Monday, December 05, 2005

Sick Patients at Grace Children’s Hospital

“She’s not going to take big breaths, but thank you very much.” John is sitting in front of his first patient of the day, a four-year-old with a slight temp. He has asked her to breathe hard so he can listen to air move in and out of her lungs, and her mother is even demonstrating the technique, but she looks at them both and continues breathing normally.

We’ve arrived for the first day of work at the Grace Children’s Hospital pediatric clinic. There’s been no fall off in business since our last visit; the low wooden benches in the two waiting rooms are crammed with women holding babies and children, a few hundred in all.

Among the children will mild respiratory problems and fevers are some children who if they were in the U.S. would be admitted to intensive care. One delicate, six-year-old girl with short dreadlocks, wearing a blue dress sits on her father’s lap. Her nostrils flare and she grunts as she breathes. The crackling sound of her breathing fills the stethoscope, indicating pneumonia. The question is, what’s causing it: bacteria, a virus, or TB. “This is Haiti, so you think TB,” says John of the country where this disease is rampant. “She’s been sick for a long time. We’re going to see if there’s a bed for her in the hospital.”

The father explains he took his daughter to another doctor who didn’t listen to her lungs and prescribed Tylenol, vitamin C and cold medicine, poor soldiers in the fight against pneumonia. Thankfully, there is a bed in the inpatient unit across the hospital. Grace specializes in treating children with TB. If she has TB, it won’t kill her tomorrow, but a bacteria pneumonia will, so she’ll be treated with a heavy duty antibiotic called ceftriaxone, AKA Rocephin. There’s nothing to be done for a viral pneumonia, and they’ll do some tests to see if she has TB. Tomorrow, kids, we’re going to have a little tutorial on TB; it’s a big killer in Haiti and throughout the world. Let’s arm ourselves with knowledge.

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