A Tale of Four Patients: An Exercise in Opening Our Eyes

 (from Eric)

I can't honestly say that I enjoyed the whole of A Tale of Two Cities, but I thought the ending was fantastic. Sydney Carton is a lawyer and a scoundrel (or "ne'er-do-well" or "blackguard" or pick you colorful Dickensian description). He is talented but shameful, and he knows it. Yet, he bares an uncanny resemblance to a good man who has been unjustly sentenced to death. He chooses to switch places with him for the sake of the good man's liberation, and as he goes to the end of his life, he utters the immortal words:

"It is a far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Without devaluing Carton's sacrifice, I have often thought of the way that his whole life was imbued with new meaning when his actions redeem the life of one man. Why is this important to me? Because my attempts to be a healer in rural Africa are a mixed bag of outcomes. Yes, some people are healed, but so many people continue to suffer and die, and on a day to day basis, this can easily crowd out the amazing victories. And they are amazing; make so mistake. They are of inestimable value. They are transformed lives, each of which is enough to imbue meaning to the entire existence of an otherwise scoundrel.

But we won't feel this, unless we proclaim it.

So, in the spirit of "far better things that I do", here are four simple but glorious stories from recent Kibuye life:

1. Tiny baby. Big Milestone

Last week, on the hospital employee WhatsApp group, this picture circulated with numerous celebratory responses and emojis of dancing women.

This little baby was born at less than 1000g (about 2 pounds), and went home at about double that weight and in good shape. If you've ever had the chance to follow a very small preemie, you know that it is a patient process. Feed, sleep, feed, weigh, feed some more. Small unremarkable days that form a steady trend towards a transformed life. This photo was from a return visit, demonstrating that the baby is continuing to grow well at home.

The story of the Kibuye NICU is a long one, and we don't always see these little ones survive. But this one did. And all of Kibuye is rejoicing.

2. Kidney disease gone

About six months ago, the internal medicine service hospitalized a young mother. She was swollen from head to toe. Her kidneys didn't filter well, and they were leaking protein at such a rapid rate that she looked like a terrible care of malnutrition no matter what she ate. We could easily figure out the problem, but our medicines weren't helping very much. She needed a biopsy and a pathologist and all sorts of treatment that we knew she wasn't going to get. But we put her on a bunch of water pills to take the swelling down, and hoped that it would at least make her life a little better for the time being.

A couple weeks later, she went to refill those water pills at a distant pharmacy, and the pharmacy gave her diabetic medicines by mistake. Not being diabetic, this sent her into a hypoglycemic coma that nearly killed her. Her family rushed her back to Kibuye, where we fixed her sugar problem, put her back on the right pills, and gave our government colleagues the necessary feedback about the error in the private pharmacy so they could investigate. The situation continued to be desperate.

Six weeks ago, she came to see me in clinic, and I hardly recognized her. Gone was the puffy face and the malnourished air. She smiled at me. I double checked the name on her file. Not only was the problem better, but this was despite being off her medicines for a week. We confirmed that her kidneys were now functioning totally normally. I told her to come back six weeks later to see if this was sustained. Last week, she showed up in good health with normal testing. We sent her home with no treatment, and we thanked God together.

3. Full continence

One of the possible, but rather difficult, repairs of congenital problems that our surgeons tackle here is anal/rectal malformations, i.e. babies born with no way to pass stool. This becomes an emergency after birth, and a provisional solution is made by creating a colostomy in the newborn.

Later on, when the baby is a bit bigger, there is a more complicated procedure to basically create what wasn't there at birth, i.e. a functioning outlet for stool. Given the intricate nature of this surgery, the difficulty with anesthetizing little babies, and their ongoing nutritional challenges, it's not hard to imagine why these are difficult patients. But one of the greatest challenges is a fully functioning sphincter so that the child will grow up without fecal incontinence.

Two weeks ago, just such a follow up kid showed up. Doing well. Growing. Full continence.

He wasn't too happy to see the doctor but mom was ecstatic

4. Redemption after Loss

We do a lot C-sections. Last Thursday was yet another C-section. But this one had a known backstory. A couple years ago, this mom had carried her baby nearly to term only to lose the pregnancy. She came to Kibuye where it was found that she had a bunch of big fibroids in her uterus and she was scheduled for surgery to remove them.

She did well for her surgery, and afterwards got pregnant again. This baby went all the way to term and the couple's first baby was delivered healthy this past week (6-pound girl!). The health baby was carried to the side warmer where another doctor was diligently training a new nurse about how to resuscitate newborns and care for them well after delivery. 


May you also have grace today to see the goodness of your life and work.

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