North Korea has one of the worst — if not the worst — health care systems in the world. I’ve known this for a very a long time, but this point was driven home for me when one of the North Koreans I spent my day with today, a North Korean doctor, told me the following:

“I was trained as a doctor in North Korea, but feel immense guilt because I was unable to save lives in the very profession that is defined by saving lives.”

He, his colleagues, nor his hospital simply did not have the resources necessary to serve patients. Surgeries like appendectomies without anesthetics; sending patients armed with prescriptions and the hope to find medicines on the black market; “sterilizing” syringes with salt to reuse on the next patient; washing blood-soaked cotton balls for future re-use; storing hospital-made saline solution in beer bottles for patients’ IV are some of the memories that this doctor has of his working days in North Korea.

The sheer multidimensional inhumanity of this country is so unquestionably blunt. I hope that the sweeping quantitative descriptions of this regime — numbers of deaths, percentage figure of the population that’s starving, the pennies that the average North Korean citizen makes per month, the number of people in prison camps, the number failed defections — do not make consumers of this information jaded to the individual haunting experiences that painfully comprise these numbers.

If you’re interested in learning more about this doctor’s story, and those of other North Koreans who are currently doing a tour of events on the East Coast, check out my previous post for their event details!