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Jamaica Pediatric Mission: August 3 2010, Port Maria: “The drive to Port Maria was scenic, with the route mostly along the northern coastline, showing glimpses of the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Th…”
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A hearty breakfast every morning. A great cup of coffee. Amazing view. Yeah, I can get used to this.

I was eager to get to┬áPort Maria┬átoday so I could check in on the one-year-old boy we saw last week who had been scalded by boiling water. Stacy and I were worried about his pain management and the adequacy of monitoring such a young child’s fluid balance. I’m happy to report that he is doing much better. In fact, I couldn’t find him in his bed because he was out and playing around. He was scheduled to be discharged today. Dr. Fazul had followed our recommendations for pain management using morphine and he reports that the baby was very comfortable during the last week. He has been eating well, and his skin looks very healthy. His mother came and gave me a hug saying, “thank you for loving my child”. That’s it. That’s all the compensation I need.

Dr. Fazul and I rounded on another 8 patients. The pediatric ward here has the luxury of being split into three zones, so the four children admitted with gastroenteritis were physically separated from three newborns and another one-year-old girl who had been admitted two days ago with a burn eerily similar to the first boy’s burn. I learned an interesting tidbit of information when I asked if the babies were receiving expressed breastmilk and if the hospital provided mothers with breast pumps. Apparently, the mothers actually express their breast milk manually, using their hands (this is how). I didn’t know this was possible, and I’m happy to hear that it is, but a part of me wonders how many more mothers would provide expressed breast milk if they had the manual breast pumps that many US hospital provide free of charge to new mothers.

I saw five patients in the clinic after rounds: two were follow-ups for asthma, one was a well child visit for a month old newborn (yes, they do well child visits here), one was case of pretty bad tinea capitis that had failed management with shampoo that a private doctor had prescribed, and one was a child with occasional dizziness spells that I sent off for some tests and asked to follow-up next week.

I had a little time to speak with the folks at the registration and scheduling office. They are now offering parents who call for a pediatric appointment the choice of a Tuesday clinic (when Dr. Ramos is here) and a Friday clinic (when one of us will be here, hopefully regularly). They’ve integrated us, and I love it!

Before heading back to the resort one last time, Steve and I went to Scotchy’s, which has the reputation of being the absolute best place to have jerk bbq in Jamaica. I came here last week with Diane, Stacy, and Alex and I couldn’t bear to go home without pigging out again.



Today is my last day here and I’ll be happy to get back to my family. But I’ve had a tremendous experience here. Having a regular schedule, and actually filling in a gap in each clinic is very gratifying. Working with the hospitals rather than in parallel to them is beneficial to the long-term well-being of child care in Jamaica. I’ve gotten to know the pharmacists, the lab technicians, the attendants, and the other physicians and I feel that we are now a unified force. Great things are coming. We are learning new lessons every day, and the “orientation manual” that Stacy and Diane are writing is being updated on an almost daily basis. There will be kinks, but that’s the best way to learn and to improve. And being able to come home to the luxuries of a beautiful resort and rest in a great bed is nice icing on the cake.

This blog will be open to posts from the future physicians and nurses who take part in this mission. I’m looking forward to reading about others’ experience here. Thank you all for following my journey with me. The emails you sent me and the comments you posted were very inspiring.
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The outpatient department in Annotto Bay – the patients wait outside

I received some bit of good news today when I passed by the pediatric ward in Annotto Bay today. Baby B of the triplets has been able to come off of CPAP and he has been making good breathing efforts. This is the baby who had omphalitis so having one less thing to worry about makes his care a bit easier. I was able to uncover him completely to do a full exam. His omphalitis appears to be under good control. His breathing is unlabored. His right foot is a little poorly perfused and the little toe is looking a little dark. I asked the nurses to place some warm packs on the left leg to improve perfusion. The nurse tried to correct me and asked if I meant the right leg. A great opportunity for a teaching moment!

They are going to try Baby A off of CPAP today. They tried last night but he wasn’t quite ready. Dr. Ramos has to make an educated guess as to when a baby is ready to be taken off of CPAP. The babies have never had an X-Ray, because the machine has been broken (since February). We cannot monitor blood gases – they don’t have that capability at all.

Triplet C, our sickest one (with possible sepsis), was a little swollen. Dr. Fisher, the senior resident, said that he had low protein levels (hypoalbuminemia) and they had given him some intravenous albumin. This is only going to get exacerbated by the limited nutrition. But at this stage I’m also worried about the kidneys. We have no way of closely monitoring the urine output. On my way back from the clinic yesterday I stopped by two “supermarkets” but neither had a scale. Bobbi – the scales you are bringing will be a lifesaver! Literally. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (one from each of the triplets).

Our makeshift NICU has a new addition. A 29 weeker was born yesterday and he weighs about 3 pounds. He’s doing well. He is being kept in the nonfunctioning incubator, but at least it is a barrier from infections. He is breathing on his own and he may get fed today.

In the next bed I saw a mother cradling a baby who looked limp. I found out that this is an 8-month old baby with a severely malformed heart – DORV with TGA and VSD/ASD (for my PICU folks). This is a condition that typically requires intensive monitoring and very VERY close observation. He would typically require the collective efforts of a cardiologist, cardiac surgeon, intensivist, and nurses adept at caring for children with congenital heart disease. Yet, he’s had no X-Rays.No lactate levels. And he wasn’t hooked up to a heart monitor. Dr. Ramos explained that all the available heart monitors are being used. It is a tough decision, but I can’t help but agree with the premise. Limited resources must be distributed where they can have the greatest impact. This child’s condition is very complicated. He will likely require several cardiac surgeries or even a heart transplant. I spoke with the mother and she barely had enough money to get the first few echocardiograms. She said there is a traveling cardiac surgery team that will be in Jamaica in November. She hopes they will “fix his heart”. Dr. Ramos and I talked about how we can prepare him for surgery. We will try to get him to gain more weight. We will monitor his kidneys. We will monitor for heart failure. Dr. Ramos will try to get him transferred to the capital but he’s not sure if they will accept him.

Tomorrow is my last day. I will be going to Port Antonio. I’m looking forward to meeting Dr. Fazul again and seeing how he has been doing with our little kid with a severe burn.
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This is where I have breakfast every morning. Yes, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

Baby A – Note the Zip-Lock bag.
The first thing I did when I arrived to Annotto Bay Hospital is check on the triplets that were born on the day we arrived last week. They are 6 days old today. Dr. Ravi, a pediatric resident, was taking care of them when I arrived and he gave me the update. They can all best be described as stable, but they are having many of the complications that can be expected when they are in an inadequately equipped NICU. Infections are the most worrisome complication at this stage; all the babies had an infection of some sort. Baby A had an eye infection (ophthalmia neonatorum) even though he had reportedly been given preventive antibiotics. Baby B had an infection of his umbilical stump (omphalitis). And Baby C had signs of infection in his intestines (necrotizing enterocolitis) and possibly even signs of a worse infection (sepsis). They were all on adequate antibiotics and have a high chance of cure, however the conditions that set them up for these infections were still there.

Babies B and C sharing a cot – Note the many towels
The temperature irregularities (which actually now may be a reflection of their infections) are being treated by wrapping the babies with nonsterile towels, cotton, and fabric. Last time we were here, we recommended the babies be kept undressed under the warmers, with some plastic wrap covering the cot (acting like a greenhouse). This advice was only temporarily headed, as today they are still wrapped with all sorts of coverings, no doubt havens for bacteria. The use of a Zip-Lock bag in Baby A is ingenious, but clearly it is difficult for the caretakers to stop using additional fabric. Two babies are sharing a cot making it easier for infection to spread. None of the babies are in an incubator. Remember, these babies are sharing a room with other children as old as 13 years old, all of whom have bacterias and/or viruses that are making them sick enough to need hospitalization.

After infection control, nutrition is another top priority in caring for premature infants. However, intravenous total parenteral nutrition is not available. The babies are still receiving simple dextrose water. They will continue receiving this water until they are strong enough to receive formula into their stomach. However, Baby C (who might have NEC) cannot be fed because it could worsen the infection. He will be on sugar water for another week or so. Malnutrition sets him up to be even more easily infected and the cycle continues.

The odds are definitely stacked up against our kiddos, but the doctors are doing the best with what they have. They are using pretty much the same antibiotics we would use in the United States, and everyone is instructed to wash their hands before touching the babies. The bubble CPAP is still working fine. Dr. Ravi told me that he has stayed several late nights at the babies’ bedside.

Last week when these babies were born, I remember telling Stacy and Diane that these babies had a good chance of survival. Infants born at 28-30 weeks routinely survive with minimal or no complications. I neglected to take into account that the many facilities we take for granted in our modern NICUs are absolutely necessary for that survival. I’m learning new lessons about what we can do to help. Sure they need equipment like the warmers we donated a few weeks ago. Those warmers allowed the babies to survive the first few days. But the next few weeks depend on education as much as anything else. Nurses would benefit from learning about warming techniques. And someone who has influence needs to see the value of a separate newborn care unit. In a country where the birth rate is 50% higher than that in the United States, there will obviously be enough babies to keep that room filled.

Walking outside of the pediatric ward, I saw the Adolescent and Child Mental Health Building. I suppose this was God’s way of letting me know that all is not lost. The goat was the perfect accessory to help put a smile on my face.

Lesson learned
I wish we could get an adequately equipped NICU.
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I arrived to the hospital at 8:45AM and I was the first one there. After making my way through the 30-50 families waiting to be seen, I reached the clinic door and it was closed. Not a big deal. I used the time to check out the emergency ward in the next building. It was an air conditioned small building with several rooms that catered to adults and children. The nurses still wear the quintessential nurse’s uniform – white dress and white cap. I saw one teach a mother how to rehydrate her child. It is remarkable that dehydration from diarrheal diseases, considered simply a nuisance in most developed nations, leads to the death of nearly two million children in developing countries every year.

Soon the clinic doors opened and headed to Ms. Grant (I gave her an apple that I brought with me from this morning’s buffet at the resort.) I was told I couldn’t use yesterday’s same room. It was the psychiatrist’s room and today was her clinic day. I instead set up office in the nurse practitioner’s room – she’s the women’s health person and she does not have clinics on Tuesdays. Playing office roulette is a routine that might change when the Issa Trust Foundation’s resident program is in full swing and we have a regular schedule.

I saw 19 patients today. The nurses already knew that I would not see teenagers or do school physicals. A couple of parents knew this too and they registered their children for sick visits, but popped out the school physical form once they were in my office. These actions show the desperate need that these families have for pediatricians in the area. I feel privileged.

I saw a patient with what I thought was leishmaniasis, an infection that is common in tropical countries, and we heard from local doctors that they had been seeing cases here. This is a parasitic infection carried by a fly that thrives in unsanitary environments. After the child is bitten, a painless sore grows slowly and eventually ulcerates (cutaneous leishmaniasis). They can be superinfected, as was the case in my patient, and can spread to involve deeper tissues and possibly even causing death (visceral leishmaniasis). Bad cases of tinea can look similar, but tinea is intensely itchy whereas leishmaniasis is not.. Although the skin sores are ugly and fester for months, they tend to heal on their own albeit leaving behind ugly scars. The treatment is with paromomycin, which provides a cure in more than 90% of kids. The 21-day course costs $10. It is not available in Jamaica. Another treatment is with pentavalent antimony, which costs $60 and was not available either. I prescribed oral and topical ketoconazole and told them to come back in 4 weeks to see if the third-line choice was effective.

The ride home was a little more exciting than usual . I took a cab, and got a lecture from the cab driver about how corrupt the public transport system was. Apparently bus drivers and cab drivers aren’t allowed to drive the same roads – each has a permit for a particular road. He called the bus drivers “big shots” who claim all the “good roads”.

Lessons learned:
1. Everything runs on Jamaican time. Go with the flow and don’t worry, be happy.
2. Learn the second and third-line treatment options for everything. First line therapy may not be available.
3. Make friends with a bus driver. They know all the “top people”.
4. If you want to join in the karaoke fun in the resort, remember that they like to change the words – “Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul. I wanna get lost in the REGGAE world and drift away … “
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