Thursday, March 12, 2015

Amazon Clinic: Healthcare in the Village (life and death)

Andres, the day after hitting a tree limb in the jungle
Andres was playing, running along the side of a jungle pond.  He slipped and a broken tree limb raked up the side of his face, splitting open his cheek and above his eye.  I heard him crying as he was helped, by his many young cousins, back to his house.  I knew it was more serious than the usual falling or upset child event, as even the adults were rushing to see what had happened.  Something about the tone of the crying that alerts them.

Before I could go down to look, Andre's cousin, Stephanie, came running into my house and said Andre's uncle asked if I had some surgical stitches and if I could stitch up his face.  While I did have the stitches for emergencies, I have never applied them to someone.  I did not want my first try to be on a boy's face.

And, after looking more closely at him, he did need stitches.  The wound had split cleanly, and was bleeding freely.  However, due to the tension in his chubby cheeks, the would would not close.  I knew that leaving it open to infection was not a wise choice.  I applied iodine to the wound and advised them to go to a town 30 minutes downriver, by slow boat, where he could receive medical help.

One and a half hours later Andres and his father returned.  The clinic was closed and no one could apply the stitches.  At this time they were starting to become desperate.  He borrowed the suture kit and tried another close village where, it was said, one of the villagers knew how to apply the stitches.  At this time it was nightfall, so a trip to Leticia would be very dangerous on the river.

Three hours after sunset they returned.  Andres was all stitched up.  His picture is from the day after the incident.

This is one example of the healthcare in the village.  The project volunteers have a well-stocked medical kit, which can handle almost anything short of surgery.  Villagers regularly ask for aspirin, antibiotics, or other things.  Mostly I give them advice, bandages, and Tylenol, but never aspirin.  Giving an aspirin to a person who has Dengue fever can complicate the illness.  And Dengue fever is common among the villagers.

One of the most frequent and worst request I receive is for anti-diarrhea pills for babies.  This usually comes after the second of third day of diarrhea.  I do not give the pills, as stopping the diarrhea and keeping the parasitic infection in the baby can be as harmful as the dehydration.  I explain about giving the baby only purified water and food that is not contaminated.  I also have powdered re-hydration mixes that they may try.  My best advice is for them to take the baby to the hospital in Leticia if he or she does not improve.  However, they will only do this at the last moment when it seems eminent that the baby will die.  The trip to Leticia is very expensive for them.

During my last three months of  living in La Libertad three people have died.  One person committed suicide after a fight with his wife.  This incident also involved alcohol.  He left behind his wife and five children.  This was two days before Christmas. The second death involved a 70 year old man.  He had untreated stomach cancer.

The third death was the strangest of the three.  A 30 year old man came down with a weakness on one side of his body.  He continued to loose strength, and weight, over a period of five month.  He received treatment in Bogota, where they found and removed a parasite from his brain.  His health continued to decline, and the doctors could not find the reason.  He was our neighbor, living next to the project's guesthouse.  He died at 1:10 at night, during the middle of a huge thunder and rain storm.  The man left behind a wife and two small children.  One of the children is Andres, the boy mentioned in this story.

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