Always learning

This week I had a patient with tetanus – one of many diseases here that I’ve (thankfully) never seen in the US. Everyone knows that a tetanus shot is a good idea if you step on a rusty nail, but I think most people don’t really know what is involved beyond that.

I knew about it in theory, but when I was faced with this 10 year old boy who had painful whole-body spasms with even the slightest stimulation I found myself challenged. Was it really tetanus? What should I do? Fortunately I have a nice Tropical Medicine book – sort of the traveling doctor’s answer to Harriet Lane – that outlined the treatments I should administer. We didn’t have half of them, but I was able to at least improve my patient’s condition for a while.

This week has also brought several interesting patients who likely have tuberculosis, though I still think that one of them could have had lymphatic filariasis. TB was more likely, but we’ll never know now. His family decided today that they were taking him home to see a Voodoo practitioner, since they were dissatisfied with our diagnosis of HIV with likely TB confection. I can’t say that I would be happy to receive that news either, but I was still surprised to see the family pack up the (fairly ill) boy and leave.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen parents take very sick kids to be treated by “traditional healers” but it does frustrate me to see patients leave to see these non-medical providers. I don’t blame them for wanting another opinion, but I wish the system were different. As a blan I don’t get to weigh in on these decisions too often, since I “wouldn’t understand.” They already know that I will recommend that they stay at the hospital.

I guess you could sat the intersection of traditional beliefs and trust in modern medicine is just one more of those things I’m learning, piti piti.

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  1. Karen Stockmal

     /  March 6, 2012

    Hi Sara, We’re enjoying reading your blog again now that you are back. Elise needs to do a project for school on a topic related to something international, and she asked if she could interview you about your experience in Haiti. Any chance of getting to chat via facetime or skype sometime in the next week or so? Or she could email you the questions if that’s more convenient. I think her class (8 girls) would really get a lot out of learning about what you are doing. No pressure though – we know you are busy!! Love you! Karen

    • Karen, I would be glad to chat with Elise some time this week. I’m usually available in the evenings. FaceTime or Skype could both work. Just email me which evening you think could work best.


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