In the essay, the narrator narrates the early life of Albert Schweitzer, his noble decision to serve mankind and his life at Lambarene by healing the sick there. Albert Schweitzer was born at Gunsbach, a village at Alsace. His father was a protestant pastor there. He had a talent for music. Even in childhood, he could play the fugue of the famous composer, Bach, on the organ very well. He learnt the organ from Munch and Widor. He studied theology in the universities of Strasbourg, Paris and Berlin. Then he became a lecturer in the Strasbourg University. When he was twenty-one, still a university student, he took a noble vow to dedicate himself to the service of suffering men. As a pastor’s son he enjoyed a good comfortable life. He felt grateful to humanity for that, so he wanted to serve suffering men to repay his debt of gratitude. He decided to enjoy his good pleasant life till the age of thirty and to devote himself to the service of men after that.
When he was thirty, he started his mission by looking after neglected children. He could not do that well. Then he began to do welfare work for beggars and discharged prisoners. But he found, that sort of work could be better done by organizations. He wanted to do something in a personal and independent way. One day he was reading a magazine published by the Paris Evangelical Mission. He found there that there was a great need of medical workers in French Equatorial Africa and Belgian Congo. Schweitzer thought that it was the right kind of work for him. He decided to serve the Africans as a doctor. Schweitzer decided to study medicine and specialize in tropical diseases. It was a very brave decision to give up his present distinguished position as a lecturer, philosopher and musician, and to study for about seven years.
However, he did it. He took a medical degree from Strasbourg and studied tropical diseases in Paris. His wife whom he married in 1912 became a nurse to help him. He then got permission from the Paris Evangelical Mission of Paris to build a hospital in their mission at Lambarene about 200 miles at Cape Lopez. He was offered a house too. Albert Schweitzer at last reached Lambarene in 1913 after a long journey. As the hospital was not yet ready, he kept the essential medicines and things in his sitting room and started treatment in the open space. It was difficult to work in the open. The sun was hot. When the storms came almost every evening things had to be carried to the verandah. After a short time a fowl-house without windows and with a leaking roof was turned into a hospital.
The doctor then needed an interpreter. Though a man named N’Zeng had been engaged, he did not turn up in time. For sometime Schweitzer used any French-speaking African but at last a man named Joseph was employed as an interpreter. Joseph did not mind touching blood and pus though Africans did not like to touch these things for fear of being defiled. Joseph had a very interesting habit of referring to various parts of the human body in terms of the cook-house like ‘This man’s right leg of mutton’ or ‘pain in the left cutlet’. Dr. Schweitzer worked very hard everyday. He started his work at 8:30 in the morning. At first Joseph read out the orders of the doctor asking the patients not to spit near his house, nor to talk too loudly and carry food. Then the doctor would examine the patients with the help of the interpreter but it was difficult.
The Africans would attribute every disease to the worm or an evil spirit. They would drink a week’s medicine at a time or eat the ointment instead of using it on the skin. Schweitzer used a disc, which the patient would wear around the neck. This disc had the number of the patient. The doctor used to write down the name, complaint and the medicine given against the number of each patient in a record book. The device proved very useful, as the Africans did not loose the disc for they thought it as a charm. At 12:30 p.m. the doctor would go for lunch and after that he would play some music. Again at 2:00 p.m. he would start his work and continue till 6:00p.m. It was not possible to work after that as there was no sufficient light and as the area was full of mosquitoes. It was difficult to work in the hot weather in the shed and to go and collect the medicine from his house every now and then. Yet Albert Schweitzer felt rewarded enough when his poor patients smile with delight after being cured.