Wednesday, 21 December 2011

No rest for the wicked, fourth year UK placements begin!

Foreword! I started this blog post literally a couple of months ago now on my first week back in the UK, but didn't *quite* finish it as everything was super manic then - moving back into a student house near the hospital, trying to get back into the swing of UK medicine etc etc, and now before I quite realised it I have gone months without posting. Well I'm going to catch up now, starting with this blog (the rest on here was written at the time) and then retrospectively catch up with more blogs about whats being going on for me back in the UK. Sorry for the prolonged delay!

31/10/11: Still more elective posts to come, but they are only written enough so far to be a memory jog for me about what I did each day, not in blog form yet! However as of last friday I am back in the UK and didn't want to not write anything about my placements here just because I hadn't finished my elective blogs; will rearrange blog post order later :).

So back in England as of last friday, moved into my unfurnished house on Saturday, straight into lectures as of Monday...Hectic! The unpacked/confused mess of my bedroom is testiment to a busy week, albeit mostly because I have been catching up with various people and training/playing university sport (and after many months away, am in serious need of training!).

I am starting on a 6 week placement on Oncology but we also have GP visits and a research project to undertake and these take up a couple of days a week, so really my oncology placement is only 3 days a week (so just 18 days in total...which really doesn't sound that much when I think of it like that!). Furthermore one of these days is often only half a day.. I suppose this is why all the major specialites like surgery and medicine are done in 3rd year or we really wouldn't know that much about them!

So far it seems like this rotation is going to be a lot less clinical experience and a lot more lectures than 3rd year. I'm not sure how I feel about this, on one hand clinical experience is easily the most interesting part and I don't know how well I concentrate in lectures particulary when they are back to back - I try but am a bit too talented at accidently going into prolonged daydreams and realising I've missed a chunk of lectures! On the other hand though, it means everyone learns more or less the same thing and so no one misses any core information, the downside educationally of clinical experience is that it is so varied that you can learn very different things from your peers and accidently miss things. So swings and roundabouts really!

One of our lectures this week was all about being careful how we portray ourselves on social media sites such as facebook and blogs... The BMA has produced guidelines (you can get them from here if you are interested) on what doctors and medical students should and should not do on these sites after numerous doctors and nurses were suspended after pictures of them "planking" in a hospital were put on facebook. Personally think its a bit harsh that they got suspended, guess sense of humour is a bit lacking in that trust! As long as no patients saw/complained I really think that was just a harmless bit of fun, clearly I'm going to have to be careful what I do in the hospital myself!

Its quite scary how policed our social lives are already, and I don't understand why people can't see that doctors and medical students are human too and entitled to their own lives; but I suppose we have known from day one (literally, I'm pretty sure our first "fitness to practise" talks occured on the first day of medical school!) what we had signed up for. As a blogger the social media talk definately made me a bit paranoid, but I'm pretty sure I change enough minor details and am anomynous enough that I am not breaking patient confidentality. Just to clarify if you think a patient I talk about sounds like you, its very very very unlikely to be, I change basic things like gender and age (slightly) and I never use any specific details that would make a patients identity obvious. And on that note, time to talk about the patients I've seen this week....

The patient that had the biggest impact on me was a man in his early 20's that I saw in a Melanoma clinic. Now the melanoma clinic was an interesting experience because on one hand it was absolutely amazing prinicipally because the consultant I was sitting in with was wonderful and exactly the kind of doctor I aspire to be one day. She was both amazing with the patients and even though she was really busy she took the time to teach me an examination I did not know (how to examine the axillary lymph nodes) and explained patients to me. After the experiences we have had with doctors in the Tanzanian hospital it was a breathe of fresh air to be with not only a doctor who seemed to really know her stuff but one who also seemed to geniuneally care about her patients and did her best to explain things to them and reassure them (where as in Tanzania the doctors barely communicated with the patients and didn't ever appear very empathetic). On the other hand though it was a very depressing experience because the majority of patients we saw were palliative only (it is no longer possible to cure their cancer and now doctors are just treating to minimise their symptoms). Furthermore I saw quite a few palliative patients who were very young - maybe it shouldn't make any difference to my feelings whether the patient is 80 or 30 but whilst I felt sorry for both types of patient it did feel even more horrible with the younger patients because if it wasn't for the cancer they would probably have had years left and instead were having most of their life stolen away.

Accordingly the sadest patient was also the youngest and was roughly my age but had metastatic (the cancer had spread) disease. The doctor was trying to get him onto clincial trials which were looking at a new treatment for his form of cancer (although even this treatment was palliative but may give him longer) but unfortunately as if one form of cancer was not bad enough for a twenty year old, it had been found since that he had another form of cancer. Two cancers in an under 30 year old?? Possibly he has some genetic susceptibility which predisposes him to cancer, but it wasnt discussed. The other cancer itself would be treatable but unfortunately its presence means he is not eligible for the trial for his melanoma.

He seemed remarkably philosophical and optimistic considering the horrific luck that has been thrown his way. I think I would be completely unable to function in his position but he was just getting on with his life. It does worry me a bit though that he was so optimistic because he had not fully understood his prognosis rather than because he is a very strong/resilient person but hopefully this is not the case.

So a very sad clinic all in all but also one where I saw some fantastic medical practice in terms of empathy and really caring about patients, so definitely a clinic I am pleased to have experienced. I hope that one day I can be that good a doctor myself.

Halfadoc xx

Friday, 21 October 2011

Seee time on facebook can be constructive

Seee time on facebook can be constructive!


(Apologies in advance for this post containing lots of textbook style medical detail, its quite difficult to explain the situation without it!)

After being in delivery ward very late for two days running (yesterday we left at gone 2 am and the day before was gone 1 am) and still being in for the 8am ward round I was very very tired this morning. To be honest I was planning on going home after the morning meeting for a few extra hours sleep as otherwise I felt I would be too tired to be useful - not skiving really considering how many extra hours I have done in the evening I figured. However in the end I did not because I actually felt I was too needed/ could genuinely alter a patients outcome quite drastically by suggesting a form of management that wasn't currently being done (not something you ever really feel as a med. student in England!)

Basically there was another lady with eclampsia in labour room (2 in 2 days :S) but unfortunately this lady was not term, she was only 30 weeks pregnant. Eclampsia is very dangerous for both the mother and the baby (maternal mortality of 2% and fetal mortality of 15%), and the baby has to be delivered as soon as the mothers condition is stable enough regardless of how premature the baby will be. The patients condition was being controlled reasonably well (At this point anyway.. A few days later the mother still had very high blood pressure and was supposed to have half hourly checks and instead the doctor discovered her blood pressure hadn't been checked for over 2 days! She had a go at the nurses about this which was kind of fai

r enough but at the same she should really have done a ward round on these two days or at least have reviewed the serious cases like this lady then she would have noticed the lack of monitoring sooner.) The management of the baby however was basically being ignored and apart from fetal heart sounds being checked I felt the baby was pretty much being viewed as a write off.

Even in England 30 weeks is pretty premature but not so pr

emature that the baby doesn't have a reasonably good chance of surviving with the help of all the high tech neonatal treatments that are available. I have been on a neonatal ward round in third year and saw extremely premature babies (from about 24/25 weeks) and all the incredibly sophisticated technology that is available to give them the best possible chance of survival. Here however there are no ventilators, no incubators, no UV light treatments for neonatal jaundice, no pulse oximeters and no machines that bleep warnings if the babies condition deteriorates even slightly; it is very different. In short if a baby is not strong enough to survive with the aid of a bit of (usually badly done) CPR, some antibiotics and a warm room then there is nothing else that can be done for the baby here and it will die :(. This doesn't mean there is nothing that can be done for the baby at this stage however; in England if there is threatened preterm birth before 32 weeks then the mother is given two doses of corticosteroids over a 24 hour period.

At 30 weeks a baby has not yet usually produced surfact

ant. Surfactant is a liquid produced in the lungs that reduces surface tension and so stops the air sacs of the lungs from collapsing. In premature babies that have not yet produced enough of this liquid, the surface tension is too great so the baby develops respiratory distress syndrome. This often needs treating with oxygen for about 5-10 days and sometimes a positive pressure respirator.... Hard enough to treat in England but here in Tanzania where there is only 1 oxygen machine for the whole hospital and no positive pressure respirator, I doubt any premature babies with this condition survive. However if the mum receives corticosteroids like in England as soon as there are signs that premature birth may occur then the condition can be prevented from arising in the first place. Corticosteroids increase synthesis of surfactant over 1-4 days and therefor

e effectively mature the babies lungs so that they have better chance of being able to breathe independently if the pre term delivery does occur. The type of steroids that are needed are available at this hospital so technically this is one easy thing that the doctors can do to reduce the number of premature babies that die (I think though I'm not sure that at 30 weeks like this baby with corticosteroid treatment and then after birth a warm room then the baby would stand a reasonable chance of surviving and not having any long term consequences. Maybe I am being optimistic though, I'm not a neonatologist!). All very well in theory...

In practice when I asked the doctor if she had given the lady corticosteroids for the babies lungs (I figured if they were not going to deliver the baby yet anyway then there may be enough time for the steroids to have a positive effect on the babies lungs), she didn't even seem to know anything about using steroids in threatened premature labours... This is quite shocking when its one of the few things they could do here to improve the outcome for premature babies (and I've seen them try to delay births using drugs that can

slow the labour down by only a day or two - virtually pointless if they are not using that extra day or so to give the steroids time to work!). So I explained the concept of using steroids in this situation as best I could (bearing in mind I hadn't done any research at this stage so was based on very foggy memories of what I learnt in 3rd year!). She seemed to understand the general idea though but asked if steroid were contraindicated at all in eclampsia/ would make the patient even more unstable. Hadn't a clue about this - only had a 4 week ob/gynae placement so although eclampsia is also common in England I haven't seen a case of it let alone a case similar to this one so I could know whether or not they would give the mother steroids. So in order to persuade the doctor to give the steroids I needed to research and find out for sure if steroids are safe in Eclampsia. Sounds easy but this is Tanzania and nothing is straightforward! The problems are that:

1. I only have a limited amount of textbooks with me and there i

s no library here and just a few very outdated textbooks. In my textbooks I could find information on giving steroids in threatened premature labour and information on how to manage eclampsia but nothing that linked the two.

2. The internet here is so slow that I'm pretty sure its being powered by a hamster running on a wheel. And the hamster probably only has 2 or 3 legs. It often takes over 10 minutes to load a page in the morning (quicker in evening) so not exactly speedy research.

3. The webpages I was finding kept talking about giving s

teroids in pre eclampsia in case delivery has to be done and didn't refer to eclampsia at all. I think this may be because A) Patients are monitored very regularly in the western world so the condition is more likely to be picked up and managed when it is pre eclampsia rather than presenting as full blown eclampsia and B) I think they might be a bit better at managing eclampsia in England so maybe the patient is stabilised more quickly/ the surgeons are better at recognising when the patient is stable enough to perform an emergency c section. If this is true then the baby may be delivered too quickly for the steroids to have a chance to take effect.

4. The clock is ticking! To be effective the mum needs to be given the steroids at least 24 hours before delivery and as I did not know when the mother would be induced/ have a c section (as this would happen as soon as she was stable enough), it felt like every minute was counting.

The solution? Facebook! Seeing as the internet was taking so long I decided to ask whether any of my medical student friends knew whether you could give steroids to woman with eclampsia / could any of them research this for me! Cheeky request but it worked much quicker than my research on the antique internet was, soon I had printed out info saying that giving steroids in eclampsia was ok. So turns out facebook is not just for procrastinating!

I rushed to labour ward to give the printouts to the do

ctor only to find out that although they had been trying for some time they had not been able to find a fetal heart beat. Oh. AJ and me tried again for some time because they only have Doppler machines here (and a rubbish old one at that - one of the other medical students had donated a nice new Doppler machine that had been one of her wedding present requests and just 4 weeks later it has now gone missing and is suspected to be stolen - who steals a Doppler machine from a poor hospital?!) and unless you listen in the right place you can easily miss a present heart beat. However having listened in lots of areas in case we had misinterpreted the babies position (the best place to listen is the babies anterior shoulder), we were forced to concede it really did look like this baby was one of the unfortunate 15% that die :(.

Gave the notes on eclampsia and steroids to the doctor anyway and explained them. Won't help this baby anymore but maybe she will remember them next time there is a pre term lady with eclampsia or just a threatened pre term labour in general. Probably not, but can always hope!

So bit of a stressful and sad morning in the end. Afternoon however I slept, and it was good (and actually well deserved I think!).

Halfadoc x

Friday, 7 October 2011

Houseman's friend /I will make a vampire yet!

29.9.11 :

1.30am! In labour ward with a patient who is about to go to caesarean as although she has been fully dilated for the last 4/5 hours, she is not having strong enough contractions (in spite attempting to increase with an oxytocin drip) and the baby’s head is still high. Before caesarean the mum needed to have a blood group and Hb test so needed to have blood taken...

As I have said before I realllllly wanted to practice taking blood as I have both not had much chance to practice in England, and am yet to be fully successful at taking blood from a patient (have managed to take it from another medical student in the blood taking workshop but then I deliberately paired up with someone I knew had big veins!) without at least a little help from someone else. In other words have failed at the few singlehanded attempts in a clinical setting that I have had (see blog: A failed vampire).

Was hesitant at asking to take this patient’s blood tonight though because after another late finish yesterday (and no power nap as planned!) I really very tired so I figured I would be more likely to make a mistake / fail to get blood. Decided I might as well try though (with so few blood tests available here, practice is not that readily available).... And I managed, by myself, with absolutely no problems and didn't have to jab her more than the once: D

Took the blood from a vein on the wrist that an F1 told me in 3rd year has the nickname Houseman's friend because it is a good option for both cannulating and taking blood. Glad that F1 showed me that vein as in this patient at any rate it was definitely a good one!

Woooooo one patient’s blood taken!

In other news another patient gave birth earlier as well to a baby which weighed an eye watering 3.7kg - ouch!

Halfadoc x

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pictures of a caesarrean (warning, gory!)

28/9/11 This blog is a work in progress as it will take some time to upload all the pictures I want on it using the internet here but I'm going to start! Eventually it is going to be a step by step picture blog of a caesarrean I saw today - so it is not for the faint hearted! Faces have ridculous shapes on them to shield identities crimewatch style! The patient was having an emergency caesarrean due to Eclampsia (a condition where the patients blood pressure is very high and leads to fits. This condition is very serious for both the mother and the baby).

The patient is anaesthised using ketamine (even though before the operation the doctor said ketamine would not be used because ketamine itself can cause high blood pressure and therefore worsen the patient's condition).

The caesarrean is in progress. Here caesarrean's are done by a midline (also known as classical) incision. This type of incision is not favoured in the UK as it does not heal as well and it more likely to rupture in future pregnancies.

Because the patient has eclampsia her blood pressue is checked very regulary throughout the operation. Fortunately it remains stable although still a little high.

The patient is given dextrose throughout the operation to replace some of the fluid that is being lost during the operation. With no diathermy available here (diathermy stops bleeding from small vessels) blood loss tends to be greater than in the UK. However they also have a severe shortage of blood, so unless bleeding is vast, patients are only given IV fluids to replenish fluid which is lost. Sometimes even when bleeding is vast, there is no blood available for the patient... Fortunately this patient did not bleed too much.

The doctors reach in to try and pull the baby out!

The baby is delivered! He initially scored low on the Apgar scale and needed resuscitation (no pictures of this - a) it didn't feel right as it was uncertain initially if he would pull through and B) I was assisting a bit with the resus. He was doing a bit better after resuscitation and is now in the baby room for extra care).

The patients that made me look foolish/ Eating humble pie

The patients that made me look foolish/ Eating humble pie

27th September 2011:

On todays ward round we saw young girl that Aj and me saw in OPD on the 20th. This is the girl that we felt had HIV complicated by PCP but had to persuade the clinical officer that this was a possibility. She now has been diagnosed as HIV positive and her chest x-ray was indicative of PCP. So an accurate diagnosis by Aj and I but not a great one for the girl. Poor kid :(. But this accurate diagnosis was more than balanced out by a complete diagnostic fail...

When we were sitting down waiting for the doctor this morning we saw a girl walk past on her way to the loo with the bizzarest gait I have ever seen. There's no way I could describe this walk accurately but it involved weird rhythmic arm motions and head movements as well on occasion. Her balance appeared poor and she looked in risk of falling over. We immediately went to look at her notes to see what her diagnosis was and were shocked to see there was nothing about her walk in her notes. We alerted the doctor to her walk and the lack of notation as soon as he arrived on the ward, and he then discussed the patient a bit with the nurse in Swahili before telling us the cause of her walk was psychological. Having seen so many patients recently who were diagnosed as their illness being "psychological" without adequate investigation I was outraged at this and struggled a bit to not make it obvious. I listed off all the possible causes of chorea (jerky involuntary movements that are "dance like" and usually effect the head, face and limbs) as this is what I thought maybe the girls walk could be and was saying to him he should refer her to a neurologist if that is possible here. He laughed at the idea and said he was very experienced in this condition and she was a student and probably wanted to be sent home to her family so it was psychological. I was pretty scornful about this to be honest but I decided to keep quiet and wait till we saw the patient before saying anymore.

Halfway through the ward round the doctor pointed out that a different girl of about 18 was walking up the ward with exactly the same bizarre walk and told us she was from the same school as the first patient... this was a bit suspicious but I was still thinking that maybe one of the patients could be actually ill and the other one just copying her friend for time off school as well. However when we saw the patient it was obvious that the doctor was actually right, as both girls were not particularly brilliant actors and kept bursting into fits of laughter. Plus allegedly they both developed this inability to walk normally very suddenly in addition to abdomen pain at the same time the day before. Not the most convincing story, maybe next time they should just fake a headache. Not a psychological illness either I reckon, just plain bog standard skivealitus. Oh dear, sometimes you have to eat humble pie and laugh at yourself!

The doctor was aware of this but his management plan for the patients was still to keep them in hospital and give them valium. He said the condition would not go away if he sent them back to school…. Well it’s no wonder the teenagers here fake this weird walk a lot (for one of the girls this was the second time she had) if each time they do they get admitted to hospital and given valium! Unfortunately after debating the diagnosis for so long with him I think I had somewhat ruined my credibility for arguing that they should be discharged and not kept in hospital.

In other news

Sadly the patient I talked about yesterday with tetanus has already passed away :(. Lots of horrible diseases here and not all of them are tropical. Stay up to date with your tetanus vaccinations!

Halfadoc x

And where should I stick my finger?

And where should I stick my finger?


This morning in the ward meeting, Dr M taught the staff that were present about indications for c section (which causes are absolute and which are just suggestive that a caesarean may be required) and how to use a vacuum device for removing remaining products of conception after an incomplete miscarriage if it had occurred before 12 weeks. It was good to see some teaching occurring here but I’m not sure how well some of the other doctors understood as I watched one of the doctors practicing with the device and he did not set the vacuum up in the way Dr M said and so could not work out how to use it. Hopefully some of the other doctors understood and will use the device in future though (Dr M said that it was better than the traditional method for removing the products of conception as it does not require general anaesthetic so is safer).

The incomplete evacuation device that Dr M was trying to teach the other doctors to us ------------->

The different tubes are so that the smallest possible tube which creates the vacuum can be used thus minismising discomfort to the patient

Today rather than going on specific department ward round, went on a general review of specific trickier cases with several of the doctors. Was a pretty interesting ward round as a result because it was the more difficult/less standard cases that we were seeing.

Firstly was a young man who had fallen from a tree 1 week ago and injured his knee. He had been fine initially but now had been admitted to hospital with symptoms of hyperextension of his neck, neck stiffness and convulsions. Since admittance his consciousness level had deteriorated and it had been noticed by the doctors that the wound on his knee was very dirty looking. His symptoms combined with his dirty knee wound point to a quite likely diagnosis of tetanus. Tetanus is another disease which unfortunately has a high mortality even with perfect treatment. Gold standard treatment of tetanus would include giving the tetanus immunoglobin in addition to giving metronidazole or pencillin. Unfortunately here they do not have the immunoglobin so the best treatment they are able to give the patient is metronidazole. He has the classical symptoms of tetanus - convulsions involving arching of body and hyperextension of the neck, so is unfortunately pretty likely to have caught it, will just have to hope he is one of the lucky ones outcome wise.

We saw the boy from Friday, (patient four, blog : Operating on the wrong patient ) despite a blood sugar being requested by the other medical students before the weekend (because they felt DKA was one possible cause for the boys symptoms) it was yet to be done. DKA is a condition type 1 diabetic’s get where their blood sugar is dangerously high and results in the patient deteriorating into a coma within a few days. The doctors decided to prescribe a dextrose drip because the boy had not been eating, and when we asked if they shouldn't do the glucose test quickly first they said it would be too long a wait because unlike in Europe they did not have a portable glucose testing machine. Very very shortly after this statement, the lab tech appeared with... a portable glucose machine. Hmm guess the doctors aren't too clued up on what the hospital does have! In spite of the conversation we had literally just had however, the doctors directed the technician away to a different patients bed who also needed his blood sugar checking and the boy still would not have had his checked at all if we hadn't asked the technician ourselves to come and check it afterwards. Argh! It was in normal range though, so not DKA at any rate.

Another aggravating case was a four year old girl with a very swollen face which the doctor presenting the case reported as being due to a fall...well yes it technically was a fall but he missed out the bit about it being from a moving motorbike. A bit different.

Went to minor theatre later where we saw some interesting stuff. Saw the male patient with ?cervical cancer... Which apparently was meant to be ?prostate cancer so the patient was in minors for a digital rectal examination (the definition of minor theatre is a little different here!). The doctor felt the prostate was enlarged and got us to have a feel as well, first pr examination! I was glad Aj went first because ...well.. Gravity and old age had taken its toll on the patient’s muscles a bit and it wasn't immediately obvious where his anus was! Aj had to ask where she was meant to put her finger, think I would have been too embarrassed to so I'm glad she went first! Felt a bit bad being the third person in a row to examine him though because here they do not use lubricant so must have been pretty uncomfortable for the man.

Final patient in minors was the man who had had his arm bitten off by the crocodile, he was there to have the wound washed again and then be redressed. The wound looked really really really bad (and smelt even worse!), it is clearly very infected, and the bone is fully exposed with a lot of pus pretty much dripping off around it. I really can't see how that will heal without surgical amputation of more of the arm stump - currently the amputation is literally just that which was taken by the crocodile + debridement of dead tissue. They are not currently planning on removing more tissue instead he is receiving antibiotics and having daily wound cleaning with hydrogen peroxide (which looked incredibly painful for the poor man). Hope that is enough because it looked like the infection was spreading further up his arm :s.

Halfadoc x

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Operating on the wrong patient

Operating on the wrong patient

23/9/11 :

Found out the three year old with ?rabies died yesterday afternoon :(. Very sad and no one here was expecting her to deteriorate so quickly; in many ways probably for the best though as rabies can be a very long drawn out painful death which would have been more distressing for both the girl and her family. Still very sad though.

Quite a few interesting cases/scenarios today:
1. Saw an x-ray of a 6 yr old male who swallowed a 200tsh coin (the widest coin here - about the width of a 50p but circular) and as shown by the x-ray, it was lodged in his throat. X ray was pretty amazing to look at as you can see below!

- A 200 tanzanian shilling coin stuck in the oesophagus of a 6 year old.

2. Saw 2 patients who had been suffering from a hydrocele (a fluid filled sac surrounding the testicle resulting in swelling of the scrotum) - one had been operated on and one was still awaiting an operation.... Turned out that the patient who had originally been booked in for the operation was the one who had not had the operation because the doctor had got confused and when he saw another patient with the same condition, who was about the same age, assumed it was the right patient without checking the name! Good thing it was at least the same condition so the treatment was correct I suppose - otherwise the second patient probably wouldn't have been too pleased to have an unnecessary op. on his testicles!

3. Saw a patient who had needed a splenectomy due to trauma. The spleen is an important part of someone’s immune system so in England patients who have had a splenectomy are put on impaired antibiotics for life to prevent increased infections due to its removal. The other medical students bought this to the doctors attention and although initially he said lifelong antibiotic treatment was not possible here, he did in the end decide to give the patient a 3 month course of prophylactic antibiotic which although far from a lifetime (hopefully!) is better than nothing I guess!

4. A 15ish year old boy who was semi conscious, had massively increased muscle tone, was having small seizures and his mum said he seemed to "be fighting off monsters" during the night - hard to tell if she meant he was awake and having hallucinations or was having nightmares which he was acting out. He also had a wound on his foot. Doctor’s diagnosis? Cerebral malaria or "mental case". Lovely. Though they classify epilepsy as a mental illness here (which is another rant entirely!) and I suppose that is one of the possible differentials though probably not the most likely.

5. A patient with poisoning which no one seemed to know whether was accidental or intentional. Could have been a suicide attempt, could have been a murder attempt, and could have been an unfortunate accident. But the doctor stated the patient was epileptic so he had probably taken the poison accidentally because he was confused... Reduced alertness is a symptom of epilepsy (e.g. during or after a seizure. In one form of epilepsy the seizure does not involve convulsing but just a period of reduced alertness), but confusion where the patient can still move and do things like take a poison? Not a common symptom of epilepsy as far as I'm aware. Epilepsy is a very stigmatized condition here.
6. A MALE patient with ?Cancer of CERVIX written in his notes. Stunning diagnostic skills as ever! Apparently they probably meant prostate. Hope this was an English language fail rather than an anatomy knowledge fail!

Well I will say one thing about the average day here, it's never dull!

Halfadoc x

A three year old with rabies :(

A three year old with rabies :(
22.9.11 :

Very very sad case on the paediatric ward today; a 3 year old girl who had been bitten on the neck by a dog which was suspected to be rabid, six days ago. The dog had being acting excessively aggressive and frothy at the mouth so is quite likely to have had rabies. It had since been killed but not tested to see if it did indeed have rabies.

The girl had only just presented to hospital which is unfortunately too late even if the hospital did have the rabies treatment (which they do not yet, though they are trying to get hold of some to give to the girls family who will be potentially exposed whilst looking after the girl). Rabies is 100% fatal without treatment :(. To have a high chance of success the treatment should be given within 24 hours if the patient has not had prior vaccination against rabies; sometimes treatment is attempted later but if the individual has already developed rabies symptoms then it is too late.

The girl when we saw her was extremely twitchy and agitated in appearance, had obvious hypersalivation, her temperature was 39 degrees and she had vomited multiple times. Hope like hell these symptoms are a coincidence and she has a different treatable condition and the dog was not rabid at all.... But unfortunately this is rather unlikely and it takes very little medical knowledge to realise her symptoms combined with the bite, point to a high chance of rabies. She will probably die within a few weeks (most likely 4-5 days) and she’s only 3. It sucks big time and that is putting it extremely mildly.

In England someone with rabies would be isolated and barrier nursed and all staff would receive rabies vaccination just in case. Obviously that is not possible here, so I hope because she is only little she will be restrained ok if she develops the aggressive features of rabies otherwise the disease might be spread to someone else.

Rest of ward round pretty standard. Several other patients who had confusing symptoms given the differential cause of ?psychological today based again seemingly on simply the doctor's confusion as to the actual cause rather than any psychological features. It’s so unbelievably irritating and frustrating and I wish I knew more medicine so that I could diagnose these patients but realistically without some of the basic investigations they lack here then it is very difficult to do so. Basically if you do not have a classical presentation of one of about 4 diseases here then you are screwed. Today’s been hard and 6 weeks at this hospital feels like long enough the way I feel right now.

Halfadoc x

Cannulation success!

Cannulation success!

21.9.11 :

Today we were in maternity again. Quite an interesting day in that we got to see a vacuum assisted birth for the first time here (have seen one previously in England). The labour was not progressing quickly enough and the baby was starting to go into foetal distress - as shown by heavily meconium stained amniotic fluid that was released when the doctor ruptured the membranes, so the doctor decided to use the vacuum pump (ventouse delivery) to get the baby out. It was good to see something being done quickly about foetal distress for once! Aj had to pump the device (it is manual here rather than suction occurring by electricity like I think it does in the UK) and she was terrified she was going to pump too much and detach the babies scalp as this is a rare complication of using a ventouse. Fortunately this did not happen and the baby was born completely healthy, so good management by the doctor of this birth :D.

Second patient in maternity also had slow progress of labour in that she was not having regular enough contractions so it was decided to give her some oxytocin (promotes uterine contractions) and dextrose (literally sugar for energy). For this drip she needed a cannula put into one of her veins so I asked the midwife if I could have a go under her guidance. I’ve tried once before to get a cannula in while I’ve been here but last time although I initially got it into the vein, it came out before we had it properly secured as the woman was moving her arm about a lot with a contraction. I’ve never tried to cannulate in England except for on a prosthetic arm during a workshop, so I really wanted to get practice doing this while I was here. With help from the midwife (I did make a fair few initial mistakes and definitely needed her guidance) I got it in - Wooooo!! Glad to have one successful cannulation under my belt now – means if a patient asks me in England if I have done it before I can legitimately say yes!

- A cannula being inserted (Not by me! A) I wore gloves and B) my hands were probably shaking too much for a clear picture!)

The midwife also showed me how to do the quick HIV status check on the patient (involves just a finger prick and a test otherwise much like a pregnancy test) as this patients notes said that she was POSITIVE and the midwife wanted to double check. This test showed her to be NEGATIVE. Well I don’t know what the accuracy of the test is but it is pretty shocking if this lady has been told that she had HIV when actually she does not. I hope that was not the case and that the notes had just been written wrong!

She ended up needing a caesarean later in the evening as her labour still was not progressing enough. I watched the operation and the baby was born with a low Apgar score again and required CPR which I assisted in. This time I tried to make sure the CPR was done to the right guidelines and tell the midwives (I was doing the chest compressions so did this to the right number but the midwife was bagging to the wrong number again so I tried to tell her in a polite way what the current guidelines say the ratio should be) what these are…. It didn’t work, they ignored me. So I guess I have my answer to whether in the case of the baby who died (Blog: First do no harm and Who is to blame?) I could have made a difference; realistically they probably would not have listened to me then either. At least I tried to get the CPR done right this time though. This baby did start crying though and his Apgar score improved so I hope he will be ok.

Halfadoc x

Friday, 23 September 2011

The awkward moment when you have to tell a senior doctor he has put his stethoscope in the wrong way round


Today we started in OPD with one of the clinical officers. I know I over use the words “frustrating or frustrated” in my elective blogs, but yet again that’s how this morning left me feeling. The clinical officer we sat in with is not what I would describe as one of the better ones so lots of patients we saw whilst sitting in with him received treatment that was not ideal even for here; however the case that really frustrated me above all the others was that of an 11 year old girl who was presenting with a 1 week history of cough and abdominal pain.

Whilst she might only be attending OPD with a one week history of illness that doesn’t mean you should ignore blatantly obvious signs that the child had been also suffering from some form of severe chronic illness. The girl was mostly carried in by her mother and her legs were absolutely stick thin (and I’m not talking just naturally skinny thin) with obvious muscle wasting. She was completely malnourished. The clinical officer recognized this but only when we pointed her legs out to him – otherwise he was just going to address the problem of her acute symptoms in spite of such obvious malnutrition. Even when we suggested to him that perhaps she was suffering from chronic immune suppression and had been ill for some time he kept just saying she had only been ill for a week.

Eventually though he did ask the questions we were telling him he should (such as has anyone else in the family been ill and have her parents ever been tested for HIV). Turns out her father had died "of a cough" shortly after the girl was born (probably TB or pneumonia secondary to AIDs - both are relatively common opportunistic infections that immune compromised patients suffer and die from). So we said he should test the girl for HIV and he replied he couldn't because she was a child. When AJ and I both simultaneously exclaimed why not he didn't really have a reason for us, and we have since seen other children being tested so not sure what he was on about here! Eventually he agreed that maybe the mother should be tested and finally asked her if she had ever been tested before. Turns out she had been diagnosed as HIV positive a few months back! Why had it taken one of her children to become ill for HIV testing of her children to be considered??! It really is truly baffling.

At least the girl in the end got taken for a chest x ray for ?tb and has been admitted to the paediatric ward. I hope she does get tested for HIV and if it she is positive (sadly I really think she will be) gets the antiretrovirals that she could have done with starting years ago.

The rest of the morning we spent with one of the senior doctors on the female ward round and then went with him to review some patients on other wards which needed a senior review. He asked us to thoroughly examine the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of one patient while he did most of the ward round quickly. When he came back he asked to borrow my stethoscope to listen and confirm our findings, I watched him put in the stethoscope carefully because last time he borrowed my stethoscope I thought he had put it in wrong but hadn't had a chance to look closer before he took it out. Sure enough he put it in the wrong way round again and we had to tell him because with it the wrong way round it would be virtually useless and he would only pick up the most obvious signs (trust me I have just experimented with mine to check I wasn't being unfair in saying this!). Blimey, putting a stethoscope in the wrong way round is to put it bluntly such a rookie mistake - it’s something I remember doing as a 16 year old during medical work experience, not something you expect a senior doctor to be doing regardless of country! I would assume it was just a one of absent minded mistake if I hadn't seen him doing it before. I wonder if he is the only member of staff who does this - going to be keeping my eyes open for this now!
The senior doctor was not alone in his mistake.. Izzy from Greys anatomy often put her stethoscope in the wrong way round too, that said the actress was not really medically qualified or responsible for peoples lives...

A more modern clinic
In the afternoon we went with a different senior doctor (Dr M) to his private clinic in a larger village nearby. Wow, so different from the hospital! Whilst it was not finished yet as he only started the clinic a year ago, the bits that were finished were so much nicer, more spacious and private than rooms at the hospital. The equipment looked more like stuff you see in the NHS - for example the examination bed was one that could be adjusted into the different sitting angles that are required to examine patients more easily. He was clearly very proud of his clinic and gave us a grand tour and told us all the things he wanted to do to it. Eventually he hopes to turn it into a small hospital, I hope he succeeds because I think he would create a pretty good hospital. Most importantly though, Dr M was amazing with the patients and really seemed to have good medical knowledge like you would expect from an experienced doctor. He was also a really good teacher to us and let us takes histories with him as the interpreter and got us to examine the patients under his guidance. All in all a good afternoon and to be honest it was good to see that the hospital we are based in may not be a reflection of Tanzanian health care as a whole.

Found out from Dr M on the way back that he is the only doctor at the hospital who has studied medicine at university, the others were all clinical officers who did some kind of conversion course to become doctors. .... This explains quite a lot! I would say that judging on the kind of clinical ability we have observed that perhaps such conversion courses should not be possible but apparently when Tanzania gained its independence there were only 12 doctors in the whole country (of which I gather Dr M was one) so they didn't have much choice but to find a way to create more doctors quickly. A bad healthcare situation really and I guess doctors who have the ability to treat at least some conditions are better than none at all so maybe I should try and be less critical of the healthcare standards here... I will try, but I'm not going to sit back and do nothing if patients are at risk if I think I could do something/say something that would help.

Halfadoc x

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Another day, another birth

Standard Monday long morning meeting today, most of discussion in Swahili again but did gather there was one patient here who had had his arm bitten off by a crocodile! Well that's definitely not a standard injury in England! Poor guy though, had been treated in a different hospital but now the amputation site has got very infected. Not easy here to be an amputee either I would imagine (and it’s not like its easy in the UK either) here you don't get given prosthetic limbs or in the case of leg amputations even crutches (there is a man who works in the hospital grounds here who has a missing leg and gets around using a 12 ft (ish) long pole which looks pretty exhausting!). So losing a limb causes an even greater decrease in quality of life here than in England.

Rest of day spent in labour ward where we eventually (quite slow progress again) saw another baby being born. Midwife did episiotomy but other than that Aj delivered the baby which was nice and healthy. I sneaked a standard cuddle with the baby afterwards which this time resulted in me getting peed on! Oh well at least the baby has no bladder problems I guess and besides I doubt this will be the last time seeing as I want to be a pediatrician!

The episiotomy repair was once again done by the light of my nokia flashlight, becoming quite standard now! The repair was pretty bad to be honest… the midwife didn’t really seem to know what she was doing and kept pinching the woman’s skin with the instruments and seemingly not realizing she was and wondering why the sutures were not pulling through. Aj had been offered to do the repair beforehand but declined, by the end we were both definitely wishing she had accepted!

Spent the rest of the day waiting for another birth but it ended up going to c section due to failure to progress late in the evening so we didn’t see that birth in the end.

That’s about all, not a fascinating day I’m afraid, just fairly standard one here.

Halfadoc x

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Wait people expect me to know stuff?? Eeek!


Brief post today as pretty quiet and nothing exceptionally exciting happened.

Went on the paediatric ward round which was really good today as it was just the doctor, one nurse and me, so I got to write in all of the patients notes. This is a double bonus because not only is it good practice for F1 year but it meant the doctor had to explain each case to me in english (sometimes they just talk about the majority of the patients in Swahili and then it is difficult to learn much on the ward round and gets a bit dull.

The vast majority of the children as ever had gastroenteritis/?Malaria. I’m yet to see a positive malarial test here or be bitten by a single mosquito so I am a bit skeptical about the actual prevalence rate of malaria here in the dry season at any rate. I suppose though as it is such a serious condition that it is better to treat initially as though it is malaria rather than waiting for the test results before treating. It does seem though that the staff here are often so obsessed that someone's symptoms must mean malaria that they are blinded to the possibility of any other illness.

The baby who was in traction for a broken femur when we first arrived here was finally released from his traction prison today :). He looked happy to be released and the leg seemed fine when the nurse manipulated it although he is having an x ray to confirm this later.

Houses patient who I have mentioned before was not on the ward during the round this morning as she was having an ultrasound. The doctor did discuss the patient with the nurse though and whilst most of the discussion was in Swahili, I did catch phrases such as "mentally ill" and "psychological" and then lots of laughter... Not cool. Even if the patient is mentally unwell, last time I checked mental illness wasn't a joke.... A vast culture difference I guess.

Rest of day pretty quiet except for getting surrounded in the village this evening by a huge group of student nurses who wanted answers to various medical questions which turned out to be their homework. I guess it’s not like they have a library full of resources here to look things up and the internet is sporadic at best so doing homework must be a bit tricky. It was quite intimidating having all of them throwing questions at me and I tried to explain I was just a student too but that definitely was not a good enough excuse to them and they expected me to know lots. Fortunately I had some textbooks on me so I could look up things I didn't know for them. Still quite a surreal experience and I hadn't expected to be teaching at all while I was out here!

16/17/18th: Spent Friday and the weekend away from the hospital at Lake Malawi which is incredibly beautiful. So weird to see a lake which has waves and no visible land on the horizon! Got to sunbathe, swim in the lake, go snorkeling, indulge in a beer or 3 and eat nice food. Lovely :). So relaxing to be away from the hospital for a bit and now feel rejuvenated again for returning tomorrow morning.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Episiotomy repair by nokia flashlight!

Episiotomy repair by nokia flashlight!

Today was mostly spent with just one woman who was in labour when we arrived in maternity after the morning meeting. We were told by the midwife she was probably about an hour away from delivering and so decided to stick around rather than going on morning ward round (or in Aj's case instead of going to get an x-ray of a potentially broken foot - injured by jumping off a meteorite for a picture. True story. I failed to get the picture...).

Turned out to be more like 5-6 hours in the end but oh well! For the best in the end as the midwives kept wandering out for literally hours at a time, leaving just me and Aj with this lady who was fully dilated and could theoretically give birth at any time. Not too big a problem if it was a straightforward birth as at least we know how to deal with these now but ideally would have liked to know where help was if we needed it. It was a complicated birth in the end as the woman needed an episiotomy so it’s a good thing the midwives had reappeared. Other than that I delivered the baby, a healthy baby girl.

By the time the repair of the episiotomy was carried out the electricity had gone on one of its frequent disappearing acts and no functioning torches were in the labour room so the suturing ended up being done by the light of my mobiles tiny flashlight! Quite a surreal experience and not one I anticipated when I bought the phone!

Later we heard about a c section that had occurred that morning from one of the other students. The baby had been born with a low Apgar score and required CPR. Having not initially responded to the first few minutes of this the baby had been injected (via the umbilical vein) with adrenaline. This is good… but also odd. We have seen a number of babies during the our 3 weeks here so far that would probably have had a better end outcome if they had received adrenaline as per the resuscitation guidelines but they did not get any. When we have in the past asked why not, we have been told it is because they do not have a large enough supply of adrenaline. However today’s baby did receive adrenaline and the other medics were told that this was because that baby was “a very special baby”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the baby got adrenaline and apparently he improved a lot immediately after that, but aren’t all babies special and important?? How can they choose one baby over another like that if both babies had equal need of the adrenaline? Well it turned out that this baby was the grandchild of one of the senior doctors and that his mum was 40 years old - so exceptionally old in Tanzania to be having a first child. I guess that explains the preferential treatment of this baby, not sure it would be the correct answer to one of those interview ethics questions about “Who should get the treatment?” though.. But at least someone got it rather than the adrenaline just sitting in a cupboard forevermore.

Aj's foot? Possibly a v. small fracture but some debate - radiologist says yes, senior doctor says no. Management is same either way - RICE, however ice isn't exactly easy to get here and rest/ elevation would involve missing compression will have to do! Moral of the story? Don’t jump off meteorites in flip flops. Wellll not all morals are universally useful ones :P.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Born into darkness

Born into darkness

Today did pretty much a little bit of everything:

1. Watched a c section which was performed due to the mother having past history of cervical tear. Both mum and the little boy doing fine though baby was born covered in meconium (a sign of fetal distress.

2. Talked to senior doctor about patient mentioned yesterday. He took my concerns seriously and agreed to examine her with me. No findings on examination but he has stopped all her drugs except magnesium trisilicate (an antacid) in case some of her newer symptoms are a drug reaction and as requested a barium swallow x-ray and also an Hb test. I'm really glad her symptoms are at least still being investigated now.

3. Went to child check up clinic. Didn’t gain much here to be honest - all in Swahili plus seemed to just be weighing kids. Didn't stay long.

4. OPD. Most interesting case today: A young man with VERY obvious jaundice (bright yellow eyes) probable diagnosis = a form of viral hepatitis.

Also I think I successfully diagnosed chronic kidney disease, probably not a great diagnosis for a patient here though as so little they can do. But hopefully with the condition at least known about they might be able to give some drugs to slow the progression / avoid certain drugs which damage kidneys.

Final part of the day was in maternity late this evening where I delivered my 3rd baby (admittedly with a reasonable amount of help from the midwife as the baby didn't pop out quite so easily plus had cord around his neck). Birth occurred during one of the common powercuts so he was born by torchlight! But he was healthy and cried instantly :). Mother was very young (only 16) and not married which is still quite stigmatized here so I hope they will both be ok in the long term.

Halfadoc x

Midnight madness in maternity

Midnight madness in maternity

12.09.11: Went back to hospital this evening planning on heading to labour room to see if anything was going on, computer room was open so we went on internet for a bit, AJ headed to maternity once she was done and was going to phone me if there was anything exciting happening while I stayed on internet (putting up one of blogs!) Unfortunately hadn’t banked on it being so busy that she wouldn’t even be able to call!

When I arrived 15 mins later AJ had already delivered one baby. She had walked into the delivery room to find no midwives about and just one nurse who was faffing about doing something else despite the fact a lady was literally giving birth. However it was not the baby’s head that was protruding from the vagina but its bottom. Uh oh! Breech presentation! Aj managed to deliver half the baby but was struggling to get its arms into the right position when fortunately a midwife arrived and did the rest of the delivery. The baby unfortunately was seriously pale, not breathing and slow heart beat and so in need of major resuscitation. Aj assisted with this (and was able to ensure the right CPR ratio was being done at least initially). When I arrived the baby was crying…sort of. It was the weirdest cry I have heard, definitely not a healthy one so hope the baby recovers ok.

Unfortunately in all the commotion no one had been available to deliver the placenta and now the uterus had contracted too much and it was impossible to get the placenta out safely in the normal manner (we all tried!). In addition there were 2 other ladies in the labour ward, 1 whose baby was going into fetal distress (the heart rate had dropped very low) but was not close enough to normal vaginal delivery and the other who was fully dilated and almost ready to give birth. One doctor had arrived by this time but there were now 2 patients she needed to deal with – 1 requiring manual removal of the placenta and 1 requiring a c section due to fetal distress. She did try to suggest that AJ could do either the c section or the removal whilst she did the other (and I’m not sure she was joking :S) but AJ sensibly declined and told her to phone another doctor regardless of the time!

I went to see the c section (mostly because I was worried that if the baby was in distress then it might need CPR and I wanted to ensure it was done right this time!) while AJ stayed to watch the manual removal. During the caesarean section the surgeon got literally covered in meconium filled amniotic fluid. It’s a good thing she was wearing both goggles and a mask (a scary amount of the doctors here don’t bother with goggles) because if the mum was HIV positive (common here) then amniotic fluid in the eye could infect the doctor although it is quite unlikely. When the baby came out he was fortunately very healthily crying away so I was glad both that he was fine and that I would not to have to say anything about CPR ratios!

As soon as I arrived back in maternity I just had enough time to wash hand and change gloves (note to self, dry hands before trying to shove gloves on!) before helping with the third women’s labour as she was starting to deliver as I walked in. That baby was another boy and also healthy :D.

The placenta from the 1st woman was eventually successfully removed but the lady did lose quite a lot of blood. She was allowed to stay in labour room so she could be carefully monitored – glad to see this done for once as quite often here even very sick patients are left quite far from the medical staffs view!

One of the babies being weighed. The hospitals scales are pretty basic and you have to move a pin along until the scales look balanced.

So yeah, quite a manic few hours, especially for AJ. I think we were both in need of a long sleep when we got home. Kept for a bit longer though because we had just discovered not only were our taps magically working but they were letting out cleanish water! Massive excitement and cue filling as many buckets as possible while it lasted! And then finally sleep :D.

Halfadoc x

A patient for Dr House

A patient for Dr House

Today on the ward round I met a patient who had a confusing set of symptoms and had been given in my opinion a very unsatisfactory diagnosis. I struggled to work out the patient’s exact symptoms and their duration due to most the discussion about her being in Swahili and although I later tried to read through her notes (v.vague) and take her history, neither the patient nor her family spoke much English so it was pretty hard. But the gist of what I think was her history is as follows:
1. Chronic headaches which she presented with 3 weeks ago but had been suffering from them for a long time and they had been getting worse.
2. Chest pain for at least 3 weeks - patient gestured at her sternum so I think it is midline chest pain, she also seemed to indicate the pain was worse on swallowing and then the pain went down, but this was all in gestures so not too certain!
3. Some confusing history of abdo pain,?fever and possibly some diarrhoea and vomiting over past 3 weeks.
4. 5 day history of bilateral leg weakness and some weakness to right hand.

Past history: 1 year ago was treated apparently successfully for ?peptic ulcer disease.

The doctor’s impression?
The patient had been in and out of hospital a few times over the last 3 weeks and had already been treated/ tested for the standard combo of ?malaria, ?typhoid, ?TB, ?HIV plus had been given a chest x ray. As the x-ray was clear and the patient was still ill even after receiving treatment the doctor concluded that her symptoms were "psychological and due to hysteria not a physical condition". The main reasoning he gave to me (beyond exclusion of the above diseases)? "The woman has no husband or children". Whaaaaaaaaaaat! So being single and childless = psychologically ill... Well better diagnose me along with her then! (And they probably would too - some of the midwives have already told me I am crazy when I have said after they questioned that I don't currently have a boyfriend!).

Psychological causes of symptoms in England are supposed to only be diagnosed when all possible/probable organic causes (physical illnesses) have been excluded. Here they definitely have not been, I’m aware they don’t have the facilities to diagnose all possible organic causes of her symptoms but I felt there were still some causes they could investigate that they had not considered. I was writing the notes for this patient and so under “Impression” should have written mental illness as this is what the doctor thought and wanted noted. Well I couldn’t very well not state his impression as I am definitely not in the position to do that but I did change the wording very subtly to “doctors impression”. A small act of defiance perhaps, but not one that would be noticed or was aimed to be, it’s just I wouldn’t feel happy signing my name at the bottom of those notes otherwise as that would imply mental illness was my impression of the patient.

My actual impression/ differential diagnoses?
1. Recurrence of peptic ulcer causing chest pain plus anaemia due to blood loss as a result of the ulcer (which would potentially explain the leg weakness). The patient had not reported vomiting blood but it could be an ulcer lower down so the blood may be being lost through stool instead. The headaches could also be connected in that she may have been taking analgesia such as NSAIDs (eg nurofen, aspirin) for her headaches which can cause ulcers if taken for prolonged amounts of time.

2. Some form of endocrine (hormonal) disorder, possibly secondary to a form of cancer/ cancer metastases which may in itself explain some of her symptoms such as the pain on swallowing. She is quite young to have cancer though as she is only 27. Sadly not impossible though but hopefully not.

3. Electrolyte imbalance. Again this tends to only explain some of her symptoms (particularly the leg paralysis) but can again be secondary to something else like cancer metastases which could explain the rest.

4. Lupus... Ok I'm clutching at straws a bit, but it is a genuine possibility albeit an unlikely one. The reason it always over appears in programs such as house is that it can present with a wide range of symptoms. Therefore if you have a patient with a weird mix of problems it can be a tempting diagnosis in that it neatly explains all of them! Lupus is more common in women and most common in this patients age group soooo it could be a possible differential. She didn't have any of the clear cut signs of lupus though such as a butterfly shaped rash on her face - whilst only 50% of lupus sufferers have this rash, it does mean she is less likely to have this condition.

5. Somatoform disorder. It is a possibility, but I still stand by it being a less likely one than the above possible causes (and undoubtedly there are likely to be other possible causes that I either have not considered or have mistakenly discounted). And as I said before, it a diagnosis that should only be considered once all other possible causes have been excluded WHICH THEY HAVEN'T!!! Okay.. Rant over... For now :P

Well will try and suggest my differentials to one of the senior doctors after tomorrow mornings meeting and see what they say. Will attempt to phrase it in a kind of confused student wanting teaching/ explaining way in an attempt to minimise irritating anyone. I'm not sure what else I can do and I really don't want to do this but if I don't do anything then I don't think anyone will look further into possible physical causes of her illness. Maybe they won't anyway but at least I will have tried.

Halfadoc x

Thank god for Obama

Thank god for Obama!
Running a bit behind on blogging now so this is just a quick catch up on events of weekend to get me back up to date again!
Friday was mainly spent on Maternity where we saw and helped with a couple more births including one where the baby had the cord semi around his neck and had to have it cut whilst he was still coming out. A bit terrifying but fortunately he was ok as were the other babies born that day. Lots of babies being born on both Friday and Saturday – perhaps the popular midwife myth that more women go into labour around the full moon is correct!

On Saturday AJ went into the hospital (and saw 3 more babies being born!) but I was stuck waiting for the electrician to come (he didn’t even come! How very English!) as we now hadn’t had ANY electricity for 5 days. Thought this was a standard longer power cut to start with as we have many shorter ones every day. Turns out though it was just our house that didn’t have any electricity and we also haven’t had anything but muddy water coming out of our tank for over a week. So cold showers and coal fires for food have been our only option for a bit and we don’t even have enough clear water to have a decent shower. It’s fair to say we smell :P.

The other medics have gone to a posh hotel in the nearby big town for the weekend so it has just been me and AJ bumbling around the house in the dark. We are a little too attached now to a Barack Obama themed torch we were lent when we got here that has now been our only form of light most of the time for the past week!

Sunday evening: Electricity finally fixed! Happy days :D

Monday, 12 September 2011

Too much death

Too much death
In retrospect maybe I should have discussed a couple of the OPD cases I saw yesterday because 2 of them were admitted and sadly died.

The first one was a 1 year old baby girl who was very weak, anaemic and malnourished. Contrary to what I thought when before I came here not that many patients tend to be undernourished in fact if anything they tend to be slightly on the larger side. The only patients I have seen who looked emaciated were those who have chronic diseases such as HIV.
So I am not sure if this girl’s anaemia/malnourishment was due to lack of food or because she also was suffering from a long term condition. On the weight chart her weight had dramatically dropped on the last couple of readings. In the morning meeting they reported that she had died over night :(. Just too weak to survive the infection I suppose.

The second patient was a 23 year old girl who had pneumonia as a result of being immune compromised. Her HIV had been diagnosed over a year ago but weirdly she was not receiving any anti retrovirals - these are fortunately one of the few drugs that the government prescribe free of charge so expense is not why she was not getting them. Her CD4 count (these are immune cells that are destroyed by the virus) was very low when checked yesterday at 160 cells per uL. A good CD4 count is over 500, so she really really really should have been receiving treatment and the doctor was not sure why she was not - it was not due to patient refusal. I remember when I saw the patient yesterday that I was struck by how weak and fatigued she looked - she couldn't put her own shoes back on, her mum had to do this for her. I also realised that the girl was basically my age and yet our lives couldn't be more different - all I was worried about yesterday was whether or not I would get to practice taking blood while I was here but she was clearly literally fighting for her life. Whilst I was not surprised to hear she hadn't pulled through because she was clearly very very ill, I was still quite shocked because she was still so young, such a massive waste.

Unfortunately this was not the only death we heard about/ experienced today. In the afternoon we went to OPD and we entered a consultation room behind a nurse (here you can't wait for patients to leave like you would as a student in England because more often than not the next patient will enter whilst the first patient is still there so there is no gap between patients). The nurse was mopping up pus from someone’s leg which was on the floor (Ick!) and the doctor was talking in Swahili to a husband and wife whose small baby lay on the examination bed wrapped in multiple blankets (as commonplace here in spite of what seems to us as very hot weather!). As ever the next patient was standing behind the husband and wife. It wasn't till halfway through the consultation that the doctor turned to us and said the baby was dead on arrival at OPD and he was filling out the death certificate. I was horrified that we had accidentally stumbled in on the middle of what should have been a very private moment for the grieving parents. But at least we had not done so intentionally - why on earth the nurse had been moping the floor during that particular consultation or the next patient had not left the room when he realised what was going on (after all they both spoke Swahili so should have realised pretty quickly), I have no idea. Also the doctor could have simply locked the door (I have seen this done during some consultations) which would have stopped all 4 of us from coming in the first place. From an outsiders perspective who is not used to the culture it seems people here receive very little privacy even when they may need it most. I definitely prefer the way death and grief is treated in UK hospitals.

The rest of the day consisted of watching a vesicovaginal fistula (essentially an abnormal connection between the vagina and the bladder resulting in incontinence) repair, going to a diabetes clinic, and examining a patient with heart symptoms without the aid of a translator. The VVF surgery was unfortunately not successful as the fistula had been there since 1989 and so the acidic urine had eroded lots of structures. In the diabetes clinic we learnt that they only have 1 type of diabetic medication here as the others are too expensive. Therefore if someone’s blood glucose level is not well enough controlled by that 1 medication then they cannot put them on additional different medications like they can in the UK. As a result a lot of the patients we saw still had worryingly high glucose levels.

During the diabetes clinic a really awkward moment arose where the doctor asked us to write the patients name on the "patient signature" line of her insurance claim form... He said the patient could not write and he could not do it for her because then it would be a forgery as the handwriting would be the same as the rest of the form. Nevermind that it would be a forgery if we were to sign or that surely if this is being done regularly the signatures on past insurance forms must all be completely different. We were not comfortable with signing the form so refused as politely as we could and the doctor went off to find someone else who would do it. While he was gone we tried to explain (by gestures!) that virtually anything would do as a signature even a scribble and she started to practice on a notepad. She could write! Not especially well but definitely well enough for some form of signature. We explained this to the doctor when he came back with a very reluctant looking nurse, but he got the nurse to sign the form anyway. All very odd and ethically dubious. I was particularly disappointed by the whole situation because I had thought this doctor was one of the better ones!

That's all for now,

Halfadoc x