Do you want to help support this mission?

Make a donation at the Issa Trust Foundation site. If you'd like to purchase any of the items suggested in these posts, please have them mailed to: Diane Pollard, 2401 8th Street Court SW, Altoona, IA 50009

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December signing off

Well, today was my last day of what has been a memorable experience volunteering in Jamaica. I spent the morning in Port Maria seeing children for various urgent care issues. At the end of my brief time here, I'm a little more comfortable with the Patois (although I had to break down and call in a nurse to interpret for me today). I know to ask the nurse for the "docket" not the "chart". I also know to take a minute, as I'm looking into a child's mouth, to lecture every parent about brushing or wiping down teeth before bed and limiting box juices (I've seen so many rotten primary teeth, it makes me sad).

On that note, I've been so impressed at the high prevalence of breastfeeding here. Nearly every mother of a newborn child breastfeeds, popping the breast out so comfortably, it makes me blush in my Western prudishness. But I'm so proud of them. True, a large part of it is due to necessity and limited economic resources to purchase formula; but I commend them all the same.

Aside from clinic, I've enjoyed seeing parts of Jamaica that I had not seen before on my previous visits. For one, the drive to Port Antonio is nothing short of breathtaking. On the drive back the hotel on Friday, it had just finished raining as we were driving through the hills along the coast, and the sun shown brightly making every color so brilliant. Green-golden palm trees were glowing; the red flowers on the tops of trees glistened. The painter had come to accentuate the clouds in the sky with specials tones of blue and the Caribbean sea itself sent sapphire jewels crashing on the rocky shores. Have you ever been to someone's amazing house and looked around you with awe and a little bit of envy? I glanced at my driver, wondering if he took all this beauty for granted as he traveled up and down the coast daily.

Enough waxing poetic, so in my first post, I had mentioned that I was not a frequenter of all-inclusive resorts but that I had come to understand and appreciate their appeal to so many people. A short while after I wrote that, one of my best friends asked me if I had "converted". I told her that I'd have to see. So after my two weeks here at a beautiful resort in a beautiful country I have to qualify those earlier statements. I missed the spontaneity and adventure of my typical holiday. After a few days, I had to take a route taxi into town to soak up some local flavor. It was a great trip away and I got to stop by the grocery store to pick up some packets of the delicious corn meal porridge, laced with vanilla and nutmeg, that the resort has been serving up for breakfast. My 2 yr old son is going to love it.

OK... I'm signing off. I hope to do this again someday. I certainly encourage people to take ISSA up for the adventure! It's a win-win.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A second chance...

On my first day in Port Antonio last week, I had seen a child in clinic who was referred to me because he was "malnourished". While he didn't meet a clinical diagnosis of marasmus or kwarshiokor (two different types of severe malnutrution, sadly common in some parts of the developing world) he was certainly not hitting his goal weights. To translate, as I told the mom, while he was as tall as more than half of the children his age, he weighed what the average child should weigh at 8 months of age...and he was nearly 15 months old. Not having any evidence of chronic infection, illness or heart disease, from the history and physical I was reasonably comfortable in my assessment that it was a problem of inadequate nutrition....but mom was young and it nagged my internal ("ain't right") barometer that she insisted she was giving him 4 cups of milk a day, sardines and porridge and he was eating it with no problem. That day being my first day as a clinician in Jamaica, I wasn't too sure what to do with him not being severely malnourished and stunted, but not well enough to send out the door without me feeling at all concerned. After writing for multivitamin supplements, I referred him to the Child Guidance Clinic to find assistance obtaining nutritional milk-based supplements (that mom couldn't afford herself) and asked mom to follow up every two weeks for weight reassessment. But something about the kid has been gnawing at me for the entire week I've been here and after discussing with Dr. Ramos, the local pediatrician, in clinic yesterday, he reassured me that it would be appropriate practice to admit the kid for high-calorie diet and social work consultation. Just like I would in the US for a kid who was failure to thrive.

In my time here, frankly, I've been trying to grasp, as a clinician, what is common practice, what would be overly conservative, what is appropriate utilization of resources. I didn't (and still don't) have a good sense of the epidemiology of moderate malnutrition here or it's management and I wrongly assumed that since I was Jamaica, maybe this problem was seen too often to admit all the kids who walked up with growth problems; that outpatient management was a necessity of constraints in available resources--even in the setting of a positive "ain't right" test. I've been trained that when the "ain't right" test is positive, a good clinician should step back and reassess, questioning a diagnosis until the "ain't right" feeling is gone. Also, in my short time here, from my perspective as one new to practicing pediatrics in a developing country, I've actually appreciated the notion that it is important to manage conservatively at times. Frankly, the odds of seeing a "bad case" is considerably higher here than at home in the States.

Anyway, I made a call to a friend I'd made in administration at Port Antonio --Mr. C.--in the late afternoon yesterday, telling him about the child. And miraculously, this morning the child was waiting with his mom at the clinic to see me. I explained to the mom my plan to admit him and draw labs, she seemed fine and I felt so much better knowing that he would be under close observation for at least the next 3 days for a calorie count. I'm grateful to my Jamaican doctors-colleagues and other hospital employees for their graciousness and cooperative spirits along this brief journey of mine.

Ah, and a funny story. So I had another frustrated mom presenting with a child with tinea versicolor today. (You know, if anyone wants to make his fortune in the tropics, they would invent a potion that eradicates this fungus in days). By this time, after a week, I've already gotten used to my Jamaican patients with their lyrical histories and colorful interpretations of the natural world. So as I was going through my third iteration of why I wasn't going to prescribe her child an oral medication, these words popped out of my mouth: in my best Jamaican accent, I said, "Miss, it's like trying to shave a goat by having him swallow the just don't work like that." Any other patient in the States would probably have looked at me like I had gone crazy. But this woman looked at me like she was satisfied with that answer...and stopped harrassing me about the orals.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Apart from missing my family tremendously, I've been having a great time volunteering in Jamaica so far. On Friday was my first day going to Port Antonio and I've spent the last two days in Port Maria.

The patients and their parents have been very polite and grateful to me in general. I did see a mom today in Port Maria though who was frustrated at the tinea versicolor on her son’s chest and back which seemed to keep coming back despite her treatments and visits to the clinic. Her son had a classic rash. After giving her some selenium sulfide and some clotrimazole, she wanted oral medication which I didn't feel was indicated. I did my best to explain that it can be a very frustrating problem in Jamaica as well as in the US. She was the exception though. Another parent totally made my day when he returned with his daughter today to bring me a bag full of ripe ackee fruit, freshly picked green bananas and plantain. I had seen his daughter in clinic the day before and she looked much better (OK, so she had a viral illness and got better on her own...fine). I was so happy, thanked him profusely. Unfortunately since I’m staying at the resort without any kitchen facilities, I had to give away my fruit to the nurses who were working with me.

Practicing medicine in a foreign country has its many rewards but also quite a few challenges that one can’t readily appreciate. There are different home remedies, different names of body parts, different perceived etiologies of disease and conditions that can totally throw you off while you’re talking to a patient. For instance, who knew that toilet paper can cause a vaginal infection or that a rubber band can give a child fungus in the hair? Plus, I’ve been totally inundated with all sorts of rashes that I would have been quick to refer to a dermatologist at home in the US. On top of that, there’ve been cases of measles in the area so I’ve been on the lookout for those potential cases as well. Luckily, the health department here has a rockin immunization program and parents are serious about giving their children shots.

Even as I say this, there is one similarity that I was surprised to find here in my rural clinic experience—pharm reps! Yes, I actually got approached with gifts and flatteries by a Jamaican pharm rep who handed me a printed bag, a pen, and a little speech on some new cough syrup for children…I was quite tickled about it. I actually would have appreciated a good ol' Pharm lunch though—I was getting hungry. Too hungry and not enough energy to go into how I will be following my AAP recommendations and not prescribing cough syrup to children under 6, thanks very much.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Newly Arrived

It's been less than 24 hours that I've been here, but I thought a blog about my first impressions would be useful, especially for future volunteers.

Before that though, a snippet about me. My name is Maureen Ben-Davies. I finished my pediatric residency at the University of Chicago this past July. Currently, I'm a primary care research fellow at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and pursuing my masters in public health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. I have travelled to Jamaica many times before on vacation and for my wedding, which is why I can't believe I had the good fortune of finding an organization which would allow me to put my skills to use and "give back" to a country that I've loved for a long time.

I've never stayed a Couples resort before--or any other all-inclusive for that matter. My husband and I have prided ourselves on traveling "off the beaten path" when we venture abroad and everytime we've stayed here in Jamaica, we've chosen smaller hotels with few amenities so it'd force us to meet locals and feel like locals. That said, Couples is a really nice place. I'll say that on our previous vacations here, we've found it hard to "do nothing" for more than three days, then we get bored. There is no reason for you to feel bored here. You can be as idle or as busy as you like. Today was a day off for me to get acclimated so I went on an orientation for new guests and was blown away by how many activities you could do. Call me naive, but I was like "this is why people keep coming back to all-inclusives...This is sweet." Not as cheesy as I thought it'd be either. I'll see if I have time/energy after volunteering to take advantage of some of the resources. The staff have been amazingly helpful, friendly and resourceful.

The bag that I picked up from reception containing my laptop and pre-paid cell phone was very handy. I wouldn't have stressed about what kind of walk-around bag to use if I'd known this would be available. It has everything that you need to get started seeing patients: laptop, mouse, latex gloves, reflex hammer, a print out of the ISSA Trust Foundation mission orientation manual that had the contact numbers for everyone, a medication formulary print out. All I need to add is my otoscope/ophthalmoscope, stethoscope and pen and I'm good to go! Also, the villa that I'm staying at has many useful handbooks that I didn't even think (or have room) to pack! Harriet Lane, Handbook of Medicine in Developing Countries, Atlas of Pediatrics in the Tropics, the AAP Red Book.
...Oh! No need to pack a water bottle either; the resort gives you a very durable plastic one with a clasp to hook it onto any bag you're carrying...super handy!

Tomorrow is my first day and I'm going to Port Antonio, it's a long ride, about 2 hours so it should be a pretty long day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


When I think of some of the challanges I have recenntly faced...
  1. I am thankful for the sun, the ocean, the sand, good food and drink. Oh yes, and Skype!
  2. I, for one, am also thankful for nurses drawing blood, but since we draw our own here, I am thankful that I still remember how.
  3. I am thankful for transdermal bilirubin devices. These would have made managing several of the patients this week (inpatient and outpatient) more efficient. Tempermental lab equipment makes bilirubin a send-out lab, of course when least convenient. Since bili lights are limited and the bulbs do not last forever, transdermal bilis could be quite cost and resource effective.
  4. I am thankful for urinalysis and urine dips being completed the same day. It was frustrating to evaluate for UTI when it took two days to determine whether or not leukocytes and bacteria were present. I'm still unclear as to why this happens here because the dipsticks are the same that we use.
  5. Mostly, though, I am thankful for the opportunity to volunteer in Jamaica. The relationships and experiences here are priceless ones. I am defineately more savvy that when I first arrived.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

One of the great things about being here on the resort is having so many of the things that I love to do right here in one place. After work, on most days I immediately change clothes and hit the tennis court. My game has much improved! On the weekends, its water sports and napping on the beach. Now I will say this, I am a whole lot more tired that I was back in the States but not for the reasons you might think. Basically before work in the mornings Amanda and I have been hitting the gym. So after tennis in the evening, I'm uttery exhausted! Why so much in one day you ask? Well around here there's way too much great food (and beverage) around in one day. So the choice is clear, burn calories or buy new clothes!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Week 1

There has been so much going on this week, I hardly know what to say. All three clinics that we visit are right on the ocean-such a beautiful view. Not what I normally see when I look out the window from clinic. I will say that I will definitely be taking dramamine before my next trip to Port Antonio. I had no idea that Jamaica was so hilly. I saw a lot of typical skin issues this week: eczema, tinea, scabies, etc. I am also becoming familiar with "Deworming". This is definitely not something I need to do regularly on my usual clinic patients. I had a 3 1/2 year old boy come to see me in clinic on Thursday who has Autism and though mom is sure she has heard that word, I don't think her son has ever officially had the diagnosis. He has only 5 words and as expected, has many social problems which do not allow him to engage in preschool at all. He receives speech therapy only once every 3 months and has seen a psychologist for behaviors only once. After discussion with Dr. Ramos, I referred him to the child Neurologist in Kingston that usually evaluates in these cases. I actually heard on the radio earlier in the week that the social support for Autism is lacking in Jamaica, but I really hope that the Neurologist is able to provide some more appropriate referrals for this child-at least more that I was able to do. It is difficult to treat some of the children who present,simply because I am not at all familiar with the system of medical care here. I really appreciate all of the help I have been receiving from Dr. Ramos, Dr. San San and all of the other general practice physicians who have been more than willing to answer all of my MANY questions. I did get to enjoy some relaxation time on the beach this weekend as well. There is no better place to read than on a beautiful beach.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Purchase a Couples Resorts Calendar to help Issa Trust Foundation initiatives!

Received my Couples Resorts Calendar that I purchased today! See a picture of one of our medical teams!  Couples -On behalf of all the children touched by the Issa Trust Foundation, we send you heartfelt thanks for your generous purchase of our exclusive Couples Resorts Calendar!The Couples Resorts 2012 Calendar is now available for those who make a charitable contribution to Issa Trust Foundation.
For a $30 donation to the Issa Trust Foundation we will be pleased to send you a beautiful 2012 Couples Resorts Calendar. If you would like two calendars, donate $50.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November Pediatric Residents

Welcoming November Residents, Amanda L. Parsley, DO., Pediatric Residency, Saint Louis University School of Medicine at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center; and Ndidi Onyejiaka, M.D., who is currently a Tulane third year Triple Board Resident.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wax and Cannon (Kernel) aka lymph nodes

The time has certainly passed swiftly even as I am becoming more familiar with the practice of pediatrics in rural Ja. I have seen some interesting cases: branchial cysts, diabetes inspidus etc. This past tuesday I experienced the ride of a lifetime in transporting a 30wkr in respiratory distress from Port Maria to St. Anns Bay hospital which had better capabilities. It was a harrowing 20 minutes (normally 40-45min ride) driving at an average of 95km/hr on the curvy narrow roads in! The baby was in the backseat receiving O2 via mask. I was so scared!! But baby and us made it safely and it was a familiar scene of incubators and cpap devices once we arrived.
But still these and otheres are reminders that I am in a developing nation. There was the cutest little 2mth old boy who was hospitalized in respiratory distress, known to have transposition of the great vessels, thriving but still in need of surgical intervention. Unfortunately, there is not a dedicated cardiac team in Jamaica so I was told that he would be sent home to die eventually UNLESS the visiting cardiac teams (from US or Great Britain) gets to him in time. Ughhh..Stark reality of life in Jamaica.
Or how about no new born screening in JA (but to be fair this was only been in vogue for the last 20-30yrs in the US). Waiting a day or two or three for CBC, inflammatory markers, urine analysis. No abgs available in certain rural hospitals of Ja...arrgghhh.
The parents and patients are so much more appreciative and respectful than what I am used to in NYC. I cannot forget counseling this young man re asthma and his humble "Yes miss, no miss, yes miss" responses. The general population honor the doctors AND nurses. It is a tremendous, tremendous opportunity to educate and they WILL listen and improve. Knowledge is indeed power.
Case in point: A pair of premature twins were foremost in my mind because they were 4 pds, barely, and not gaining weight. They also had very bad diaper dermatitis, formula was mixed incorrectly etc. So I educated the parents, gave them some A&D along with Rx and advised a return. The parents were extremely grateful and thanked me profusely. Today they returned for weight check and while the rash was much improved, formula and breasfeeding was appropriate, Twin A was gaining weight beautifully, Twin B was actually losing weight so I had to admit her. I know she will be well taken care of. But I was so glad that I was able to help as a doctor and educator. I love, love, love to help them.
I promised to talk more about Couples in my last blog. It is simply paradise! The food is divine, the ambiance is the best of island life, and the staff is EXCEPTIONAL. They have, without a doubt, made my stay so very comfortable, and I will miss them so much!!!
Water sports, pools, blue and bluer beaches, trips to Dunn's river falls (a must), Mystic Mountain, horseback riding, plus daily in house entertainment are just some of the activities available. But my personal favorite is tennis! I absolutely love tennis, and the pro instructor, Colin, is the best! I played tennis almost everyday after work and on weekends ( I prefer this to the gym).
Is there a more genuine set of people than Jamaicans (no bias to all the medical staff at the various hospitals/clinics who held my hand and instructed me on the proper medications and procedures; Dr. Ramos, Ravi, Cleary, Dr. Fisher, Dr. San San, the nurses and Mina (previous volunteer). Love you all.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

First week. First blog

Hello to all!! I am a Jamaican living in NYC now back in JA as a volunteer pediatrician. Just finished up my first week. I specifically wanted to volunteer in Jamaica so I could forego any potential culture shock and focus on the nitty gritty from the get go.
Well I have visited all the clinics so far, and Port Maria has been the biggest learning experience so far. I had to see 18 pts in 4 hrs (no more complaints about the clinic in NYC) while learning the protocol for labs, imaging and admitting to inpt service. It is all about doing what you can with what you have, a common theme among Jamaicans on a daily basis.
The problems are quite similar, with a fair amt of semi-acute care. When a pt comes in respiratory distress there was no pulse oximeter to take O2 sats, or nebulized solution...this calls for quick clinical judgement and a referral to the ED. A 3mth old boy with fevers for one wk and a large axillary mass. Unable to do CRP, CBC, and bld cx then and there because the lab was closed so I was entrusted with the unenviable task of doubling as a phlebotomist while the charts are being brought in 3 at a time. Nevertheless, another quick referral to the ED for an admission.
What we deem as necessary medical amenities (ear curretes, tongue depressors, otoscope specula, alcohol pads, covering for the bed etc) are not readily available and I stuffed as much as possible in my little black bag. But even in the rural parts of Ja appropriate medication is pretty much available and many a times, free at cost to the pt. That is reassuring.
But after a hard, day in the heat and rush, going back to Couples is a definite treat. I promise to talk more about that in my next blog so stay tuned. Ciao!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I cant believe its already my last week in Jamaica. This weekend was (sadly) the first time I took advantage of resort activities, touring Dunn’s River Falls, and laying by the pool with a nice book. It is times like this I regret that ‘I’ in my personality test profile. Things seem to be winding to a close pretty naturally though, and I even received my first follow up in clinic today. The mother of a girl I treated a couple of weeks ago at Port Maria stopped me in the hall just to report that her daughter’s skin infection had completely resolved. I think that is one of the most satisfying parts about working internationally: there are some diseases that are so easily treated that you feel guilty taking credit for its treatment. Infection? Antibiotics. Done! But of course, that comes with its sad stories as well. People my age would have parents who had died of some readily treatable illness, or a sibling who died from pneumonia. Pneumonia? What healthy child dies from pneumonia? “Well, that’s life,” they would reply to my sad expression. Not any life I’ve lived, I thought.

Yesterday was a particularly exciting day in Annotto Bay. There was a child requiring a CT Head, and due to the lack of resources at that hospital, we traveled to University of the West Indies (UWI: eu-wee) in Kingston via ambulance. After I was done feeling nauseated and dizzy, I had the opportunity to explore this new hospital. Dr Ravi made the journey with me, and was a wonderful tour guide while we were there. The rooms, the emergency department, the wonderful wonderful machines! What a huge difference it was from the clinics I’ve been frequenting up to this point. Being in Kingston really made me feel like Jamaica wasn’t so foreign after all. If you have some Dramamine on hand, and forgot to eat your lunch, I definitely recommend giving the trip a try.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Last week went by very quickly. Out of all the hospitals, I am enjoying Annotto Bay the most, for its resident interaction and learning opportunities. Despite being a level B hospital, it is still very much in need, with minimal supplies. One afternoon, residents were drawing blood via needles to the femoral vein as there was a shortage of butterflies. For IVs, the end of a glove was ripped off to be used as a tourniquet, and the catheters placed and held haphazardly with paper tape. A rolled towel was used as the splint to prevent bending, and again bound by rolls of tape. Children walked around with little bumps of cotton taped to their arm, their scalp, and their inguinal area for lack of band-aids. What I previously thought of as basic necessities were all luxuries here, and was responded by laughter at the mention of things like Tegaderm, adhesive removers, or LMX anesthetic creams. The painstakingly gathered blood samples were then wrapped in lab order sheets, and sent with a driver, who would personally deliver them to a lab 2 hrs away from town. I was informed that this was a necessary process not only for blood cultures, but even for bilirubin levels, as their equipment was not reliable for levels above a certain threshold. Back home, parents wait in clinic while bilirubin levels return within minutes. If nurses or doctors have to walk all the way down the hall and into an elevator to deliver these samples to the in-house lab, it is met with eye rolling and sighs about how the hospital is a mess because the tubing system is malfunctioning. I’ve been here for 2 weeks now, and the more I see, the more amazed I am at how different things are here. In the same way, though, I think the residents look at me amazed when I tell them about bilimeters, 5 minute lab results, and EMRs with electronic films.

Today I was back in Port Maria. I’m growing to like it here a lot as there is the most need, and patients present with very manageable cases, where easy treatment options are available. While seeing one little girl with a viral URI, her older sister insisted on braiding my hair, and asking to see inside her sister’s ear. She was very curious, and many children are eager to learn, which makes clinic that much more fun for me. In the middle of the day, water became unavailable, and none of the sinks were available for hand washing. In any other clinic, this would have been a huge crisis, but here, things went on per usual, as if nothing significant had occurred. I am just happy to have brought all of my sanitation supplies with me today. It's funny how accustomed I have become to all the limitations of working in Jamaica; I hope that when I return to Iowa, my gratitude for all that we have there is not as quickly fleeting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Week 1 in Jamaica

After just my first week in Jamaica, I'm starting to realize how different everything is here. I went to Port Antonia yesterday, where I assisted with inpatient rounds and saw a few clinic patients as well. After an hour of waiting for the doctor to arrive on the Pediatric Ward, I was told he was actually not coming. Someone from the Emergency Department was asked to round in his place, and with neither of us knowing any of the children in the unit, the morning started off a little hectic. There were some very sick patients-- a child with posterior urethral valves with now overlying pyelonephritis was there for IV antibiotics and ultrasound imaging. Looking through his chart, however, notes were written as "patient with unknown kidney disease with left flank pain" or "??kidney disease, rule out pyelonephritis". There apparently isn't a consistent doctor who works in the unit, so information is poorly relayed, and treatment reflected likewise. As the covering doc flipped through the boy's chart, he informed me his ultrasound showed hydronephrosis. "What grade?" I asked. "A bad one," he replied, moving on to the next patient.

Rounds continued on in this way until I was sent off to clinic. Sitting in an air-conditioned room, I felt a little guilty. Most of the patients here were follow ups after discharge from the hospital. I was seeing a boy after multiple episodes of febrile seizures, now with 1 week history of penis pain. During the physical exam, he became very upset, and slapped his mother, who was holding him down. Appalled, I asked him to apologize, but he refused. I thought to myself about all the clinic visits I spent talking about behavior management, and positive/negative reinforcement. It seemed like such a luxury now..! I reluctantly gave up my behavior talk, as the boy would not be overcome in one clinic visit, and continued to counsel the mother on other issues.

In Iowa, parents come in with a list of problems to discuss, and residents usually limit them to their top 3. Here, parents come in with just one problem to discuss, but watching them, and listening to them, you see hundreds of issues. You sleep with your baby and she sleeps on her tummy? Why are you starting solids at 2 months? Leaving your baby in the sun is different from phototherapy... I guess when I go back home, I will sympathize with them more now; it is hard to choose just 3.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

First (real) day at Port Maria

Hello everyone! I am one of the pediatric residents from University of Iowa, and I just arrived to Jamaica 2 days ago. This is my first time in Jamaica, and hopefully I can share the experiences I have here with you.

I was scheduled to start today at Port Maria, a small rural hospital up a hill with unpaved roads; however, due to some mix ups with the driver, I was unexpectedly taken there yesterday morning. I saw maybe 7-8 patients within a short 2 hr period in the middle of the day, and then none for the rest of the day. Apparently, patients here are seen by their number in line, so even though I was free most of the morning, since it was not yet their turn, I waited in my room, until 1pm, when they all came through at once. During my waiting time, though, I did learn a few things: there are no alcohol wipes, no hand sanitizers, no gloves, let alone any otoscope attachments. It was stressful working in conditions you knew were far from acceptable, and as I desperately rubbed my stethoscope with my personal pink rose scented hand sanitizer, I understood how different everything would be here.

Today, I came prepared. After some rummaging in my room at the resort (which did stock a few of these supplies), I was able to bring my own mini travelling sanitation center. Life was so much better when I was able to properly clean everything between patients! The morning started out with 3 siblings, and from there, charts were brought in by the handful every 30 minutes. By 12pm, I had seen about 10 patients, but still had a stack of charts on my desk. With all these patients with their mothers, siblings, cousins, and friends waiting outside, all I could think about was how low our "patient satisfaction scores" would be if we were in the States...

I started getting stressed at 2pm, when it seemed like there would be no end to the day, and I lost track as to whether I was sweating (glistening) from the heat or from the pressure. I went out at 2:30 to call the next patient in, but saw that somehow, the herds of people had disappeared, and there were now only a few people left in the clinic. Although relieved, I knew most of them were probably sent home as it came near the end of the day. It was a sad thing, because most of these children didnt require long visits, and with a quick prescription, could have become better much faster. There was one boy with severe eczema all over his arms, and a history of secondary cellulitis due to skin breakdown during his last flare. One look, and I started searching through the formularly for steroids available at the clinic while his father told me the history. They had been waiting there for 6 hrs but only needed 10 minutes for a triamcinalone script and some quick reprimanding for a habit of hot showers and aggressive drying techniques. I felt bad there was nothing more to offer for their wait, so I unsatisfyingly handed the boy 3 packets of neosporin to use in case there is again any skin breakdown. It's weird how giving people something (a script, medicine, food) is so gratifying...I'll be running out of supplies fast at this rate.

On the drive back to the resort, I learned about soft Jamaican apples, the "akee fruit poisoning conspiracy", and the behaviors of the local popo. I was glad to be back in Ocho Rios, but felt a little guilty getting off at a resort. Rural life and Resort life couldnt be more closely juxtaposed. I can already tell this is going to be a very eye-opening trip..!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Week 3&4: Port Maria and Port Antonio

Port Antonio

My last week of Port Antonio Hospital was a slow day on the ward as well as clinic, having only 2 patients to be seen in clinic which was a contrast to the previous week which had us working with no breaks up until the moment we left. One was a young girl I diagnosed with inguinal hernia and referred to the Surgeon down the hall and the other was a 7 month old baby who was unable to make it to the appointment but had been referred for evaluation for achondroplasia. I listened to the social worker who was there representing the mother and she explained how the mother had come several weeks to see a pediatrician but that the weeks she had come, there were no pediatricians available and today both were unable to make it due to a complicated social situation. The baby was apparently disproportionate in size with short extremities and a description that fit but had not been formally seen or diagnosed with a genetic condition. Of note, there are also no medical geneticists on the island in addition to other pediatric subspecialties.

On the way back from Port Antonio, the Ministry of Health employee who was kind enough to drive me back the two hours back to the resort explained to me all of the different type of plants and fruit trees lining the road ranging from banana trees, breadfruit trees, mango trees, and ackee trees. I expressed my interest in trying ackee and saltfish which is a national Jamaican dish. He stated the dish was delicious with breadfruit, but he warned me that ackee that is picked too early can be poisonous. Other people who call this dish the Jamaican Rundown, told me that one has to be careful about who you buy your ackee from but that the dish is very delicious. I asked one of the doctors at Annotto Bay about this, and she told me there was recently an outbreak in ackee poisonings this past year with a spike in the number of cases. Due to ingestion of ackee that has not fully matured, the toxin Hypoglycin will lead to hypoglycemia and symptoms of vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea and in severe rare cases, coma or death. I found this useful information to know and has somewhat dampened my curiosity in trying this fruit.

Ackee Fruit

The next two weeks at Port Maria were busy and a week after the departure of my wonderful colleague Dr. Hack, I found myself incredibly busy seeing 26 patients in clinic one day from 9 AM to 4PM. I realized how just like at the end of any rotation, you start feeling comfortable with how things are run right when it's about time to leave. One of my more complicated cases was a preadolescent boy diagnosed several months ago with HIV but who was not aware about his diagnosis. He came in with 3 weeks of cough and a rash which looked like tinea versicolor. I obtained a chest xray which revealed an infiltrate keeping in mind that the mother stated he had been on several weeks of an antibiotic which finished a week ago, but now was not on any medications and that his first appointment to discuss his condition was next month. None of this information was located in my paper chart and without any previous labs or other information about which antibiotic he previously was on, I discussed a plan of care with the ER doctor who knew him well and sent him to the A&E for further work-up including a CBC, viral load, CD4 count and initiation of antibiotics.

The rest of my clinic visits at Port Maria in the last two weeks were the same ranging from well checks, scabies, deworming, a variety of skin rashes and referrals to other hospitals for conditions requiring surgical intervention. Three medications that I felt helpful to know were Tropovite Vitamin Drops which contain Vitamin D, Hemafed which contains iron, and Rid Cream for scabies and lice. I would ask to peruse the pharmacy counters before clinic on days I had time because knowing which medications were available in the pharmacy is invaluable to avoid having families paying out of pocket for medications at private pharmacies when alternatives can be easily picked up at no cost here.

Another thing I take for granted in the states are scheduled appointments. I find it hard to take breaks knowing that patients arrive at 9 or 10 in the morning for an appointment. Once a parent even pretended his son was another patient so that he could be seen earlier and I only discovered this after the parent of the actual child asked why they had not been seen yet. Due to this, I have made it a habit of asking the parent the child's birthdate before starting the visit. I've also gotten used to adults randomly walking into my room, even in the middle of a child well check, and start telling me their ailments. I always have to gently cut them off and explain to them that the family practitioner across the hall can aid them and that they have to wait for their turn.

Long Lines

Here are a couple of photos of 2 adorable children seen in the clinic: (written consent obtained from parents).

Week 2 - Annotto Bay and Port Antonio

During the second week of our stay, I enjoyed rounding with Dr. Fisher and the ward team on the inpatient service. There were several interesting cases ranging from rule out kawasaki disease, seizure disorders, and asthma exacerbations. There was one case where a parent believed that bad spirits were causing the medical disorder, and did not believe giving the anti-epileptic medications recommended to treat the disorder would help, asking instead to take her child out of the hospital to see a medicine man that day. One of the doctors and an ambulance worker explained to me that there are people with voodoo beliefs and they can be suspicious of medical treatment, preferring to go instead to those they believe can make the bad spirits go away. This can present as a challenge for medical doctors who are trying to give a child the medical treatment they need and to educate a parent about the condition.

Annotto Bay Ward

The following day, we had a short clinic day where I saw several well checks, a follow up for sickle cell disease, and a girl diagnosed and treated for kawasaki disease whose coronary aneurysm had resolved and was getting ready to graduate the clinic. I was surprised to hear that there was no clinic in the afternoon, and then was informed of a special event that afternoon where the ISSA Trust Foundation was donating incubators and a combination incubator and ventilator to Annotto Bay! Everyone was very excited because this equipment would help improve the care of premature babies in keeping them warm instead of having to improvise by wrapping them in cotton which is not as effective in maintaining their temperature. It was a very exciting day for Annotto Bay!

Here is a great article on the event ~ Incubators for Annotto Bay.

The following day, we headed towards Port Antonio which was a 2 hour drive. We were very thankful for the kind employees who drove us back and forth to this hospital where there are no pediatricians. We helped run rounds where we saw a sick baby with abnormal electrolytes and a boy with sickle cell pain crisis and acute chest syndrome. We made recommendations to get a CBC, BCx, CXR, and give oxygen and were concerned enough about the progression of one of the children that we called over to Annotto Bay for a possible transfer. I was informed later that the baby's electrolytes normalized but the patient with sickle cell ended up having to be transferred to Bustamante. It is nice to know that we can easily call the ward team or Dr. Ramos with any questions about patients who give us reason to be concerned. One thing that struck me after having rounded on the patient with sickle cell was that there are no pediatric subspecialists on the island particularly hematologist-oncologists. That is still a fact that I am trying to digest.

Afterwards, we attended to clinic and did not eat lunch in order to see all the patients there. We ended up having to split one room which felt chaotic but were able to see everyone by the time we had to leave. Overall, we agreed that there seems to be a great need for pediatricians at Port Antonio and were thankful for the experience to participate in the care of children there.

Port Antonio Ward

That weekend, we had the pleasure of having dinner with Diane Pollard, Dr. McConkey, her husband, and two Biomed volunteers. It was such an inspiration to hear their ideas and new developments coming in the future for the hospitals and the rotation that will make a positive impact by improving pediatric care. During my experience here, I have had times where I initially felt powerless as a physician when certain resources were not available, but after these weeks, I realize it is empowering to know that one can help out by donating needed resources, spreading awareness, or volunteering.

After a long busy week, we were able to enjoy Jamaica by going bobsledding and ziplining through the Jamaican Rainforest at Magic Mountain in Ochos Rios. Here is a beautiful view from a sky lift showing the coast.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

week 3

Week 3
Day 1, Port Maria
The weekend was awesome!! Scuba diving at the resort, and ziplining and bobsled riding at Mystic Mountain Rainforest were amazing!! We also had dinner with Diane Pollard, Dr. McConkey, her husband , and two Biomed volunteers. It was lovely to meet them all and learn about the many things that Issa Trust Foundation does to improve medical care in Jamaica.
Today was back to work. Super busy day today. I saw 2 children who had stepped on nails, 1 had developed an abscess which I drained. I saw a child with spina bifida who was having chronic knee pain. An overweight male with chronic knee pain who I was sure who had have a SCFE who did not. Saw multiple other lacerations which were too old to repair. I saw a little girl with a history of macrocephaly and recurrent and persistent thrush. In my time here I have become more reliant on my clinical skills and my instincts. I have also found myself treating with antibiotics more than I would at home, especially for pharyngitis symptoms after learning there is a significant amount of rheumatic fever here and there is no rapid strep or throat cultures available. Perhaps, the biggest surprise of the day was when a mother of a 3 month old boy asked me to be her child’s godmother! I felt honored, but unfortunately as I am leaving in 2 days, I could not.

Day 2, Port Maria,-My Last Day
Today I felt as if I was in an ED and not a clinic. Multiple cases of asthma exacerbations. A case of abdominal pain which is challenging to evaluate without imaging. The girl kept crying that her stomach hurt, but had only mild tenderness on exam. I did an AXR which showed lots of stool, asked for bloodwork, and kept her for several hours for observation. Had to rely on my exam and the wbc alone to r/o appendicitis. Thankfully after several hours her pain and tenderness resolved

This has been an amazing opportunity in so many ways. It is a great learning experience to evaluate and treat children without so many of the tools that you become reliant on. It is fascinating to learn about the healthcare system in Jamaica. It is interesting work in a different culture and really getting to know the people. The resort is absolutely amazing, the food was some of the best I have ever had, the staff could have not have been any nicer or more helpful, and the activities were awesome. I have definitely gotten a little spoiled at nighttime and on the weekends here!!
I would like to thank Diane Pollard and Dr. McConkey for all of their hard work in setting up this rotation. I am grateful to the medical staff and all of the different sites for helping us out with our endless questions. Thank you to all of our kind drivers!!! Thanks to The Couples Tower Isle and the amazing staff for hosting us.
A very special thank you to Dr. Chung Lee, my colleague and friend for the last 18 days!! Thanks for all of your help, and all of the fun memories!! I hope to see you again!!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

end of week 2

Friday, Port Antonio
Today was our first day in Port Antonio as we were unable to go last week due to lack of transportation.
Very interesting day.
In the morning , we met with the director of the hospital, Dr. Davis who gave us an overview of the hospital. It was very helpful and informative.
Then we went to the pediatric ward and rounded on the patients there with an intern. There were some sick children there. For example, there was a patient with sickle cell disease, fever, and acute chest. We suggested obtaining some bloodwork, a chest xray, giving oxygen, and maximizing pain control. There was 1 week old baby brought in for lethargy who had severe electrolyte abnormalities, metabolic acidosis and elevated direct bilirubin We asked to repeat the blood work, and if it was still abnormal recommended transfer to Annotto Bay where the pediatricians could oversee the care of this child.
In the afternoon, we went to the pediatric clinic. As pediatricians are consultants, many of these cases were not so straight-forward and required some time and thought. I saw a child with nephritic syndrome, a girl with intermittent fevers x 5 months, a girl who had a lethargic episode 2 weeks prior among other cases.
I felt very useful at Port Antonio, which was a great feeling. Kind of nice to be in a place where pediatricians are so needed. Our driver that day was amazing, so kind to us. She totally went out of her way for us (Port Antonio is almost 2h away), and ensured we met with Dr. Davis.

end of week 2

Wednesday and Thursday, Annotto Bay
So on Wednesday morning my colleague went to Pediatric rounds at the Pediatric Ward, and I went to the "A and E" Department (Accident and Emergency Deaprtment). There ED works differently in ours. The physicians actually quickly triage the patients, and if the child does not warrant "ER" criteria, they are sent to clinics. I guess this is an effective way to decongest the ERs, because I only saw one child, who ended up having otitis media. Still, it was interesting to see how the A & E functions and tot alk to the other doctors. If you need labs done, your draaw them yourself. Ivs are completely different and there are no vacutainers or butterfly needles. If you want to give a patient a medication, you write down the order, and the patient then brings that to the ER to get to get the medication. They can do xrays and ulatrsounds, but they have no access to CT scanners. ER doctors read their own radiologic studies. It is a process to get a radiolgist to read something.
In talking with the Jamaican doctors, I learned more about the training system. You got medical school directly after highschool. Medical school is 6 years. Then you do 1.5 years of internship. Then you can start to work in the field you want to do residency in, but you need to get recommendations before you can do your training. REsidency is pretty competitive to get for most things, including pediatrics. Most of them take the USMLE exams just in case they train in the US.
Thursday, Annotto Bay
Today we had clinic which was very busy last week, but only a half day today. Saw a variety of newborn checks and sick children. Alot of children today with slow (or no) weight gain. There are no growth charts in the patinet's charts due to lack of resources, so it is hard to tell if they fell of thir curve or not. Just have to look back and compare to previous weights. The day was shortened as there was a ceremony to celebrate the Issa Trust Foundation dontain some ventilatos and incubators to the hospital! Supplies greatly needed!!

Week 2 - Port Maria

Hello again from Jamaica!

The beginning of this week we spent two days in Port Maria with my colleague spending time in the A&E and myself working in the clinic. Here's a photo of the front of the clinic. Each day we come there is a line of people who have been there since 8 am waiting for clinic to open. It seems to be first come, first serve with the clinic starting at 9 am.

It was Child's Day on Tuesday so we got to see the children for their well checks. While seeing babies, I found a measuring tape useful to have since we measure the length and head circumference of each baby ourselves. I looked up each growth percentile in my Harriet Lane to ensure that the babies were growing well. There aren't growth charts in all of the paper chart files due to resources so we document everything by percentile in the paper charts which is helpful for the next person who sees them in terms of following a growth trend. Also, if you think a baby is jaundiced and you want a bilirubin level, after 11 AM you would have to draw it yourself in clinic and have it dropped off at the lab. I was really surprised to hear from the lab how much blood is actually needed for a bili draw as the lab or nurses usually draw it at my home institution. Dr. San and Dr. Win have been a great help in asking questions about what is available in the pharmacy here and what is used to treat patients for certain diseases. The cases we saw ranged from scabies to viral gastroenteritis to parental concerns about worms.

One thing I take for granted in the states are strep swabs. In the states, if you hear a complaint of sore throat and suspect strep, you can get a strep screen and if it's positive treat, which is important to prevent the complication of rheumatic fever. Here, there is no rapid strep screen so if you suspect, you treat. Dr. Win told us that there have been cases of rheumatic fever this past year and it reminded me of the child I saw last week who was being treated with month shots of penicillin for the past year after being diagnosed with rheumatic fever. I have only seen one case in the states of Rheumatic Fever and here it is definitely more prevalent.

On the second day of clinic, I saw this adorable 2 year old boy who had right periorbital cellulitis with bilateral bacterial conjunctivitis. I had the child admitted for IV antibiotics and observation and found out from the other ER doctors to refer him to A&E for admission. Port Maria also has a ward which we haven't seen yet and I assume he went there since I did not see him the following day at Annoto Bay. One of the benefits of having electronic medical records back at home is being able to follow up on kids to ensure that they are seen and admitted.

After a busy day at the clinic, we have our 30 minute drive back to the resort. Here is a view of driving through Port Maria where you can see different stores and daily life.

At the end of the day, it is always so nice to come back to the resort. We have been welcomed by such friendly people and my colleague and I are always amazed of the beauty of this country.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

week 2 day 2

So today we were again at Port Maria. I again saw mostly ED patients and a handful of clinic patients. I had an interesting case with a 4 yo M with bilataerl axillary abscesses which I was happy to drain. Interesting to make do with the resources that they have. The way we do procedures is very different than the way some of them are done here, in ways involving resources and in some ways not affected by resources b ut just in the way we practice. Interesting to see differences.