Dr. Daniel Murphy (23/9/1944- 14/4/2020)
May his spirit rest in peace in Timor-Leste.
Farewell to Dr. Dan
- Great physician with a big, warm heart
by Toru Honda (SHARE)
The man was tall, stout, earnest and smiling. It was October 1999 that I met him for the first time, just after Indonesian military and its subordinate Timorese militias had bolted Timor-Leste (former Portuguese colony) leaving the shambles of their ruthless scorched-land operation. No buildings or houses, including health facilities remained intact. Eighty percent of them were either burnt down or simply destroyed.
We Japanese team brought in from Darwin, Australia, some medicines, medical utensils and a large chair for consultation room of Bairo Pite Clinic, in Dili City. In a makeshift OPD (out-patient department) building, Dr. Dan consulted 300 hundred plus patients on average per day from 7 am to 7 pm, every day except Sunday. So he needed a solid, comfortable chair to sit and work. With fluent Tetun and Portuguese, he kindly and warmly talked with and treated each and every patient.
(Photo #1 : Dan, David Werner and toru in Dili, Nov. 2011)
Dan was born in 1944 in Iowa, USA. His father was also a respected country doctor like the ‘Country Doctor’ depicted in Eugene Smith’s masterpiece photographs under the same title.
All through his days of youth, he was literally a basketball boy and devoted his whole energy and passion into this sport. It is vividly chronicled in his autobiography entitled ‘Breakaway’.
From late 1960s up to early 70s, Dan was kind of trapped in Vietnam War and he fiercely fought against this unjust war. President Nixon intended to invade North Vietnam and almost 1 million demonstrators surrounded the White House to stop him. Dan and his close girl-friend Janet (later she became his wife) were both arrested and temporarily put in jail.
Although he was drafted by the US Navy to go to Vietnam as a novice medical officer, he disregarded this order and became a conscientious objector.
(Photo #2 : Aftermath of scorched-land operation, Dili Oct. 1999)
His father was deeply sorrowed by the fact that his son was against the War. He couldn’t understand why his son had objected to the call of the nation. I hear Dan’s father was engaged in the Pacific War with Japan.
Instead of going to prison for his aversion to military service in Vietnam, he was ordered by the local court to serve as a volunteer doctor for underprivileged populations in California, like immigrants from Latin America, discharged criminals, drug addicts and homeless persons. That’s how Dan got interested in health care for poor people with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and he learned Spanish and Portuguese quickly.
In 1980 Dan and his wife and their two sons went to Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony and served there for 3 years. He was not only devoted in clinical work but also very enthusiastic in nursing education. But alas! He and his family were inevitably entangled in the military invasion of Apartheid Government of South Africa and its local proxy. The family was forced to evacuate from the country.
After getting back to US, he reunited with his father in Iowa and stayed there for some time to help him work as the country doctor. This reunion with his dad, deepened Dan’s respect for him and two persons were eventually reconciled. Dan was amazed to see his father remember all the names of three generation families and their major life events in the community and affectionately mingle with them. Dan was proud to know how much his dad was loved and respected by fellow farmers in the area.
Dan said that he had paid serious attention to Timor-Lest since 1974 when Portugal finally gave up its colonial grip on the Island and Indonesia militarily invaded and annexed it in 1975. Finally in 1998, he was dispatched by civic and Catholic groups in Australia and US to Timor-Leste. On his arrival, he immediately started working in a bloody, hectic clinic attached to Motael Church in Dili. How so? Because social and political situation in the capital had already been quite tense and worsened each passing day. Many people were brought in the clinic with severe injuries by machetes and bullets. Motael clinic was practically the only place in the island that could provide emergency medical services for the population. Obviously, the Indonesian military was not happy with what Dan and his team were doing for the victims. The church had long been the symbol of the non-violent resistance against the invaders and the medical activities there naturally drew in many foreign journalists. In August 1999, during the period of UN-supervised popular referendum, he was forcibly kicked out of the country on the pretext of visa expiration.
One memorable episode in 1999 was when he took me to a boarding care home in Dili where a girl in her teens was staying for convalescence from serious miliary TB (Tuberculosis). She was pulled back from the brink of death by Dan. The doctor affectionately smiled at the girl and I could easily understand how happy she was to be with him.
In autumn one year, when I visited Bairo Pite, the doctor immediately invited me to his room, picked up a thick medical book from the shelf and showed me one page. It was Lippincott’s textbook of Tuberculosis and the page he pointed to, was the photo and the life history of Mori Ogai, one of the greatest literary figures in modern Japan.
Mori was not only the eminent novelist and poet but also Japanese Imperial Army’s surgeon general. In 1887 as a Government-sponsored student overseas, Mori visited Dr. Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch, the great microbiologist and discoverer of TB bacteria, with Dr. Kitazato Shibasaburo in Berlin. He studied for one year under Dr. Koch about Tuberculosis and microscopic examination of TB bacilli by acid-fast stain.
Historical irony goes that after returning to Japan in 1888, Mori seemed to have developed TB himself. This important life event for Mori is depicted in his autobiographic drama, entitled ‘The Mask’. Tragic fact was that the doctor in the drama had to conceal that he was infected by TB even to his family or close friends till the end of his life. In real life, Mori lost his first wife by TB, presumably he transmitted the disease to her.
He died at the age of 60 from renal failure due to kidney TB. I think Lippincott editor wanted to show by Mori’s case how long and how strong TB has been associated with stigma. Even the best scientist and medical officer at the time like Mori had no other way but hold back the fact that he was a TB patient.
Dr. Dan always said that the single most important job for him as a doctor was to diagnose as many TB patients on the island, give them and their families proper treatment and educate the whole community.
In 2006, the country was again thrown into the crisis, this time by different military groups antagonizing with each other. Many soldiers, police officers and civilians lost their lives. There seemed to be communal conflicts of interest in the background. Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate and swarmed around the routes to the Comoro International Airport and Metinaro Subdistrict. We SHARE alongside Bairo Pite Clinic extended a modest support for displaced persons in the refugee camps. Again, I witnessed miraculous power and leadership of Dan in conducting the medical relief activity.
A boy at the age of 4 was rushed to Bairo Pite on one such tumultuous day. Fleeing from crossfires, the boy spent almost one month with his family outdoors in the hilly area of Dare. When he finally arrived in the Clinic, he was in a shock state and lost his consciousness. His temperature was over 40℃. Blood smear proved that he was doubly infected by both Plasmodium Falciparum and Plasmodium Vivax.
Dan was quick to save the boy’s life. He started IV Ringer’s solution and Artemether injection. Two days later the boy got awake again and started talking and eating.
(Photo #4 : Dan at ease reading Japanese Zen book after a busy consultation)
In November 2011, we invited David Werner, another mentor on Primary Health Care for me to Timor-Leste to ask him to facilitate workshops, lecture sessions and on-site visits in Dili and Aileu District. It was the superb workshops for both Timorese people and SHRE staff and we learned a lot from him. In Dili Dr. Dan kindly chaired and translated two sessions by David. Dan always referred to David’s ‘Where There Is No Doctor’ and recommended the book to grass-roots health workers in Mozambique as well as in Timor-Leste.
(Photo 5 : a boy in serious condition from double Malaria infection 2006)
Toward the abrupt end of his life, for a few years, he suffered a lot from financial difficulty keeping Bairo Pite afloat. I don’t know the exact reason(s) why his Australian supporters severed assistance to the Clinic. It was so sad that such a great and heroic doctor like him had to shoulder extra burden of raising fund to keep the clinic up and running aside from his busy clinical work. But I am convinced that he kept his courage and upbeat spirit until his last breath on earth.
Hope Bairo Pite continues to uphold Dr. Dan’s legacy and serve the poor people in the Island.
Please visit the following websites of Bairo Pite and encourage the health workers who wholeheartedly try to follow the path of Dan.
(Photo 6 : David in one of the workshops in Timor-Leste 2011 ‘Gourd-boy doll’ to explain diarrhea and dehydration)
Personally, I wanted to talk with Dan about what was really behind the current coronavirus pandemic. He used to have a very keen awareness on global warming, ecological breakdown and unfair distribution of wealth and information in the world.
Individually we who had an honor to be his disciples, will have to learn from his work ethics and pursue the way to pass his torch to young people wherever we reside and work.
(Photo7 : Dr. Dan’s funeral in Biro Pite Clinic)
With Love and Solidarity, Sayonara Dear Dr. Dan.
(May 17, 2020)