When I heard today that six Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian-born doctor were freed after eight years of captivity in Libya, my first thought was "where have I been and why haven't I heard about this before?" My next thought was, "There but for the grace of God(dess) go I."
Sentenced to death for blatantly false charges of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, the seven have been sitting in a Libyan jail since 1999, sentenced to death for their "crime".
No matter that world-renowned AIDS experts confirmed that the strain of HIV identified in the hospital where the seven hostages had worked existed in the hospital long before the seven ever set foot on Libyan soil. No matter that generous healthcare workers roam the world assisting those in need in war-torn and famine-stricken areas where disease and poverty run rampant. These six women and one man were apparently tortured with electric shocks, hung from doors with their hands tied behind their backs, and otherwise coerced into confessions under duress and threat of violent death.
While French President Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia secured the release of the captives, a firestorm brews vis-a-vis Sarkozy's actual geopolitical and economic motives for his efforts on the hostages' behalf.
Be that as it may, seven innocent healthcare workers are now free, although understandably traumatized by their ordeal. With my own plans and desires to some day practice nursing in developing countries where my expertise and training would be most useful to the largest number of needy people, such events are certainly moments to take stock of one's commitment to the inherent risks of such endeavors and weigh the potential consequences of future choices.
Still, I recognize that my inner-city nursing practice itself puts me at a modicum of risk on a regular basis, with other human service providers in our beleaguered city occasionally caught in gangland crossfire, one with a bullet still lodged near her heart. Doing my per diem visiting nurse work on early mornings, I go to a local methadone clinic and pick up methadone to deliver to several home-bound patients. Anyone watching the clinic knows that visiting nurses with badges and lock-boxes leaving the facility are most certainly carrying narcotics. Is this any less risky than practicing nursing in a far-off land?
Risk is a relative concept and term, and we all take risks every day when we drive on the highway. These seven souls freed from certain hell are now reunited with their families and enjoying deep breaths of freedom. My blessings for them in their recovery, and to all those who take risks to do the work that is in their hearts.