Dr. Glenn W. Geelhoed, with Patricia Edmonds, Gifts from the Poor; What the World's Patients Taught One Doctor About Healing (Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2011), 262pp.
At the end of his book, Glenn Geelhoed observes that "writing a book dealing mostly with one's self" is an even bigger challenge than his lifetime of remarkable exploits. Indeed, and therein lies my ambivalence about this book. Believe me, his stories are bigger and better than your stories.
In college Geelhoed earned twice as many credit hours as required for graduation. His website lists the initials of his ten academic degrees after his name. Pictures in this book include not only his surgical mission trips all around the world, but also his numerous marathon medals, medical awards, and hunting trophies. Geelhoed is a man "extracting maximum reward from every moment" (176). There's little reflection on his divorce after three years of marriage, malpractice lawsuits ("baseless"), the loss of surgical privileges at George Washington University hospital (an "injustice"), or a failed romance later in life. He admits that he might appear "driven," but insists that he's "called" (262).
I read this book because the title reminded me of something that Mother Teresa once said: "Only in heaven will we understand how much we owe the poor for loving God as we should." It's a paradox that despite Geelhoed's egocentrism, he understands and has lived this insight of Mother Teresa. Many people ignore the poor. Those who do help the poor typically portray themselves as paternalistic benefactors. We see ourselves as creditors and not debtors. Geelhoed flips this self-serving self-portrait: "I'm an American; I've been on the receiving end of a whole lot of advantages and have not even paid back the interest" (189). Yes, Geelhoed is a medical maverick on a mission. He might have been better served by Edmonds (who wrote the book), as was Paul Farmer in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains. I'm not sure I'd want to have dinner with Geelhoed; but I'd be grateful if one of my kids joined him on a medical mission.