Hi everyone, sorry for the delayed post. Friday was an extremely busy day and I think I needed some time to take in everything that has happened over the last few days.
I’ll go ahead and jump right to Opio’s surgery because I know that is what everyone is interested in. Opio’s surgery went extremely well and he came out of the OR extubated and was talking within an hour. I was able to watch the entire pericardiectomy standing by his head and I have to say it was an absolutely amazing experience. I have been able to see a couple of heart surgeries over the past few months, however Opio’s was special because I was able to witness it from start to finish. In addition, this is the only heart surgery I have seen where the patient wasn’t put on bypass and the heart beat normally throughout the operation (how cool!).
Opio has been such a trooper throughout this entire experience that sometimes I have to remind myself that he is only 8 years old. On Friday morning he walked himself into the OR, saw the surgical table, and hopped right up (an image I will never forget). None of the surgeons or nurses in the OR spoke Acholi so he was not able to understand anything they were telling him. My small Acholi vocabulary finally came in handy when they were trying to get him to make a fist to put in a cannula. “Me che matak” means “make a fist” in Acholi and once I said it, he immediately made a fist. I’m not sure who was more surprised that it came out of my mouth-me or him.
As I mentioned before, the surgery went really well and the surgeon did not come across anything unexpected (which is a good sign.) It was amazing to see the heart expand as the fibrous pericardium was removed piece by piece. Post-surgery Opio was suffering from hypoalbuminemia (low albumin), which is common for someone who has been suffering with his condition, but surprise-there was no albumin in the hospital. Twalib and I ran around Kampala for about 90 minutes fighting traffic, trying to find a pharmacy that sold albumin. I realize I’m still in Uganda however it blows my mind that even in a developed, western-supported hospital that there would be a shortage of important medication, especially since right on his chart (which I saw after surgery…) the pre surgery notes clearly state “ at risk for hypoalbuminemia.” I could probably write a whole post about shortages within the Uganda health care system but I’ll save that for another time.
On Saturday I spent most of the day with Opio in the ICU so that his father could have a break. When I arrived he looked great, his albumin had increased and his urine output was sufficient (which was another one of the doctors concerns). He spent most of the day sleeping but I was there for whatever he needed, which consisted of water and moving his bed up or down so that he was comfortable. I also divided my time with Mabel, a patient of Twalib’s, whom I met in March when the surgical team was here. She is in congestive heart failure and needs treatment in the US. Luckily she is currently in the process of being adopted by a family in the states who will hopefully arrive this Wednesday. She is such a sweet girl who has been dealt a very crappy hand . She doesn’t have any biological family members to take care of her, which is especially challenging with a serious medical condition. She has been supported by an NGO here in Uganda but what she really needs is constant love and support. She has been admitted to the hospital so many times that I think every time she dreads it even more. Although there wasn’t too much to do, I just sat on her bed and chatted with her for a while. Her face lit up when she started talking about her new family and the necklace they gave her. My fingers are crossed that everything works out because she truly deserves the chance to be happy.
On Sunday I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep until 9 and then headed to the hospital to check on my kiddo. When I arrived he was sitting up, eating, and looking for something to do. At this point his biggest problem is that he is bored and wants to get out of bed. If that’s the biggest obstacle he is facing right now- I’ll take it. I then went to check on Mabel and was extremely discouraged to find her shivering and dripping in sweat with a fever of 103 degrees. She said she had been trying to get someone to come look at her for over 40 minutes but so far nothing. It’s times like these that I become so frustrated that I do not have a medical degree and that I can’t personally help her on my own. I finally called her pediatrician, who has taken a special interest in her case, and she came to hospital right away. Mabel’s malaria test was negative and she was but on antibiotics to fight whatever infection she is suffering from. When I left last night her fever was already going down and she said her headache was fading. She has gone through more than anyone should have to in one lifetime and my heart simply aches for her. The hope is that she will be in the US within the next 10 days, which would be absolutely amazing.
This morning I had plans to take the 8am bus back to Gulu but when I arrived at 7:45am the bus had already left. Now I have been in Uganda for almost 7 months total and I can confidently say that I have never been to a meeting/event that started on time. How this bus managed to leave 15minutes early is beyond me. I got out my phone to see if I had contacts of anyone who might be heading back to Gulu and saw a post on the “Ex-pats in Gulu” facebook page from a contractor who was heading back at 9am. Kind of skeptical, I gave him a call and scoped out the situation. I messaged someone who knew the guy and he reassured me that he was a good guy. So, after 3 of my friends had his name, number, and license plate number (just looking out for myself-you’re welcome mom), Jatu, the 55-year-old Indian man, and I set off for Gulu. I can’t help but laugh when I think about the last 7 hours because I honestly can’t make this stuff up. He speaks very broken English but I was able to learn about the Hindu religion the entire trip up while listening to classical Indian music. I now know all about traditional Indian foods and how “the cow” is considered the mother of Hindu people. Halfway to Gulu he asked if he could stop to buy some bread for his “friends”. I was kind of confused why he wanted to stop in an extremely small town but then again I thought maybe the bread was really good. 20 minutes later I finally understood as he started opening the packages of bread and chucking pieces at the baboons and monkeys on the side of the road. We then had about 15 baboons running after the car as each of us tossed bread out the window. Apparently by “friends” he meant the primates that he feeds every week when he comes up to Gulu….. He honestly was such a nice guy and it was very sweet of him to give me a ride. Not convinced that I’ll do it again but I’m safely back in Gulu so that is all that matters.
Very excited to see the nurses tomorrow at the hospital. I’ve definitely missed them! Have a great week!