I started pediatrics today, and I think I'm going to enjoy it much more than medicine. Although I wasn't able to round with my team this morning because no one was there (true Kenyan fashion), I got a chance to stand in on one of the other team's rounds. The attending physician on staff for that team was very good and taught a lot to the med students, so I found it to be a pretty valuable couple of hours.
I was touched pretty deeply by one of the patients we saw while rounding on the wards. She was 12 years old and had congestive heart failure secondary to rheumatic heart disease. She was incredibly sick and appeared very malnourished. But what struck me more than her illness was her social situation. She was the 4th born of 6 children and was brought to the hospital by her older brother, who seemed to be about 15 years old. All 6 children in the family were orphans. Their father had died from tuberculosis, and their mother later died from unknown cardiac disease. After their mother's death, the kids moved in with their grandmother. However, the grandmother subsequently passed away, leaving the children with no family. Thus, they all were made orphans.
Looking into the eyes of our patient and her older brother was heart-wrenching. They looked so helpless. I just wanted to console them and assure them that everything would be alright, but that is not something I can do truthfully. The brother seemed so grown up, and you could tell that he was trying his best to look after his siblings. He stayed by his sister's side every second, and after we rounded on her, I saw him pick her up out of bed and put her in a wheelchair to walk her around the wards. Towards the end of rounds, I caught a glimpse of him folding their extra clothes and straightening up around his sister's bedside. In a way, I felt very proud of him. He was doing everything he could to help his sister--taking medical orders from doctors, keeping his sister comfortable in bed, managing their belongings. But at the same time, my heart went out to him. I can't even imagine how hard life has been for the 6 children in that family. Losing both parents and a grandparent would be hard enough to endure, but having to live as orphans and look after your siblings at such a young age is incredible. I don't know how I would've handled the situation if I were walking in their shoes.
So many children in Africa are forced to grow up before ever having a chance to enjoy their childhood. It's not uncommon to see 7 or 8 year olds here herding cattle or working in the fields with a machete. Kids in the United States are generally care-free, living life without any true worries. Many Kenyans must fight for their lives from the day that they're born and spend much of their childhood figuring out how to survive. It saddens me to see kids living with so much responsibility. I feel like it strips them of their innocence--a trait that I value so much in children. However, most of my feelings are driven by American culture, which is extremely different from that in Africa. Therefore, I'm not so sure that all Kenyans would have the same sentiments as me.
Overall, my first day on pediatrics was wonderful. I enjoyed seeing the wards and meeting some of the patients, but most of all, I enjoyed the feeling that today gave me. It left me excited for the weeks to come, because I know that there is a lot for me to learn and accomplish within the realm of pediatrics in Eldoret.
Much love to everyone. God bless.