to pinch you.