Three doctors confront catastrophe during a civil war in a central African country. The physician-narrator is new to the jungle and enticed by the power, risk, and control attached to his role as a trauma surgeon. His friend, Stefan, is a gifted French surgeon with years of experience who advocates a "philosophy of disaster." Chaswick is an eccentric anesthesiologist. Headquartered in a Catholic mission, these medical volunteers operate on a large number of injured refugees, many of them victims of brutal attacks by rebel soldiers and armed civilians using machetes.

While performing surgery, the narrator is shot in the shoulder by a young rebel soldier. The doctor's life is spared due to the resourcefulness of his colleagues. As the three physicians escape with their lives, the hundreds of refugees left behind in the medical mission are presumably being slaughtered.


Escape is essential in this short story where everyone appears to be running away from something. The narrator searches for answers that do not exist. The doctors decide that while nothing they do seems to make any difference, they need to try anyway. The trauma surgeons adopt a philosophy that allows them to persevere: each human life has value so saving any life is a victory of sorts. Furthermore, saving a single life ultimately results in saving many more.

The story places an interesting spin on the nature of calamity-- survival strengthens us and clarity sometimes emerges from chaos. The narrator finally realizes that life is about redemption and the various roads we travel to find it. The author of this poignant story is a physician who specializes in public health and has worked in Africa including a stint in Burundi where he witnessed the horrible toll of civil war.

Primary Source

A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies



Place Published

New York



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