The fragility of life

     We have our trip planned home to start our formation for 4 months with Mission Doctors Association in Los Angeles, but the last week in Santa Clotilde kept us more than busy with an in your face view of reality here in Peruvian Amazon. The week was non-stop as several emergencies came in to our Centro de Salud. The first was a child from Cabo Pantoja, the community on the border between Ecuador and Peru, six hours up river in speed boat from our hospital. Italo, a very smart and pleasant 5 year old boy came in with several months of fevers and night sweats with swollen lymph nodes on exam. His likely diagnosis was a lymphoma. We performed a lymph node biospy and sent the sample to Lima for pathology. He was stable during the day but at night due to the compression of the swollen glands in his neck had some difficulty breathing but his oxygen saturations remained within normal range.
    On Wed morning began a 3 day series of difficult stories that I am now reflecting on exactly everything that happened. We recieved a call from our nurse tecnico stationed in a small community 4 hours up river in Rumi Tuni, he had a pregnant lady come in with difficult labor in her 10th pregnancy, she had labor pains for 2 days but came in because of an acute worsening of pain the night before, he felt the baby's head and a tense abdmonen, we knew the patient would need a c-section. So immediately Toni and our midwife left Santa Cloilde in our emergency boat, a delivery kit, and our USB adaptable echo and laptop. They arrived to find a woman in distress with a stillbirth and hemorrhaging, on the echo Toni saw an unusual thing, bubbles inside the abdominal cavity. They started a second IV and pushed fluids and pain meds and started on the way back to Santa Clotilde. Toni called me just prior to departure and we started to prepare the OR for an emergency c section and found donors for blood that was awaiting in the fridge for their arrival. When they arrived we went directly into the OR after she received 6 liters of fluid on the trip down, we started her blood transfusion, antibiotics and a 7th liter, awaited her labs to ensure she did not have signs of severe infection and bleeding issues (DIC in medical speak) and proceeded with spinal anaesthesia and the c section. As Dr. Juan Jon and Toni entered the abdomen they found the bag bulging into the abdominal cavity, a uterine rupture with bleeding, the baby was a stillbirth as expected. The mother tolerated the procedure well and after a difficult repair a tubal ligation was performed to prevent a high risk of death for mom if there were to be another pregnancy. A baby lost but a mother of a large family saved.
     Shortly after Toni left a health post in the town of Tacsha Curaray, that is 2 hours down river from us, came in their emergency boat bringing a gentleman with a right femur fracture. This man was on his farm with his cattle when a rope tied to one of his cattle was on the ground looped loosely by his foot, the cattle startled and stampeded and the rope pulled the man's leg and he was dragged for a short distance. His leg is stable as is his blood count, he will need to go to Iquitos for an operation when we have the means, a doctor free and our emergency boat ready
     That same night, Wednesday, night Dr. Juan was on call and it was busy, 6 admissions, including two very sick children. Juan had a 18 month old child come in with severe dehydration. He started fluids and she started to respond, but still very sick. At 5am another child entered with seizures that were controlled with diazepam and lumbar puncture performed to rule out meningitis. Meanwhile Toni continued her travels as she left a day early on Thursday morning to Iquitos with Italo whose airway compression from his lymphoma worsened and was more critical. After rounds the child with dehydration continued to worsen developed a fever and then started also having seizures. As we tried to look for papilledema we noted cataracts and with mom's history of weight loss (40% of her weight, supposedly) we were unsure if this was a congenital malformation, brain tumor or metabolic disorder leading to the illness. Shotly after we were able to stop the seizure the child went into arrest and despite CPR, ambu bag for air with oxygen and atropine and epinephrine this child died. Our other child from 5am with seizures was getting better. We also had another elderly gentleman with likely lyphoma also head to Iquitos for a consult with the oncologist and a bone marrow biopsy, we also did his lymph node biospy earlier in the week.
     We thought all was settled, I was preparing for my trip to Iquitos to meet Toni for our flight to Lima. I was bringing down 3 more patients to the regional hospital, one as an emergency as he had an open fracture of his arm and two others who had their outpatient appointments, one for vertebral tuberculosis and the other for basal cell carcinoma on the face.
     I was finishing up paperwork and packing when I recieved a phone call at 1am from our nurse Elita in Iquitos saying she was just notified from the hospital that Italo, the child who went with Toni had died in the hospital.  Toni arrived with the patient in the ER and he was stable, attended to by medical interns. Toni was helping them by presenting the story and making recomendations. However there is NO DOCTOR in the emergency room at this regional referral hospital for a city with a population of 180,000 people. The pediatricina did not show up for several hours, meanwhile Toni stayed with the patient this whole time. The chest x-ray of Italo was heart breaking he had a very large chest tumor (mediastinal mass), when he cried his compression was worse and his oxygen dropped. He went to CT accompanied by Toni, no other doctors, nurses nor pediatricians, but he could not lie flat on his back due to his oxygen and shortness of breath. The radiologist was upset he could not lie flat and just told her to "get him out of here" She went back to the room with him and advised the nurse not to agitate him as his oxygen drops and that he needs to be seated not lie flat. He as watching sesame street on her laptop, coloring when she left him. He was dead an hour and a half later. We know he had a very bad, aggressive disease and we are not sure if he would have lived, but he certainly should not have died in a hospital supposedly with the resources of a surgeon to do a tracheostomy an ICU and ventilators.  We are glad to be coming home for a break to mentally recharge before we head back to continue to fight in Peru.

20 Jan 2012

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