How to Save a Life…

I’ve spent the last two Fridays traveling to and working at a small rural hospital with Dr. Bwelle.  The hospital was established by a Spaniard and his wife who were both doctors from Barcelona and studied tropical medicine.  They went back to Spain for a year and arranged for Dr. Bwelle to come to the hospital every so often to check on patients, do operations, and perform patient exams and interviews.

The Hospital Raquel Bruc de Yemessoa

Of course he does this without blinking an eye, a true selfless gentleman.  The hospital of Raquel Bruc de Yemessoa is about an hour and a half to two hours from Yaounde, depending on the weather, consequently the state of the roads.  It’s an interesting journey to get there, and on the return route last Friday, there were boys fixing the dirt access road.  They had a wheelbarrow, some shovels, and a cleverly constructed gate made of a fallen tree.  It was basically a classic informal toll road of Cameroon, of which there seem to be more and more.  500CFA francs later we were on our way.  I was a bit taken aback, but Dr. Bwelle just said, “This is Africa, at least they’re doing some work.”

Despite an amputated leg due to infection, he had a stellar disposition.

At the hospital, there were some incredibly sad cases.  I didn’t have the heart to take pictures of most because it felt like it would add insult to injury.  A few boys asked me to take their pictures, so I obliged.  Three of the patients were so  malnourished that their skin was stretched over their collar bones like an animal pelt over a drum.  One 24 year old man lied on his side in his bed, motionless.  He was so weak he could hardly speak.  His family abandoned him because he had AIDS, and was now suffering due to a subsequent infection.  The exact count isn’t known, but it’s estimated that about 5% of the population are HIV positive. The 17 year-old boy shown in the picture had to have his leg amputated due to a spreading infection.  He was contagiously upbeat, especially when he strolled around in his wheelchair in his Chelsea F.C. jersey.

Georges Jr., as I shall call him, had a cardiac gallop. Dr. Georges diagnosed him, treated him, and bought the medication his family couldn't afford.

I hate to keep tooting Dr. Bwelle’s horn, but he’s the man.  The boy directly above is 7 years-old and was lying in the pediatric area all alone when we walked in.  He had an oedema (collection of fluid, appears severely swollen) in his left foot, a blank look on his face, and a swollen stomach.  Dr. Bwelle saw him from a distance and knew exactly what was going on.  He took out his stethoscope and went straight for the heart.  I took a listen and noted that it sounded like a horse galloping, instead of the regular lub-dub, lub-dub.

The road leading to the Spanish-Cameroonian hospital.

Apparently that’s exactly what it was called, a cardiac gallop.  A cardiac gallop associated with the other symptoms can be a sign of heart failure.  Dr. Bwelle wrote up the treatment that the boy needed, including several prescriptions.  The presiding doctor who was doing rounds with us looked at the prescription and said that there is no way the boy can pay for this.

“Where is his family?” asked Dr. Bwelle.

His family was too poor to afford the medication, so Dr. Bwelle bought it for him, $20.  Not only did he diagnose and create a treatment plan for the boy, but he also paid for his health care out of his pocket.  Any one of us would have, but Dr. Bwelle is a quicker draw to his pocket (in fairness, Marcie and I were catching up with the French conversation.)

Gregoire, the anesthesiologist, and I after successfully removing a fallopian tumor.

This most recent Friday, I was permitted to scrub in for a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).  There seem to be a lot of those going on and Dr. Bwelle explained that apparently Black people have a genetic predisposition to developing uterine tumors.  It’s true, Black women are twice as likely to develop fibroid tumors in their uteri.  Fortunately for the woman, we discovered nothing wrong with her uterus, she just had a tumor in her fallopian tube, so we removed that.  I got to stitch her up.

Overall, we talked with over 40 patients and operated on one woman over two one-day trips to Hopital Raquel Bruc.  Some we could help, others needed a greater power to help them.

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