"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doctors without borders

One of the "perks" of living in developing countries is the vast array of exotic diseases you can catch : malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and a few more. My older daughter got the malaria while we lived in Nigeria. Actually, only a few months before we were due to leave for good, she got so ill we almost had to be medically evacuated. It was the malaria, but the medicines we'd given her (bought in a hospital) were probably fake, and of course, the malaria kept coming back, and each time, she got weaker, her immune system was shot, until finally we gave her a last course of medicine and that one worked. It lasted eight weeks. Poor thing. The way malaria hits some people and spares others is a real mystery. I didn't get it. My child did, and yet, I was probably one of the strictest mothers in our area, making always sure she was back inside before sundown. Some people spend years in endemic areas, and don't get it. Others spend a few days, and they're not so lucky.

When our little one was 18 months, we went to Sri Lanka, and she got the dengue fever there. Now, whenever she has a fever, I'm a mess, because I'm always afraid it might be another dengue. There is no treatment for the dengue fever. And it can kill.

Well, this time, she got the chikungunya. Poor thing woke up on a Monday complaining of pain in her knees. She had no fever then. I took her to the hospital but the doctor didn't think it was serious. That night, the fever began, and she complained of pain in her hands as well. I took her again to the doctor, the following morning, and was told not to worry, and prescribed Paracetamol. That same evening, the fever climbed to almost 102, her cheeks looked like an erupting volcano, and I had to rush her to the emergency room, where they drew some blood to check for dengue or else. It was not dengue, as the platelet count did not go down. More likely it was chikungunya. The good news ? While adults can suffer from terrible joint pains for months afterwards, children recover in a matter of days.

Well, as if I hadn't spent enough time visiting hospitals and doctors, I then came down with a pretty bad throat infection. All this to say that my whole carefully planned schedule for the month of November had gone out the window, and I was prone to mumble and grumble a lot.

But then, last Monday afternoon, I get a phone call from an unknown doctor who tells me about a foreign person who's come to Hyderabad so her 2-year old child can have an open-heart surgery. They were given my number by someone at the local Alliance Française, and wonder if I could help them, as the lady does not speak any English, only French. I say of course. As it turns out, she's not French at all, but Haitian !

It's a rather complicated, but beautiful story, and it ends well. The child was born with a hole in her heart, and while she was being followed by a doctor in Haiti, the parents knew she'd need surgery, eventually. In the US, the closest place for them to go, such an operation costs 40 000 Dollars. Not the kind of money they can easily get ahold of. Then, one day, the mother spots a flyer mentioning an association that helps children with medical problems. To cut the story short, one of the American doctors involved in this association, who's been going to Haiti several times a year to give his time and expertise, works with an Indian doctor originally from Hyderabad, who happens to have gone to medical school with yet another doctor who just opened an hospital in India where they perform the kind of surgery that can save children like this little Haitian girl. For a fraction of what it would cost in the US, needless to say, even if you add the cost of flying the two doctors, the mother and the child all the way to Hyderabad ! And so, this is how this woman and her child landed in Hyderabad, and how we got involved. The surgery went well, and I've seen the little girl, and she's fine and expected to travel back to Haiti with her mother on Wednesday.

Isn't that a beautiful story ? I spent several hours in this hospital room, waiting with the mother and these two doctors, talking about everything under the sun (Haiti, of course, but also health care in the US, life in India, and even the Ramayana and the Mahabharata !) What a relief it was to see the anguish leave the face of that mother, when a nurse finally came in to say that the surgery had gone well.

I have since been trying to catch up with my work, and I do try to mumble and grumble a little less. Let's see how long it lasts...


Nandini said...

What a beautiful story, Katia! It must have been very hard for the Mom to be so far from home, not speak the language, and be so afraid for her child. How wonderful that you were able to help, and how kind of you to do so.

I've had the dengue fever as a kid. I was in boarding school then, and still remember how surreal it all felt, being that sick. And how much I missed my Mum.

Hope your girls are all well now (and you too). Stay healthy!!!

Katia said...

Oh, dear, yes, it must have been awful to be so sick, in boarding school. M. who is always so lively and energetic could only sleep and sleep and shake with fever, poor thing. It's really a frightening disease. I take it that you never had it again ? it's good to know. It's so scary to think that if it happens again, it can be fatal, you know.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope you and yours are all well, too :)

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