A Challenge for Christian Hospitals

Nancy Henry - India

Nancy Henry - India

As the young doctor looked up from his desk in the outpatient department, he got a glimpse of a long bony creature being carried in on a stretcher by two young men accompanied by a middle -aged couple. The doctor rose to direct the group to the examination table for a closer look to find that they were bringing a young man whose gaunt empty stare was upon him.  In order to weigh him, his brother picked up his frail body, like you would a baby, and stood on the scale, holding him.  The difference of the weight of both and of only the sick brother turned out to be, for this six-foot young man, only 23 kg. (50 1/2 pounds)!

The family members -- his two brothers, father and mother, shared the story of Thabu, a 17 year old, well-nourished college boy who had been admitted in another hospital 6 months ago with an intestinal obstruction.  He had surgery along with 6 units of blood and developed post- operative complications of wound infection with fistula, which delayed his hospital stay to 3 weeks. After one month at home, he remained bed-ridden due to lack of appetite, weight loss, chronic fever, and weakness. When his cough and breathlessness increased and general condition looked grave, a local doctor near his home who had treated him for 1 1/2 months with no improvement, came with the family for his admission in Christian Hospital, Diptipur.  

They would have been refused admission in any other hospital, because by that time a rapid test for Aids revealed that most probably he had contacted HIV virus from the blood transfusions 6 months ago.  The family came to the Mission Hospital with much hope that something could be done to reverse his deteriorating condition, but unfortunately, his x-ray and other tests indicated that his condition was now complicated with Tuberculosis as well.  The plan of management was T.B. treatment, diet, confirmation of the diagnosis, which had to be done at a center more than 500 km. away and if positive, then retro-viral drugs.

In the ward, Thabu turned his sunken face to the wall, did not talk and refused to eat anything.  The family was quite sure that a few days of I.V. fluids would improve his condition.  The doctor spent time confidentially sharing the reality with the family.  While their fear of HIV was real, their understanding of the infection was almost nil.  They asked if the father should be tested for the virus and if they could contact it by bathing in the same pond as the patient.  Teaching the family about the nature of Aids, how it spreads and how to protect oneself was an essential part of Thabu's care, as they continued to ask numerous questions, gradually gaining confidence.

Although the diagnosis did not appear on the chart, the nurses were taken into confidence and some were quite fearful of even touching the patient and questioned why he should be kept in a ward and not isolated.  The doctor then took class for these nurses, explaining that we as professionals in the medical field need not fear, but should take certain precautions with needles, blood and body fluids.  In fact we must touch the patient and let him know that we care for him.  We need also to help the family to understand the same.  So Thabu stayed in  the ward and received the loving care of  smiling nurses who treated him just like other patients in the ward who were not aware of his diagnosis.

Our main problem turned out to be Thabu's stubbornness in refusing food.  His mother was over-protective and did not insist that he eat, but wanted the I.V. fluids to continue.  After much counseling with Thabu and his family they began to understand that not the I.V. fluids, but the food was the main hope for him.  And it was decided that we must insert a feeding tube. Thabu strongly reacted for the first time, and agreed that he will eat certain foods of his own choice, which was first of all fish!  He refused milk, but accepted a protein powder supplement.  And so it was that the I.V. fluids were stopped and Thabu began to participate in his own treatment.  We saw an occasional smile and were able to sit him up on the bed so he could look about at his surroundings.

Thabu was smiling and sitting up when he was discharged from the hospital and delivered into the hands of his family who by then, understood his home care.  They were to get his confirming blood test done and then return for treatment.  More than a month has gone by and Thabu has not returned to the hospital.  We hope and pray that his family may have followed up with advice to have the test and perhaps taken treatment elsewhere.

It leaves us only with the assurance that the hospital of Jesus Christ received Thabu when he would be refused by other hospitals and that during his stay he could experience that his life is valued by those who day to day go on witnessing by the concern and love found in a Christian Hospital.  As 100 years ago it was the mission hospitals that gave shelter and care to the Leprosy patient, today the new frontier is now the challenge of Aids.
 
Nancy Henry
Nancy Lott Henry serves as a Long-term volunteer.  She serves with the Church of North India as a teacher of nurses for hospitals in their eastern region.