“But you bring anti-malarial medication and we were saving countless children’s lives,” he added. “You do what you can and what you need to in the context.”
Yet there were also babies and children who couldn’t be saved, along with the horrors of war. At one point, his group needed to treat 20 women who had been raped when an armed group swept through the area.
“Seeing these things and hearing these stories was horrific,” said Piggott. “What was more horrific was that this was a perennial event. It would happen routinely and people were used to it.”
The most heart-wrenching moment came when he had to tell one of his Congolese colleagues who worked with him that they weren’t able to save his daughter.
She had gone to an unlicensed fly-by-night doctor and ended up with a botched caesarean section. When they tried to save her, they found a piece of colourful fabric had been sewn into her abdomen.
“My eyes just welled up and I couldn’t stop the tears,” said Piggott. “He was really stoic.
“What got me was that he started to comfort me and tell me it was OK,” Piggott said. “The fact that death was so normal to them — he had six or seven other children — that got me in a very deep and profound way.
“There’s a resiliency that I can’t even begin to describe.”
Not all of Piggott’s time in the Congo was grim.
One night, one of his housemates started screaming “We’re under attack,” so Piggott bolted out of bed, prepared for a worst-case scenario that he’d been half fearing would arrive some day.
It turned out to be a column of millions of biting red ants marching upon the house.
“I see the whole ground is moving, like a carpet,” Piggott said.
He stepped into the midst of them by accident and a dozen of them crawled up his pant leg and started biting. He stripped his pants off and started dancing, trying to shake them loose and then he and his colleague convulsed in laughter.
Piggott returned to Hamilton just before Christmas and said he’s a changed man — and a better doctor.
“It certainly brings perspective, things that I saw there that we’d never see here, like a cholera outbreak or cases of diseases you just don’t see here, like malaria,” he said.
“Sometimes here we lose perspective on things, whether it’s tests we think are necessary but probably aren’t, or waiting for special procedures,” he said. “It’s incredible and amazing what we do have. I’ll never take that granted.
“Over there, you get creative. You learn you can actually do a lot with a little.”