by Ifeoma Ozodiegwu
East Tennessee State University: College of Public Health
Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo

Brazzaville!!!!I can’t believe I am finally here! After weeks and months of applications and planning and finally a twenty-two hour journey from Johnson City in Tennessee, I have arrived and I am ready to do some public health. Driving into town from the airport, the driver with the World Health Organization, the Organization with whom I would be working with during my three month stay, showed some of the remarkable places in town.  He pointed out the President’s residence, the ministry of defense and biggest market in the area known as Marche Makelekele. “Marche” means market in French which is the widely used language in Congo Brazzaville. I completed a three month intensive course in French about four years ago and as a result I am able to understand the language. However, I have difficulty speaking because I have been out of practice for those four years. Right across from Brazzaville was Kinshasa. The two capital cities are separated by a huge river known as Djoue. Congo Brazzaville is a small country located in Central Africa. It houses the African Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).  This is my internship affiliate organization.

My duties as an intern involves, primarily, monitoring and evaluation of country compliance to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as well as production of tobacco control country report cards. The WHO FCTC is the first negotiated treaty under the auspices of the WHO and a regulatory strategy to address additive substances. It focuses on cutting off the demand and supply of tobacco products within countries. However, apart from the above mentioned duties, I also get to do rotations in other departments in order to get a well-rounded field experience

 Having arrived on a weekend, I had the opportunity to rest and recharge my batteries in order to be ready for my first week as an intern. On Monday morning, I was at the office bright and early. I got introduced to my supervisor, Dr. Nivo Ramanandraiben and my preceptor, Dr. Ahmed E. Ogwell Ouma. My preceptor is the Regional Advisor on Tobacco Control. I also met other members of the Tobacco Control Team. I was briefed on my duties and by Tuesday, I set to work by trying to understand and extract the information in the FCTC Parties Reports. Countries that have acceded to, ratified and agreed to implement the articles of the FCTC are known as Parties. The agreement to implement these articles is known as entry into force.  These Parties are expected to produce implementation reports two years and five years after entry into force. In the African region, 41 out of the 46 countries in the region have entered into force. Each Party report is 47 pages long and that would be keeping me busy for the next two weeks.

I am very fortunate to be given an opportunity to intern with the Tobacco Control Unit of the WHO for the next twelve weeks and want to thank Hope Through Healing Hands and the Niswonger Foundation for their scholarship support.   I will keep everyone “posted” so be on the lookout for my next blog report.  In the meantime, here is where you can find me :  http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&cp=12&gs_id=0&xhr=t&q=brazzaville+congo&qscrl=1&nord=1&rlz=1T4SUNA_enUS310&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&biw=1672&bih=762&ion=1&wrapid=tljp132818884994700&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x1a6a32ac441bb83b:0xab3deababe7de443,Brazzaville,+Congo&gl=us&ei=sY0qT7mxO4fAtgfAq6zmDw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CE4Q8gEwAg

by Joseph Schlesinger
Vanderbilt International Anesthesia
Kijabe, Kenya

joe schlesinger blog 2

Death and dying are never easy to deal with as a physician.  However, that process is different in Africa.  Morbidity and mortality are more commonplace and seem to be accepted.  Religion is pervasive in all aspects of healthcare: the Wednesday morning chapel service, the preoperative prayers, and the prayers after meetings. 

I was taking care of a very sick patient that was not expected to do well.  Previous deaths in the ICU were simply accompanied by filling out the Kenyan Death Certificate and the family finding out the news when they arrived in the morning.  However, this patient’s family drove about two hours from Nairobi to discuss the hospital course and prognosis.  All six of them spoke perfect English and were aware of lab values and surgical findings.  They were more informed than typical American families I have had discussions with.  Despite the expected grief and frustration, they were grateful for the dedication of the hospital and physicians.  We prayed together at the end of the meeting.  The patient died later the next day.

Despite several deaths in the ICU during the previous week, the evaluations of the anesthesia students were completed.  The improvement was remarkable.  They were pushed harder than they have been pushed before, and they rose to the challenge.  This was evident in the final didactic portion on our final clinical day where we asked the students to present a given topic to their classmates.  Not only did they exceed our expectations, they started quizzing their fellow classmates.  The lecture was completed by presenting us with high quality coffee table photography books of the Mara.  The students signed the inside cover, we took group photos, and we were asked why we can’t stay longer and when we will return.

As we took care of final business with the hospital such as paying for our lodging and Kenyan medical license, the operating room manager asked to meet with us because she wanted feedback on how we can improve things.  Kijabe is a place that can follow through on initiatives for change.  The cohesive atmosphere is amazing and will provide the impetus for being one of the leaders in Africa for healthcare and mission work.  It has been a sincere pleasure to be part of the global health initiative here, and for me, it won’t end here.

by Tracy Curtis
Duke University, Physician Assistant Student
Galle, Sri Lanka

duke office

In my third week at Karapitiya Hospital I was introduced to Dr. Kumara, senior lecturer in Surgery. Participating in various surgical cases was what I was most looking forward to on my rotation in Sri Lanka. Walking into the OT I noticed it was quite a different set up from the operating rooms back in the states.  Patients were lined up on a bench right outside of the open theater doors with their medical chart in hand. Some patients were even curious enough to stand and watch the ongoing procedures from the doorway. On the other side of the patient bench was a make-shift PACU where the post-operative patients were still coming out of their anesthesia. Inside the operating theater, there were multiple procedures going on at the same time. In one corner of the room, a woman was having a lumpectomy under local anesthesia. In the center of the room, a man was under general anesthesia having an open cholecystectomy. Finally, off to the side of the room a woman was getting a carpal tunnel release.

As I was taking in the similarities and differences of the OT, one of the general surgeons asked me to scrub for a thyroidectomy. The case got underway and I was impressed by the speed and precision of the surgeon. Thyroidectomies are a very common procedure here in Sri Lanka and these surgeons perform so many each day, I’m sure they could do this procedure in their sleep. Following the procedure, I noted that the turnover time between cases is quite rapid. Turning over an OR at home takes a bit of time, but here, there is no time to waste. They have so many patients in need of surgery and not enough resources to do so.

One thing I found truly amazing about the Sri Lankans is their strength to overcome adversity. But more impressive is the way they do so without complaint. The patients waiting in the hallway of the theater could be there all day long, sometimes not having their surgery until 1 in the morning, but there was no complaining. I commented to one of the orthopaedic about how refreshing it was to have people be thankful for the help they are receiving instead of complaining about the wait time, or cosmetics of the scar, or the post-op pain, or even the food at the hospital! The surgeon told me that Sri Lankans are very accepting of their own problems and illnesses. Then he smiled, leaned in and said, “Sri Lankans don’t sue their physicians and that’s something you all have to worry about over there.” Sri Lankans understand that this is the life they were given and they will deal with it as best as they can. They do not blame physicians (or others) for their problems, but instead are grateful for the care they receive.

After a few orthopaedic surgeries, I stepped into the general surgery suite to watch an open cholecystectomy. Since we do these procedures laparoscopically in the states, it was a new operation to me. There is only one scope for the entire hospital so most all procedures that we would do laparoscopically at home are performed as an open procedure here. Similarly, the hospital does not have mesh implants for hernia repairs. Instead, I learned an old suturing technique to weave a meshwork of suture over the opening. Quite impressive and cost effective. As a global practitioner, I’ll need to be prepared to assist in surgeries with fewer resources and embrace both old and new techniques to achieve good end results. I am very grateful to have watched so many procedures and techniques that I won’t get to see (or rarely see) in my training in the US.

I also spend time with Dr. Kumara during his thyroid, vascular, and endoscopic clinics. In the thyroid and vascular clinics, I was surprised to see patients bring their own injections to Dr. Kumara. In the endoscopy clinic, I was stunned to see that patients were not sedated for upper endoscopies or colonoscopies. But once again, there are no resources available to take care of these patients post-procedure if they were to have an anesthetic so using a local anesthetic is the only feasible option.  

With that, we headed to meet up with two German medical students, also doing an elective clinical rotation. They were already in the casualty theater where we spent the rest of our day assisting in I&D’s, suturing small lacerations and bandaging head wounds. Overall, surgery in Sri Lanka very much surprised me. For the limited resources available, the shortage of qualified surgeons and the ever increasing number of patients in need of surgery, the surgeons here are very efficient with their time, skilled in technique and quite resourceful. We may have different ways of carrying out a procedure, but we all get the job done.

When I wasn’t in the OT, I was out in the community, learning more about the public health system, specifically the care of orphans and elderly. My colleagues and I have already been to a government run orphanage, and this week we wanted to see how the private orphanages compared. We visited an SOS Village, an Austrian run organization which hosts 12 children per home in 12 total homes on the property. Each “family” home consists of children aged 0-16 years brought in by the courts in cases of abuse or abandonment. The children are cared for by a “mother” in each home who cooks, cleans, and teaches the children valuable life lessons. These “mother’s” undergo years of training and a very intensive screening and selection process. The children still attend public schools like their peers, and return to the village to live a life as close to their peers as possible. It was wonderful to see an organization like this one, working so hard to give these children a rich and meaningful childhood.

We also made our way to a catholic-run elderly home where I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing woman who was blinded by the tsunami. She told us her story and how the sisters had found her on the streets, nearly dead, and brought her to the facility because she had no money, no family and no way to survive. The sisters were able to find a surgeon, who just this past year, performed an incredible surgery to restore her vision! She was able to see for the first time since 2004.

There were so many great stories from the folks at the elderly home, but what I liked most about the facility was that every resident helped out in any way they could. Some set the dining room tables for meals, others cleared dishes, or peeled vegetables, and some knitted bedding or doilies for the sisters to sell at the markets to bring in money for the home. Not everyone could pay, but no one was turned away.

With another fantastic week in the books, it’s hard to believe my time in Sri Lanka is coming to a close. I have learned so much in my short stay; it will be hard to leave. I am very grateful to have had this learning opportunity here in Sri Lanka and I hope that I may return here as a provider one day. 

 

by Holly Stump
Duke University, Physician Assistant Student
Galle, Sri Lanka

duke group photo

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Mahamodara Maternity Hospital. The tuk tuk dropped us off outside of what appeared to be fortress walls. We were met by our Duke coordinator and led through the gate, past a building that was in disrepair and dilapidated. We traversed through a labyrinth of crumbling plaster and boarded up windows. There was a smell of mildew lingering in the air. I thought to myself, “Women come here to give birth”? Once we rounded a corner, I noticed an area to my right which looked as if it should have been full of expectant women, but was eerily vacant. It was then I realized what I was seeing was the shell of the Mahamodara which stood during the 2004 tsunami. I stared into the ward, and could imagine this area full of pregnant women and newborns on that day, and could almost feel their terror. I was told the hospital was hit by 3 waves. The first wave destroyed the “fortress” walls that I had seen earlier, but these barriers had lessened the impact to the building. It flooded the first level and knocked out the electricity. The doctors and staff evacuated the mothers and infants, some to higher ground, and others to Karapitiya Hospital. The second wave was estimated between 20-30 feet high. There are many stories of heroic men and women from that day, including one physician who calmly completed a Cesarean section by flashlight after the first wave hit. He then safely evacuated the mother and child. Due to lack of funds to demolish the building, it now stands as a temporary memorial.

We moved on, and at the end of the hallway we entered a courtyard. In front of us was a beautiful new building which now housed high risk expectant mothers. The ward contained 64 mothers who had a variety of problems, such as gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preterm premature rupture of membranes. There were strict visiting hours here, so there were no hovering families or concerned husbands. The hospital has very few fetal heart rate monitors, so the midwives and nurses monitor the fetus through the use of a pinard.  I spent a lot of time in this ward, and in the antenatal clinic, examining patients. I practiced with the pinard, straining to hear the fetal heartbeat as clearly as these experienced midwives, who could easily estimate fetal heart rates. I did many abdominal examinations, measuring the fundus, palpating the fetal position, and attempting to guess the baby’s weight in kilograms. I was certainly attaining one goal I had for this rotation, to get back to basics!

I witnessed the miracle of birth for the first time this week. I made my way through the maze of exterior hallways at Mahamodara to the labor and delivery room. Once I entered, I saw 10 wrought iron beds sitting side by side, each containing a woman in varying stages of labor. Two had just given birth and were coddling their newborns, encouraging them to breast feed for the first time. Several were in the final stages of labor. I chose a mother and joined the midwife and medical student who were at her side. I again noted the palpable absence of the typical “cheering squad” you see in America. These women were left to hold their own legs, and labor alone. There are no epidurals or pain medication, just pure will and true grit. After another hour of exhausting effort, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. A new mother’s joy transcends all language barriers!

This was my final week in Sri Lanka. I cannot express enough gratitude to the doctors and staff at Karapitiya Hospital, and the University of Ruhuna Faculty of Medicine, for all of their time and willingness to share their vast knowledge.  The long journey home gave me time to reflect on my experiences here, and all that I have learned. Of course I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunities to assist in surgeries and delivering babies, to learn about rare illnesses not seen in the United States, and to practice primitive examination skills; but some of the most invaluable lessons I have learned were from the Sri Lankan people themselves. They are a hopeful people. Having recently suffered through a natural disaster, as well as a three-decade long civil war, they see brighter days ahead and are working hard to be sure the whole world can see them too. They are patient people, accepting of the fact they may have to return to the hospital daily in hopes of being admitted, or that their surgery may be delayed by many weeks. They are people who are full of grace, willing to undergo painful procedures without pain medication or anesthesia, with no complaints. Finally, they are a grateful people. They understand they are fortunate to have free healthcare and very skilled physicians. The phrase “medical malpractice” is foreign to them, and litigation against their physicians is unheard of. They are grateful for visitors from faraway lands and are eager to share their history and culture with all those who are willing to make the trip!

Huffington Post

POSTED ON FEBRUARY 3, 2012, AT 9:47 AM

This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children and Julianne Moore. Moore leads the organization’s Valentine’s Day campaign, through which cards are sold to support the fight against poverty in the U.S. To learn more or to purchase the cards, click here.

More than one in five American children lives in poverty. In my home state Tennessee it is an astounding one in four.

And it’s only getting worse. Less than four years ago, the national number was one in six children. Childhood poverty has increased 18% since 2000, as 2.5 million more children live in poverty today. But those are just cold, hard numbers. It’s what happens to kids who happen to be born into poverty that matters.

Childhood poverty does not just mean a family of four makes below $23,050 a year (it’s estimated that a family needs over twice that income to actually meet basic needs). No, childhood poverty limits access to the simplest, most basic things such as healthy foods, books, the Internet, and a secure place to play, exercise, or even sleep.

It means poor children,nearly half of whom are overweight, grow up with worse health.

It means at the age of four, poor children are already 18 months behind developmentally.

It means without early education programs, poorer children struggle and are 25% more likely to drop out of high school.

It means they are more likely to become teen parents, commit a violent crime, and be unemployed as adults.

It is a sad fact that at birth, one in five Americans today is well behind in the pursuit of happiness. The evidence increasingly points to the fact that once a child falls behind in the crucial early years, they may never catch up.

As a doctor, I focus on the devastating, long-lasting impact poverty has on a child’s health. Simply put, on average, the lower on the “socio-economic ladder” a child falls, the shorter life he will live. Americans in the lowest income category are more than three times more likely to die before the age of 65 than those in the highest income bracket.

For a child, a healthy body, a strong heart, normal development, and progressive learning all require adequate and balanced nutrition. But poor families too often don’t have access to nearby, affordable healthy foods. This stands as a major reason that debilitating chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes disproportionately afflict these impoverished youths.

“Food deserts” are those all too frequent regions of a city or rural areas, wherever poverty may exist, where affordable, healthy, fresh and nutritious foods are nowhere to be found. A 2011 Food Trust Report found that nearly one million Tennesseans, including 200,000 children, live in communities underserved by healthy food-providing supermarkets.

Across America 23.5 million live in areas that lack stores selling affordable, nutritious food. Without access to healthy foods, the cheap, fried, over-processed foods that accelerate the path to obesity become the mainstay diet. And the cause of early death.

This can be fixed. And an effective way to do so is for enterprising grocery retailers to partner with others in the private sector.

For example, just this year the Partnership for a Healthier America secured commitments from seven leading grocery companies to build new stores in areas where they’re needed most. All told, these commitments will bring fresh, affordable foods to ten million people!

Calhoun Enterprises alone will be building ten new stores in Alabama and Tennessee, creating 500 new jobs while figuratively bringing water to these deserts. And forward-thinking companies are increasingly learning that such “social partnering” not only helps the health and welfare of millions of Americans, but it also improves their own bottom lines.

And our government can also be a lot smarter. For many impoverished children, the majority of their meals, breakfast, lunch and even an afternoon snack, come from their schools. In 2010, almost half of all Tennessee students received government-subsidized school lunches. However, for longer life and better learning, we as tax-paying parents and citizens must insist on trading out pizza and tater tots for more whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Tennessee has recently started on this process. In June of last year, Tennessee, along with Kentucky and Illinois, joined a USDA pilot program for the “Community Eligibility Option,” allowing kids in low-income areas to skip the applications and red tape and receive the benefits of a free, healthy breakfast and lunch at their schools.

Nationally, last month the Obama administration overhauled the school lunch program for the first time in 15 years. Overall the menu will include items with less sodium, more whole grains and a greater selection of fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry, pizza will still be on the menu, but made with better ingredients.

Partnerships that focus on health and nutrition between the public and private sector, and between faith-based and secular nonprofits, will help lift children from the dire consequences of poverty.

America is the wealthiest nation in the world. The most technologically advanced. The most generous and accepting. We are the fastest car on the fastest track. We cannot afford to leave more than a fifth of our children behind.

Holly Stump
Duke University
Physician Assistant Student
Galle, Sri Lanka

We arrived on the pediatrics ward this Monday, a little less naive and much less shell-shocked. I had grown accustomed to hearing only the whirring of ceiling fans, barking dogs, and the quiet chatter of Sinhalese in place of the traditional mind-numbing beeps and alarms of our medical equipment. I was pleased to see protective screening over the open air hallways, to keep the children from tumbling two stories, and to keep out the birds. It was surprising to see the number of children waiting to be evaluated for possible admission. Nearly all the beds were full, and it seemed as though they were in the habit of converting previous storage closets, consultant lounges, and any available space into treatment areas. The need for even more space remains evident.

We were greeted by Dr. Jayantha, the department head, and were quickly incorporated into rounds. My incredible learning experience began the moment we arrived at the first patient. Rapid fire questions regarding minute details about pneumonia. "Inspect this X-ray, what do you see? What organisms cause the X-ray to appear this way? How do you know? Are you certain? Why is this child's pneumonia not caused by Klebsiella?" As the only visiting students on the ward, we were not spared! He is a fantastic educator and we were soaking in every piece of information. The ward was full of interesting cases. Kawasaki disease, meningitis, dengue fever, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, osteogenesis imperfecta, just to name a few. About 25% of our patients that day were hospitalized due to new occurrences or relapses of nephrotic syndrome. Dr. Jayantha explained the incidence is very high here, mostly caused by minimal change in his younger patients. He calls them his "nephrotics" and he holds a special renal clinic for these patients every Wednesday morning, which we attended. Collectively, we saw nearly 50 patients that Wednesday morning with some variation of this syndrome. He has spearheaded a study on his nephrotics over the past 15 years. It will certainly be an interesting read once his results are published.

Regretfully, Friday was our last day on the Peds ward. We were benefited from phenomenal teaching by a handful of consultants who were intent on actively involving their students during rounds. "Palpate this child's skull, Holly. What do you find?" "An open fontanelle sir," I responded. "Quickly, in your notebook, write down 3 reasons you may find an open fontanelle in children over the age of 18 months" he demanded. Apparently noting the oppressive heat in the ward, and the obvious sweat forming on my face, he continued, "Quickly, and then we will go snowboarding!" Snowboarding? "I'll take it," I said. "Too slow," was his response. Then he erupted in laughter, gave me a pat on the back and moved on to the next patient. This kind of rousing I was familiar with!                                     

The opportunity to go into the community and provide antenatal care, well child checks, and give immunizations was extended to us by Dr. de Silva in the Department of Community Health. We had been waiting for this! We boarded the bus with 20 medical students from the University of Ruhuna Faculty of Medicine and set out towards a primarily Muslim clinic in Gintota, about 10km from Galle. 10km came and went, then 20km, maybe 30km. There was much discussion between the bus driver, the spotter, and the instructor in charge of this outing. I didn't need to speak Sinhalese to understand that we were lost! When we finally made it to the road leading to the clinic, the bus was unable to fit, so we walked the final 2km. We walked through tiny villages, past small shops, and many people who hadn't seen many (or any) fair skinned, light haired women walk past their homes. They were curious, and came off of their porches to watch where our journey would end. It ended at a clinic at the top of a hill, which was closed! A cyclone had badly damaged the structure three weeks prior. We now had to make the trek back down the hill, into the Muslim town, where we were shuttled by a community doctor to the temporary location at a school. 35 moms-to-be and 35 children were seen that day. Although cramped in their temporary clinic, their system worked well.

We visited a Sinhalese clinic a different day this week, which strictly provided antenatal care. We found this to be just as efficiently run, with roughly 60 mothers receiving exams. I was amazed at how integral a role the midwife plays in prenatal care in the villages. She performs all exams, including albumin and blood sugar checks, fundal height measurements, and even listens for fetal heart sounds through a pinard stethoscope! A "pinard" is a cone shaped instrument made of wood, plastic or aluminum, with a second cone at the top through which you are to listen. The fundus and the baby's head are palpated, pressure is placed at the top of the fundus, and the pinard is placed approximately over the baby's left shoulder. The provider then places their ear on the top side of the pinard and listens closely (very closely) for fetal heart sounds. Warning: The aforementioned technique may read as an easy procedure; however, after being spoiled by dopplers and fetal ultrasound, this takes much practice and a well trained ear!

I read somewhere that Sri Lanka has been called the "gem" of the Indian Ocean. It is most definitely unique. The people, the food, the language, the landscape, the culture, all novelties to me. Every day is an adventure here, and I am cherishing every one.

Tracy Curtis
Duke University
Physician Assistant Student
Galle, Sri Lanka

After a long journey to the other side of the globe, I was finally in Sri Lanka. It was 1:00 am when I landed then I arrived at my lodging at 4:00am. I had 4 hours to sleep and be ready to work! When I woke up to monkeys howling and playing in the trees 20 feet away, I knew I would like this place.

I was excited and nervous to start my global health rotation at Karapitiya Teaching Hospital. Despite the fact that the University of Ruhuna Faculty of Medicine is conducted in English, there is still quite the language barrier with the Sri Lankan version of English and the amount of slang that we unknowingly use. Even the everyday medical language and abbreviations varies between the U.S. and Sri Lanka. I wasn't sure how this would pan out when I arrived on the medicine ward.

Three of us are here in Sri Lanka from the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Since Duke University and the University of Ruhuna Faculty of Medicine have an established relationship in medicine and research, many of the professors and researchers were very welcoming to us. We met with Professor Ariyananda, the Senior Professor of Medicine, and he was quite excited to bring us to Grand Rounds and introduce us to his faculty and fellow consultants before we got started the next day.

The next day, we began clinical activities on the women's internal medicine ward, where we spent the week. We met with the Senior Registrar (similar to our Chief Resident) and she hurried us to the first patient to begin morning rounds. It was definitely intimidating on the first day while rounding with their equivalent of residents and attending.

After a few days, I was able to understand how the ward works to admit patients, complete investigations and diagnostic assessments and carry out a treatment plan. There are many similarities, but a greater number of differences between the U.S. and the Sri Lankan inpatient wards. The overall appearance of the ward and staff, the admitting process itself, and the types of illness and their treatment protocols are notably unique.

When I first walked onto ward 11, I noticed there were more patients than beds, with some patients lining up with their belongings on the floor or with a make-shift mattress on the ground in the hallway. Some privacy is maintained with green curtain that can be drawn to a close, though this greatly reduces the air circulation and increases the already hot temperatures found on the ward.

Another distinct difference between the U.S. and Sri Lankan hospitals is the admitting process. Patients can only be admitted to a ward on Casualty Day. While casualty typically means trauma or catastrophic event, here in Karapitiya Hospital, it simply means acute care. Each ward has its own Casualty Day, rotating every 5 days, so on any given day there is at least one medicine ward holding a Casualty Day. It's quite obvious which ward is having their day because the hallway outside the ward is lined with sick people waiting their turn to speak to a House Officer (intern). Because Sri Lanka has a public health system, and Karapitiya is a public teaching hospital, patients are first seen at their local community health clinic or rural hospital and if their illness is deemed to be beyond the capabilities of the small hospital or clinic, they are referred to the teaching hospital. The patient brings their diagnosis card to the House Officer- a laminated square paper with their personal identification information, their chief complaint, lab work if done, and treatment to date. The House Officer is the first to speak to the patient; they do a complete history and determine if they need to be examined or treated outpatient. If they are in need of an exam, they proceed to the line for the single admitting bed where the Junior House Office and/or Senior Registrar (residents) examine the patient. They will determine whether the patient gets assigned a bed or follows up with outpatient treatment. Unless the patients’ illnesses warrants a longer stay, most patients are typically released to outpatient care after 4 days- just in time for the next Casualty Day.

When admitted to the hospital, patients must bring their own medical record, clothing, toiletries, pillow and blankets. The hospital only provides one pillow case and one blanket which are typically used to cover the bed. Visitors are only allowed between 1-5pm, though one person is allowed to stay at all times.


Needless to say, patients who get admitted here are very ill. We have seen many patients with Dengue and Typhoid fever, severe heart murmurs, and strokes. Many of these illnesses are quite advanced at the time of initial evaluation. There was one patient who had such a loud heart murmur that it took me a minute to realize that it was her mitral valve making all that noise and not her breath sounds! I've never heard such a loud, distinct murmur in my training. When I felt for her apical pulse, it was as though her heart was punching my hand through her ribs. Thankfully, the patients here are accustomed to medical learners examining and questioning them every day, so it was nothing new for me to listen and palpate myself. In fact, these patients have a crew of consultants, house officers, registrars, medical students and nurses rounding on them daily.

Another interesting difference that struck me was the absence of beeping monitors and other technology on the wards. Vitals are obtained manually at regular intervals and charted on a paper above the patient's bed. There were no oxygen tanks hooked up for the COPD patients, no controls to adjust the hospital bed for comfort and certainly no television sets. The physicians and students are heavily reliant upon their physical exam skills. It was impressive how well these physicians could hear breath and heart sounds with all the background noise and conversations amongst providers. I hope I will be able to acquire this same level of competency in my physical exam!

I can already tell that I will learn a great deal here in Sri Lanka, both culturally and medically. I'm grateful to have already seen so many tropical diseases that are rare or non-existent in my hometown. This will certainly prove beneficial for future international aid work. Also, learning about the public health system and adapting to the difference in technology will allow me to be a better global practitioner. In the next few weeks, my colleagues and I will also participate in pediatrics, OB/Gyn, community medicine and surgery. There will be many interesting patients and experiences to come!

Joseph Schlesinger
Resident
Kijabe, Kenya
Vanderbilt International Anesthesia

joe schlesinger blog 1

We arrived safely in Nairobi and stayed at the Mennonite Guest House.  The next morning we ate breakfast with missionaries from all over the world in different stages of their calling around Africa.  Kijabe’s reputation is well known and they wished as well as we were picked up and driven to Kijabe via a road that had terrible slums juxtaposed with sweeping views of the Rift Valley. 

We toured the hospital and got settled in our lodging for the month and got sign-out from the ICU as one of us was on-call the first night.  It took adjusting to drugs and equipment that were foreign to us.  All of the patients did well overnight leading into our first day in the operating rooms, or “theatres,” as they are called.

The staff comprises one MD anesthesiologist and in our case, two anesthesia residents, missionary and local surgeons, surgery residents, KRNA (the Kenyan version of a CRNA), and anesthesia students.  Patients present with late-stage disease, terrible trauma, and for obstetric emergencies without previous prenatal care.  One could take care of a neonate with a tracheoesophageal fistula followed by a patient after a road traffic accident followed by a C-section.  The steep learning curve of anesthesia is addressed with intense didactics combined with a sick and varied patient population.  The KRNAs and students do a great job.  However, there is not insignificant morbidity.

I had the pleasure to oversee a few operating rooms, help the KRNAs and students perfect there neuraxial anesthesia techniques, discuss pharmacology and physiology, and teach them approaches to regional anesthesia that they have not seen before.  The way they gather around and pay attention exhibiting their willingness to learn is refreshing.

After the first day, we brought two heavy suitcases of medical supplies to the anesthesia workroom as most of the equipment is donated.  It caused me to step back and realize the amount of equipment we use in America and how we take many things for granted at our institution.

Everyone at Kijabe has been extremely welcoming and the missionary spirit of providing excellent medical care in the midst of educating the local medical staff is encouraging for the future.  All of this paired with the beautiful land, delicious food and chai, and local wildlife seen on our weekend hikes prepare us for a busy week next week in the operating theatre.

By Sage P. Whitmore, M.D.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center: Emergency Medicine
Georgetown, Guyana

I had plenty of time to contemplate all that I had seen during 12 hours of travel back home from a medical mission trip to Georgetown, Guyana. I had just spent three weeks working in the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at Georgetown Public Hospital and using my training as an Emergency Medicine resident in the United States to help teach new ER doctors core material such as EKG reading, airway management, and the approach to shortness of breath and chest pain. I had not realized when I arrived how much of my time would be dedicated to sitting in the metaphorical trenches and caring directly for patients coming to the A&E. I was prepared for a foreign experience in a distant land, but instead I found myself right in my element.

The minute-to-minute practice of medicine was in Georgetown was very similar to what I was used to; see as many patients as possible, gather all the information you can, make a decision—often instinctual—to admit a patient or treat them at home. One important difference, however, is that in the United States it is easy to get caught up in which hospital has a trauma center, who has immediate cardiac catheterization capabilities, and how long it might take to get a specialized MRI or exotic blood test; these distinctions do not exist in Georgetown, and as a physician I got back to basics. In medical school what we really learn is how to interact with and assess a patient; how to sit, what to ask and how to listen, where to push and prod, how to translate the patient’s presentation into terms of anatomy and disease process, and how to offer comfort. These remain the most useful tools in a physician’s arsenal and are the foundation of all medical care no matter how many elaborate adjunctive capabilities you have at your disposal. 

When a concerned mother presented her coughing infant for evaluation, rather than immediately ordering an expensive antibody test for respiratory viruses, I got to be a doctor. Does the patient look ill, or does she look like a normal baby who happens to be coughing? How long had she been sick, did she have a fever, did she have any prior medical problems? What do her lungs sound like? While I was thinking about the possibilities, I used the moment to reassure the mother how well her baby looked, and her look of relief reminded me why my job can be so gratifying. Ultimately the baby checked out fine, required no testing, and the decision to discharge her was as practical as it was scientific—her mother was reliable, lived nearby, and would return if the situation worsened. In this case, practicing medicine meant relieving anxiety and educating a family member, at the cost of merely a few minutes of focused attention and interaction. 

One early morning, a young man was brought in by his family members for confusion and shortness of breath. Sitting in a wheelchair, he was having difficulty concentrating on my questions and panting as if he had just finished a marathon. Virtually any cause of confusion and shortness of breath can be diagnosed for the price of a couple CT scans, a blood gas analysis, full panel of labs, possibly a cardiology consult and stress test, maybe an ultrasound or MRI. If resources were unlimited, one could simply check all the boxes on an order sheet at home if so inclined. Instead, we started with the basics—looking and listening. This shortness of breath had not started suddenly. He had no pain. He was not blue from lack of oxygen. He looked very dehydrated. Despite his rapid rate of breathing, his lungs sounded clear and he was not sucking in at the ribs or working hard to breath through fluid or inflammation in the airways. In medical school we learned about “Kussmaul” respirations, a pattern of deep breathing meant to get rid of acids in the blood, usually from undiagnosed diabetes. We did have a glucose meter on hand, and it turned out his blood sugar was critically elevated, proving the diagnosis. The treatment is simple, and he improved over several hours with IV fluids and insulin. In this case, practicing medicine meant a thorough history and physical examination, and the cost of one glucose check and widely available basic medications.

In a blur of activity, orderlies whipped into the A&E with a woman found unconscious at home. She was limp, unresponsive, snoring and gurgling through her oral secretions. In this situation, protecting the patient’s airway with a breathing tube is essential to prevent secretions from draining into the lungs and getting infected. There is no fancy test required, but getting the tube in place can be difficult and can require specialized equipment. At my home institution, a cutting edge machine with a fiberoptic camera at the tip and a high definition screen can be used to look around the patient’s tongue and place the breathing tube through the vocal cords. In this A&E we had one basic device, and with it the resident was having difficulty passing the tube as the patient’s oxygen dropped lower and lower. Even in this extreme case, going back to the basics proved life saving. As we learn in our airway courses, what saves lives initially is not placing a breathing tube, but rather simply ventilating the patient with a bag and a facemask, by holding the jaw just so. Employing this technique brought the patient’s oxygen back up and gave us time to change the patient’s position, the size of the breathing tube, the height and angle of the bed, and optimize the conditions for the procedure. When the situation had calmed down, we took a slow, deliberate look for the vocal cords and passed the tube successfully.

I came away from these clinical scenarios with a new appreciation for basic medicine. In the era of whole body CT scans, unlimited lab analysis, and myriad medical gadgets, the fall back is always our own eyes, ears, and hands. Forming a therapeutic bond with a patient, asking the right questions, searching for the right clues, combining instinct and basic life support skills, and caring for patients with compassion are principals that know no borders. 

By Sage P. Whitmore, M.D.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center: Emergency Medicine
Georgetown, Guyana

As I was packing for my first international medical trip to Guyana, South America, my wandering mind conjured image after image of third-world medicine based on popular notions and dramatic stories I have heard over the years. I imagined a row of soiled cots where emaciated children without IV access spent their final hours. I pictured a sweltering tent full of tuberculosis patients collectively coughing up blood; or a bathroom-sized emergency department packed with fever-stricken, jaundiced, indigenous peoples dying of AIDS, malaria, and other ailments while overwhelmed healthcare workers looked the other way out of emotional self-preservation because they had nothing to offer. As described to me by some physicians who had been there in recent years, some of these were features specific to the hospital I was heading to in the capital city of Georgetown.

I am delighted to tell you how antiquated and cynical my preconceived notions had been.

On my very first day in the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E), my first patient did not have AIDS or malaria or tuberculosis; he had hypertension and diabetes, and came in for chest pain. I have seen this exact patient many times in my own tertiary hospital in the States! I caught myself thinking perhaps my view of international medicine was a bit narrow. But, I thought, we probably wouldn’t have the equipment to diagnose him, and even then certainly we would have no treatment to offer. Wrong again. A junior resident from the brand new graduate training program in Emergency Medicine appeared beside me and handed me an EKG. “Inferior wall MI (heart attack). He’s gotten fluids, aspirin, oxygen, and morphine. Holding the nitro. We’re waiting for his portable chest x-ray so we can start heparin, and the admitting team is on their way down to evaluate him for streptokinase (clot busting medication).” Incredible! His care was nearly equivalent to that in thousands of small hospitals across the United States.

My very next patient was brought in on a gurney in full cardiac arrest for unknown reasons. Far from looking the other way, a team of three physicians including myself and four nurses started CPR, provided oxygen and ventilation, established two IVs, started fluids, checked his blood sugar, attached a cardiac monitor, gave epinephrine and sodium bicarbonate, and attempted defibrillation before finally pronouncing him dead. This was fully consistent with my own training.

Time and time again, I was surprised and humbled by the world-class care being delivered in this developing nation, from the availability of a neurosurgery consultation for head trauma, to blood cultures and antibiotics for septic shock, to the text book intubation of a comatose stroke patient (there was an available ventilator in the ICU), to the use of an “asthma room” for wheezing asthmatics receiving inhaled medications, oral steroids, and intravenous magnesium just like we would do back home. To be sure, this is not always the case, and there are countless places in the developing world with no medical resources at all, but the quality of care delivered in this public hospital in one of the poorest western nations is remarkable. I believe this is a great example of the success and power of international health efforts.

In Georgetown, an American team of Emergency Medicine residents and faculty, of which I am a member, are staying in a compound called Project Dawn, an international collaboration which houses teams of physicians and healthcare workers from the United States, Canada, Scotland, India, and many other countries around the world year-round. Like ours, these teams spend intensive time in the city helping provide direct patient care, teaching at the bedside, and setting up infrastructure and training programs. This, combined with the ambition of the local physicians who have trained in Guyana as well as places like Canada, the US, Cuba, India, and Europe, is a recipe for excellent patient care.

I am particularly proud of my home institution, Vanderbilt University and its Department of Emergency Medicine, and our involvement here. Within the last few years, we have had the privilege of assisting the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation create a self-sufficient Emergency Medicine residency program to train new classes of emergency physicians who are specially trained in resuscitation and acute care of a wide variety of problems, from cardiac arrest to broken bones to childbirth to infections and trauma. As we’ve seen in the US, this training benefits patients by relieving the surgeons and family practitioners who typically cover emergency rooms but may not be well versed in the care of medical problems outside their usual scope of practice.

As my American colleagues and I led a didactic conference last week with the new residents, I witnessed with awe the geographical boundaries and disparities of health care dissolve. Together we interpreted the mysterious subtleties of EKGs, discussed strategies for resuscitation of shock, airway management, differentiating types of bleeds around the brain on CT scan. The local residents brought their own real-life cases for a conference, calling on each other to think though work-up and treatment of various life-threatening conditions. These residents would be as at home in our conference room in Tennessee as we are in theirs.

The far-reaching positive impact of international health efforts are all around me, and it is truly remarkable. Of course, none of this is possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of a well-educated and well-trained Guyanese health care force. I feel very honored to be part of something so inspirational, and I urge readers to continue to support international health efforts, as the gains from these investments are tangible and quite amazing to behold.

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