Sunday, December 20, 2009

December Tridium

Every day is a holy day, but my first three back in Maseno seem holier than usual. It's often quieter at the hospital in December because family time takes precedence over inconvenient, even life-threatening, illness in Kenya.

Unless, of course, you're Phoebe Leah, who has no food at all and prefers to stay in the hospital with 3-year-old Zedekiah so her son can eat, thanks to our donors' feeding program. (The hospital census is also down during the three planting seasons of the year. Seeds must go into the ground to feed the living, even when some family members are dying.) With fewer patients, we are even more intimately privy to their life stories...

Christine, 37, was admitted to the hospital because of weight loss, abdominal distention and pain. Physical examination revealed a hard tender mass in her abdomen, and ultrasound showed a coarsened liver. Cirrhosis, malignancy or TB? Regardless, she faces a difficult time ahead as a widow with five children to feed.

Phanice is suffering from cryptococcal meningitis. She's been on Amphotericin B, a toxic medication but our best recourse, for 12 days and is improving, but she still needs almost-daily spinal taps to relieve the painful headaches associated with her illness. Her CD4 count is 25. Soon Phanice will be able to go home to her elderly parents, who are struggling to find a way to pay for even a portion of her hospital expenses.

Zablon, 44, is still combative, but his cryptoccal meningitis is also improving on medication. His creatinine is climbing, however, so we will soon be unable to administer more Ampho B. At that point, we will send him home on high-dose Fluconazole and pray.

Peter, 25, was admitted with multiple compound fractures after a piki-piki (motorcycle) accident. We cannot reduce the fractures here and have referred him to the district hospital in Kisumu, but his family doesn't have the money for transport and wants to take him home instead. If they do that, Peter will never walk again.

Over on "Peds," Joash, 4, is recovering from cerebral malaria. He was in a coma when he arrived but is recovering after two blood transfusions and IV quinine. Precious is 14 months old; she, too, is making a dramatic recovery from malaria. Fortunately, their mamas brought them to the hospital (barely) in time. Sharon, 3, is suffering from cutaneous anthrax. The surface of her hard, swollen jaw is covered in pustules which erode into blackened craters. When Dr. Hardison asked, "Are there any sick cows in the village?" Sharon's mama nodded: "The chief sent a man to give all the cows some medicine." Sharon, too, will recover, but it will take two months of antibiotic medication. We pray her mama will be able to purchase it and remember to administer it. She has three other children at home and is the sole support of her family.

Some of you have already heard the story of 9-year-old Silas. While I was in the U.S., he came to Maseno Mission Hospital's outpatient department complaining of a sore throat. Silas and his family live "inside," away from towns and villages. They drink unfiltered river water, and a leech had attached itself to Silas' tonsils. Harvard Medical School didn't teach "leech-ectomies," but Dr. Hardison dealt proficiently with the situation. Silas went home the same day, with simple instructions for clean water techniques.
Same stuff, different (three) day(s). And so we pray.

Meanwhile, back at Rotary House, I'm settling in and "batching" it for awhile. Emmah is home for the holidays, herself, so I'm trying to live up to my most hilarious high school award: "Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow." That, dear friends, was 45 years ago, and burnout has definitely occurred. I can foresee lots more PBJ. However, PBJ is more nutritious than the ugali and greens many Kenyan families will share for Christmas dinner. There may be little food and no presents, but, oh, there will be music! ("If you listened...the words would break your heart. Silence, darkness, Jesus, angels. Better, I suppose, to sing than to listen." --John Updike in "The Carol Sing")

Fortunately, Nan and Gerry have invited me to their house to quietly celebrate -- and both are excellent cooks.

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