Katrina? She was “crazy.” The 2010 earthquake in Haiti: “devastating.” The way Dr. Dan Diamond tells it, “Every disaster has its personality.” The Bremerton-based family physician has dispensed care in the world’s most desperate medical situations. But the aftermath of the typhoon that ripped across the Philippines in 2013—killing 6,300 people and displacing more than four million—was different. In the wake of all that destruction, he watched an atmosphere of “tender mercy” emerge.
What inspires some people to behave generously in the face of loss while others sink into self-pity or take to looting and other crime? Diamond will tackle that question on stage during this month’s TEDxRainier event at McCaw Hall, as he tells the story of the extraordinary behavior—from awesome to abhorrent—he’s witnessed on the front lines of human devastation.
How did you get involved with disaster relief?
It was my fourth year of medical school. My wife and I had just gotten married, and five days later we went to work in a refugee camp in Thailand for three months—which, by the way, I don’t recommend to people who just got married. But it was a great experience because we learned so much on how to do diagnoses when you don’t have labs and resources are really scarce. So in 1994, we formed the Christian Medical Response Team, or CMRT. We ended up providing medical services at big-crowd events. We were the lead medical team for Bumbershoot for eight years and the medical team for Endfest for eight years, and then we did the Creation Festival.
Did you always know you’d be a doctor?
In my sophomore year at WSU, I read a book called Daws about [Christian evangelist] Dawson Trotman, an incredibly spiritual book for me. After reading that I thought I’d go into the ministry. But I decided I would pursue medicine, and if I didn’t get into medical school I’d go into the ministry—understanding, of course, that medicine is a form of ministry.
In the aftermath of Katrina, you were director of the medical triage unit at the New Orleans Convention Center. What was going through your mind when you walked into that?
I’m in major problem-solving mode at that point, thinking, How do I connect the dots? How do I bring the pieces together in a way that will make a difference and help the most people? And I love going into a situation with no infrastructure at all. It’s a mess; we don’t know if the buildings are safe; we don’t know if we have transportation or a supply line. Nothing. I love building in that situation. We can put the pieces together very rapidly.
And what’s it like when you return home?
Haiti was devastating. We had, you know, senior people working on this who had seen multiple disasters in their career, and we all said it was the most difficult thing we’d ever done. I probably cried for three or four months when I came home. But after the Philippines, I came home feeling like I’d been loved. When we would drive down the streets, the Filipinos would line up to say, “Thank you for coming.” I never saw that in any other place in the world.