Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World Part I, Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Tracy Kidder

Part I, Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Chapter 2 is set five years later, in the middle of December 1999. It follows Paul Farmer through a day of rounds at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. It describes the hospital's placement in Boston and its neighborhood, then moves on to describe Farmer, who dresses much more formally in Boston than in Haiti. Brigham and Women is a teaching hospital, and Farmer leads younger doctors on rounds to teach them. He quizzes them on preferred modes of treatment, and they spend a lot of time on a patient Kidder calls "Joe." Joe is 35, an alcoholic and a drug user who has HIV. The virus has not yet really begun destroying him, but Joe had lost 26 pounds over the previous few months. Farmer tries to figure out why and eventually suspects tuberculosis (TB).

Farmer spends a lot of time with Joe, talking with him about his life, his health, and his drinking and drug use. Farmer's rapport with Joe leads the patient to share more with him than he had with previous doctors, and they close the encounter with Joe asking for help finding a place off the street where he could fight his illnesses. The chapter ends with Farmer giving Christmas gifts to a number of patients, and then heading to Haiti on New Year's Day. Farmer and Kidder having grown closer, Farmer invites Kidder to Haiti to see his real work.

Chapter 2 shows the other side of Paul Farmer, and how it is like and unlike the Haitian side. Farmer is different in America because of the resources he has at his command, the formal support, and his position in a medical and social hierarchy. He is alike in that his concern is always for the poor and suffering. When someone calls Farmer a saint in Kidder's presence, Farmer denies that he is one—but says it would be a great thing to be a saint. Kidder here emphasizes Farmer's tremendous spiritual ambition, but also how grounded it is in the physical world and, always, in Haiti's suffering.