It’s hard to believe that we have completed one full week of seeing patients in St. Gabriel’s hospital. It is even harder to believe that we only have a couple more days left here in Malawi! As we wind down after completing our last full day in the hospital, we wanted to take some time to reflect on a couple of the patients we saw this week that have made a huge impact on us.
*Patient names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Little Joe and Little Mickey
These two young patients were waiting for us the very first day we were in Malawi! We were just getting a tour of the hospital for the first time when we were informed that we had two patients already waiting for us.
The first one was Little Joe, who was referred to us with a diagnosis of stroke. He was your average active adolescent boy until a couple months ago when he started to loose function in his left upper and lower extremity. A young boy with a stroke just didn’t make sense to us. In addition, he was complaining of headaches, nausea, and vomiting which stood out as huge red flags. After a thorough evaluation, we had a strong fear that something more was happening in this boy’s brain than was currently being explained and it would only get worse. We urged his caretaker to take him to get a CT scan, and thankfully he managed to get the funds together quickly to take him shortly thereafter.
The hospital’s head doctor was informed of Little Joe’s case and took a special interest in following him. Once he received the results of Little Joe’s CT scan he personally walked the file over to our house even though it was late and after dark! Unfortunately, the CT scan showed a brain tumor.
Only a couple days later during our morning meeting with the hospital staff, we were informed that Little Joe passed away. We couldn’t believe it. We had just seen him. He was way too young. We only spent a few short minutes with him, but we hope that the concern and care we provided, and how we fought with urgency for him to receive further medical attention made him feel loved in his last few days.
After that initial evaluation of Little Joe, we saw and evaluated Little Mickey. Little Mickey is a toddler who was terrified of us “azungus”. As soon as we stepped into the room he burst into tears and loud sobs. His presentation was very similar to Little John’s and he had received the same diagnosis of stroke. Little Mickey and his mother stayed at the hospital for a couple days and we came to work with him daily. However, when we started to suggest that he should be taken to get a CT scan, his mother decided that she needed to take him home to see the local Traditional Healer because it was her husband’s wish. We were heartbroken at this decision, but there was little we could do.
When the hospital’s head doctor was informed that Little Mickey and his mom had gone home, we were so happy to see that the decision bother him as much as it bothered us! He told us that we needed to go visit the boy in his village to convince the father that Little Mickey needed to have a CT scan. So we were off, escorted by Alex, our good friend and the hospital’s coordinator of Palliative Care, to go visit Little’s Mickey’s village. After an hour long car ride through unpaved, rocky village roads we arrived.
Little Mickey sure wasn’t happy to see us as he immediately burst into tears once again, but taking the time to come to their village definitely had an impact on his parents. While we did some exercises with Little Mickey in the hut, Alex was outside trying to convince his father and his grandparents of the need for a CT scan. After a family meeting, they all joined us in the hut to present their final decision. We were overjoyed to hear that they decided to take the little boy for the CT scan! Alex explained that until we showed up in their village, they had already made plans to take Little Mickey to the Traditional Healer that afternoon, but since we went out of our way to come see them, they agreed to follow our medical advice.
What an emotional roller coaster this experience has been! What started with pain and confusion ended with joy and hope. We are still mourning the loss of Little John, but are glad that his story has made the hospital staff more aware of the severity of this presentation in little kids. We hope for a bright future for Little Mickey!
With warm hearts,
Samantha, Alycia and Melody (S.A.M.)