Friday, 27 February 2009

The Medi-vac

Some, if not most of you by now, will have heard that Kel is no longer here with me in Auki (she’s been home in Melbourne since the start of Feb). I’ll try describe the circumstances surrounding Kel’s medi-vac, and then we’ll wait to see how long it takes her to correct me, and fully depict just how awful it was to have a bad dose of malaria…

Well, it was during the second week of the St. Matt’s visit that Kel started having migraines that progressively worsened. She was also really tired, but soldiered on as much as she could so we could achieve as much as possible while our friends were in town.

After an agonising week spent in bed, trying to minimize noise and daylight intrusions (if you’ve been here you’d understand just how hard a task that is with paper-thin walls, louvre windows, and mesh curtains… and the dogs, kids, wood-chopping etc) we managed to find a thermometer which confirmed her temp was pretty high. So 10 days into a migraine, and only a small hint of a fever – and no other obvious signs of malaria – we called the health insurance mob.

The health insurance guys make their own jobs a whole lot harder by not listening to the local advice you give them – they really had no idea how things happen in our third-world country – but they managed to get Kel on the afternoon flight to Honiara, nursing a sore sacrum after she collapsed in the shower that morning. They failed to book me a flight, saying it was all booked up (we knew it wouldn’t be – and it wasn’t). So Kel, only barely safe to walk by herself (she was lucid enough to self-assess) escaped Auki by herself, the plane taking the long-way-round to Honiara. The National Referral Hospital (called No.9, a name earned during WWII) sent a vehicle, and Kel made it to the emergency department between about 5 and 6pm.

Our good friend, and (we think) the best doctor from our hospital, Dr Jack, had been transferred to No.9 only a week earlier. Luckily for Kel, he spotted her waiting in E.D. as he was heading home, so he returned to take care of her that night. Dr Jack was able to get her processed really fast, and also organised a single room on his ward (which was fantastic, because whilst we’re used to being stared at, you don’t want to be stared at by 30 other sick women when you’re also not well…). Grace (Dr Jack’s wife), and our volunteer buddy Mike came to visit and bring food – which was lucky as the nurses didn’t offer her any, expecting that she wouldn’t like Solomon food… Despite her illness, Kel was able to launch into a tirade (in Pijin, of course) about how long she had lived in the Solomons and even though she has white skin, she is black on the inside and certainly not afraid of Solomons food!

After assessing Kel, the doctors weren't certain that she was suffering from malaria, but the test was ordered as a precaution. Since it was the weekend, Mike came in to take her to a private clinic for the test, where it was confirmed that she had “PF 4+” – which translates to be the potentially fatal kind of malaria you really don’t want (later in Brisbane we discovered she also had PV malaria: the jury is out on whether she actually had both or the initial diagnosis was incorrect), and a severe case at that.

Here I (Kel) will take over to garner some sympathy as I tell you a little about what hospital is like in Solomons. I spent two days and two nights in No.9, and I had one sheet that followed me from a bed in the resus room, to a bed in another waiting room before finally sharing my ward bed with me: there was no other clean linen. In some wards, there are mosquito nets, but there was not on mine, and so in the evenings, I watched fat black mozzies looping their way around my room. Maybe they were males, as I don't remember being bitten. Steve did plenty of hunting and killing for me, though.

I was put on intravenous fluids when I got to No.9 after they measured my blood pressure at about 80 over 55. None of those fancy pumps, though, just gravity, and waiting for my wrist to swell up to know that the line wasn't in the vein anymore, or me anxiously prompting the nurses about the last bag taking 24 hours to run through rather than the two that the first had taken. Monitoring is occasional and low-tech - a mercury thermometer under the arm, a manual blood pressure cuff, taking the pulse the old-fashioned way. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but somehow it is more comforting to know that multiple machines are checking on your wellbeing.

Even though the nursing staff insisted I use their staff facilities, I am unconvinced of the benefits - the shower walls were as green and slimy as any other cubicle, the toilet comparable in cleanliness. Not that it was such a bother, all I wanted to do was get back to bed, with Steve holding me up, and my IV fluid bag in tow.

The thing I found the hardest, and I didn't even realise this until afterwards, was keeping on talking in my second language whilst I felt so bad that death seemed an attractive option. It takes effort, even though Pijin is not a difficult language and I am very comfortable with it, this was the sickest I have ever been, and even talking was a draining exercise.

But....there was another chapter still to come in my hospital adventures, and that will come next...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, quite a graphic update, but Im not at all surprised. glad Jack and Steve took good care of you. Thanks for distracting me from my revision, I needed it. Jim


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