Saturday, December 10, 2005

Patient of the Week:

A baby who I guarantee you is sicker with curable diseases than any child in the United States—she is one of many in Haiti who holds this title—is sitting in front of us as her mother tries to comfort her. Little Walma at 19 months should really be a toddler, but she only weighs 11 lbs and hardly has the strength to hold up her head much less walk. We can count not only her ribs but her vertebrae too. She has an ominous grunting cough. Her life hasn’t been happy.

While John is examining Walma, Dr. John Francois, a young Haitian pediatrician, is on the other side of the desk seeing a four-year-old boy. As the boy sits on his mother’s lap, he lets loose with not a small amount of urine, the stream arching from his bare penis and splashing on the white tile floor.

Despite this distraction, Dr. John Francois is looking at John’s patient. “What is your diagnosis?” he asks. “She’s dying,” John responds. “She needs to be admitted to the hospital. She’s malnourished and she could have TB or lots of things.”

John gets up and walks around the desk to the sink. I think he is washing his hands, but he is only wetting them. He walks over to the baby and bends over her. “Now, you’re baptized,” he says.

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