10:30 PM

Feb 2017

Dearest me, Smonday is already upon me!

I've gotta say, since the doctors' strike started, last week had to have been one of the worst weeks I've ever faced. For starters, I pretty much put in 60 hours worth of work during the week (...and none of that comes with any overtime). I think the earliest I actually got home might have been 8.20 pm, which coincidentally happened on Friday, the day most people are like to make their exits before 5.00 pm.

I've been so tired lately that I'm starting to embrace the Kenyan culture of not reading. By the time I'm done with my patients and all such related activity, I just want to get home and de-stress. My mind can't be bothered with fanciful thoughts of reading or even trying to keep up with new advances in the medical field...I'd rather just soak in some sensory deprivation and chill.

Last week, I even had the dubious distinction of being tossed under the bus by my consultant for some shenanigans that went down at the hospital. Of course I can't divulge any of the details, but it has got to be one of the most underhanded things that has happened to me while I've worked as a doctor. People don't understand how much medico-legal detail is involved in dealing with patients, and I think a lot more people would steer clear of the medical profession if the actually found out. We may have come along way scientifically, but there's still a lot that we don't know about medical practice. Sometimes it can actually feel more like practising an Art than a Science.

The patients and their relatives will see things differently though. I think medicine is one of the few careers where people feel like they can question your acumen without having even a basic grasp of the concepts involved. Even a primary school teacher is unlikely to get called out on the pedagogy that they employ to teach their students; but a doctor is fair game to everyone. We have moved away from Paternalistic Medicine to a more shared patient-doctor relationship, which I feel is more ideal; if you can understand the disease process and its respective treatment, then I believe the patient can participate more actively in the treatment. Don't get me wrong, if the situation calls for it and either their patient or caregiver is unable to fathom what needs to be done, it is my duty to go "over their heads" and be paternalistic, for the patient's sake.

There is, however, a third patient-doctor relationship that has developed lately that emphasizes Patient Autonomy. If the patient has the necessary education or understanding of their condition, this may be bearable; however, a lot of times you encounter this from a patient who merely wants to be in-charge without a semblance of a clue as to what they actually require. These are the patients (and relatives) that are likely to haul you court for some good old litigation. Thank God I have an extra card up my sleeve for such patients: I can just "Discharge (them) Against Medical Advice" (DAMA), and let them end up being someone else's problem.

I think I'm just a bit disillusioned by the medical field these days. Job satisfaction is at an all-time low, and I don't have the energy to keep myself afloat. I'm beginning to detest some of my patients and the systematic failure at my workplace is just draining. I hate this government for doing nothing to avert or even alleviate the effects of this strike; I'm annoyed at the general public for not having the guts to even try to keep this government accountable despite the egregious missteps that they have committed.

Lord knows I just need a break. Maybe a change in this 10-month routine will do me some good. Something's got to give.

4:29 PM

Memories: A Bad Day at The Office




It's already been quite the tumultous start to 2017 down here in Kenya. The doctors' strike drags on for yet another week, and now, in much the same manner, university lecturers are also on strike due to  talk of yet another unfulfilled Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from 2013. The writing on the wall is obvious: politicians can't be trusted to fulfil any pledges they make in the wake of an election year. Lord knows what other messes they'll be orchestrating in the remaining 7 months of election campaigning.

I feel like the doctors' strike would have ended earlier if we only had a limited number of people taking part in the negotiations, i.e. the president, his ministers of Health and Labour and the doctors' union. In all honesty, other groups like the SRC (Salary & Remuneration Commission) and the Council of Governors have nothing of importance to add to this issue. Devoid of such organization, we are being treated to trivialities that border on the obscene. Social media was ablaze with #IamNotSewage because the Labour Court judge (Wasilwa) hearing the case openly referred to the collective striking medical body as stinking of sewage. (Apparently judges must be skipping Decorum 101 these days). As if that wasn't enough, just recently a 'nominated' Member of Parliament tried to whittle the strike into an issue of tribalism; this earned the ire of the medical fraternity, and now we have #TribelessDoctor trending.

All the wrong people are doing the talking, which is driving the doctors irate. Has any of these sanctimonious individuals ever set foot inside a public hospital, apart from occasions for photo-ops? Can they really sympathize with a general public with whom they have nothing in common? Do they even understand the situations that medical staff have to contend with, especially those that go above and beyond the call of duty? It is probably for these reasons (and many others) that another topic has been trending - #MyBadDoctorExperience. I hear that initially the topic was created to highlight patients' bad experiences at the hands of incompetent doctors; but as later stories will attest, the doctors are currently using it to highlight the traumatic experiences they've experienced at the hands of the healthcare system. It is only a glimpse of what doctors experience, but it is enlightening nonetheless; and I guess it's time to add my experience to the fray.

*Friendly Advisory: beyond this point, some of this gets a little graphic! 

It was about mid-December 2014, and I was knee deep into the 2nd rotation of my internship (Obstetrics & Gynaecology). I believe that at that point, of the 3 interns in the department (Fiona, Lucy and myself), I was 'stationed' in the Labour Ward. I use the word stationed lightly because throughout the course of the day, we all converged at the Labour ward to handle whatever business came up. Considering how overwhelming the work could be for 3 interns, it was very typical for the 2 interns who weren't on duty to end up leaving the hospital after 11.00 pm. Only one of us was ever on night-duty, but we figured that it would be better for us to let the intern-on-duty disappear to freshen up at home; that intern would then report back to the hospital around 7.00 pm, but we'd basically have the intern relax in the call room while we cleared every issue in the wards. Some time before 11pm, we'd join our colleague in the call-room and just debrief each other before we set off. Turns out it was a great way to de-stress and keep ourselves sane.

On this particular day, around 4.00 pm, a patient (about 38 years old) showed up to the Labour Ward; (for my convenience, I'll refer to her as "Edna") by all regards, she was a stable patient, obviously in the 3rd trimester of her pregnancy, and had been admitted because she noted reduced fetal movements in the course of that day. I take down her history, and I find out that this is her 5th pregnancy; all prior pregnancies had ended in normal deliveries, but they had yielded only girls! So here she was hoping that this particular pregnancy yielded a boy so that she could call it quits procreation-wise. By all accounts everything's normal, until I dig out the fetoscope to listen for the fetal heartbeat: not a sound, no matter what position I checked for it. Undeterred, figuring that the problem was my technique, I called in one of the senior nurses to assess for the fetal heartbeat. She too couldn't find the fetal heart.

Unfortunately for us, the fetal doppler probe was not available, so the only way we could confirm the presence of a fetal heart was to perform an obstetric ultrasound. As a double misfortune, the sonographers were also not available at the hospital after 4.00 pm, so we basically had to arrange for her to be transported by ambulance to a reputable external radiology centre to have an obstetric ultrasound done. At this point, I'm really hoping that the ultrasound will prove that there's a fetal heartbeat so that I can schedule her for an emergency caesarean section (C/S) as soon as possible; worst case scenario is that she's had an intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD), and in that case I would not need to saddle her with an unnecessary surgical scar.

We arrange for the ultrasound, but end up having to wait for the ambulance to return from another emergency. Theater staff have been informed about a possible C/S being performed, but we've currently hit the magical hour: 5 - 6 pm...shift change-over time. Basically, nothing gets done during that period, and we end up having to pool our surgical cases until the anaesthetist-on-duty shows up. I keep doing the rounds on the other patients, but also take the time to read the nurses' cardex for Edna's case. During that interview, Edna had reported that she had experienced some vaginal bleeding prior to coming to the hospital (a detail she omitted when I queried her about any danger signs that she may have experienced). Around 5.30 pm, the ambulance becomes available and I'm looking forward to having some clarification on the matter. I've already discussed the option of a C/S with Edna and her husband, and they've suggested that a Bilateral Tubal Ligation (BTL) aka "tying her tubes" be performed; I've even joined up as a member of "Team Edna", and I'm really hoping that the baby is a boy and in optimum condition. And then, it happens!

A sizable amount of blood gushes from her vagina, soaking the sheets! I see the colour disappear from her face, and forget all about the ultrasound; by this point it's very clear that I have to get her into theater immediately. The nurses attempt to stabilize the patient, while we hurriedly prepare blood, get consent, alert the theater, the anaesthetist and my immediate superior (a Medical Officer). The Medical Officer gives me the go-ahead to perform the case and tells me he'll be coming in eventually just in case I might need any help. I counsel Edna's husband again about the emergency situation, and let him know it's the only option that we have left.

Under normal circumstances, I would just perform the C/S myself, but Fiona happens to be around at that moment so she makes the decision to step into theater with me for the case, which affords me several advantages; Fiona and Lucy basically taught me how to perform C/Ss. In addition Fiona is left-handed; basic rule of surgery is that the primary surgeon stands on the side of the patient which allows them the most ease to operate - so, a right-handed surgeon would stand to the right of a patient and vice versa for a left-handed surgeon. Working with Fiona thus felt like having two primary surgeons on the table at the same time, and the responsibility could be shifted without us having to reposition ourselves at the operating table.

Everything is ready for us very quickly. We jump into theater, and in a break from the norm, we are scrubbed in and gowned before the patient has even been wheeled into the theater. Soon as she's placed on the table and anaesthetized we get to work. We sacrifice most of the presurgical skin disinfection for the sake of speed, and start hurriedly. I make a wide incision and slice through skin, fat, fascia and muscle, making my way to the uterus; during this time, she barely bleeds. Once I'm through the peritoneum, I come across a pale white uterus! Gone is the pink colour of the vitalized uterine tissue that I encounter during routine surgery; the inside of her is just as pale as her extremeties.

In one swift move, I'm inside the uterus and we visualize the baby's placenta detached from the uterine wall and accompanied by a massive blood clot...Placental Abruption! Quite the atypical case because the bleeding was concealed and Edna did not experience the usual cluster of symptoms. There was nothing that could be done for this BABY BOY. With one life gone, we concentrate on Edna. With the uterus taken care of, it's time to perform the BTL. All things considered, and with the haste needed post-operatively for the patient (including the most important issue of the blood transfusion), I opt not to perform the BTL, and close her up layer by layer. Soon as we're done, the anaesthetist lets the blood run, trying to reperfuse the patient as quickly as the blood can flow.

Our part as surgeons is done, and we step away from the table to assess the patient whose life entirely relies on the anaesthetist's manipulation. Never would I have thought that the patient I met a mere 3 hours earlier would have taken this eventual turn. As if by design, her breathing ceases, and shortly thereafter her heart stops. We're ready for it when it happens and we jump in to resuscitate her.  We aren't able to achieve anything meaningful, and I lament that her husband isn't around to say any sort of goodbye. A 100% fatality rate in an Obstetric procedure.

We clean her body and place her accordingly. We then silently walk out of the operating room into the adjacent corridor, each one of us pondering the experience. We have theater notes to write, and still have more cases to perform; but more than that, we have to inform the father of four of his wife and child's demise. He's not in the reception area when we come out, but undoubtedly, he'll be arriving soon. I try to organize my thoughts so that I can deliver the news in an informative yet sympathetic manner, but I can't lift my gaze from my hands as they lie idle in my lap. In the end, I'm glad when the anaesthetist picks himself up and ends up relaying the information to the bereaved. I was within earshot of the conversation, but I don't remember hearing any wailing or sobbing from Edna's husband. He calmly stepped out of the reception area, and, as with countless cases, I know nothing more of what happened to him or his family.

With every loss you encounter, you're supposed to be able to detach yourself from the situation enough that you can function adequately come what may. After all, the work never ends and though one person's life has been brought to a standstill, the rest of the world need to move on. Even if it may not be required of you, every death is a chance for you to reflect on what you might have missed, what you might have done wrong and what more you could have done; and after that, the harsh lessons inform your practice in regard to subsequent patients.

Every doctor (/medical practitioner) you've ever met probably has a couple of these jarring experiences that they could quote for you if you gave them the chance. We carry many of these scars with us, but rather than break us, these scars make us resolute. We spend a lifetime poring over our mistakes, so that we don't repeat them to your detriment or that of your loved ones. Us asking for you (through the government) to avail us the tools to stave off death for another day is something that we are duty-bound to do. We would love the chance for every one of our patients to have therapeutic options available to them at a rate that they can adequately afford; that they would stand the same rate of survival regardless of their economic endowment.

As with all things in this life, we do our part, but we recognize that in the end God provides the true healing. In the end, He's all we really have.

God Bless.


11:34 PM

The Music of Pat Metheny: September 15th

The music of  the Pat Metheny Group (PMG) takes my mind back a few years, to a very specific place. The year was 2007 circa April, and the exact venue was the Wenzhou University Library's computer lab. It was shortly after I had moved from Kenya to China, and was slowly but surely getting my bearings in a new land. The computer lab was where I spent most of my time because, conveniently, it had free internet. Thanks to China's love/hate relationship with foreign companies (Google et al.), I was forced to become accustomed to using "Baidu" as my search engine of choice. Great thing about Baidu was that it had an MP3 tab, so I could search for music that crossed my fancy, and a lot of times even listen to it.

The music that resonates most with that time is that of the Pat Metheny Group, specifically "The White Album". I don't know if it's because those were the first songs I played online or perhaps it might be because of that broad Midwestern quality to the music that endears it to someone on a long travel. Whatever the reason, these 2 bits of memories are etched side by side.

The song September 15th is from a whole other different album: As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls (a mouthful indeed). The album is unique in that it's basically a collaboration between the core of the PMG - Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays. (with a sprinkling of Nana Vasconcelos for good measure).

September 15th is a pure guitar and piano collaboration, and I like to think of it as a song consisting of 3 different songs. That's just how it was written! The first 2 minute portion consists of a preamble contributed by Lyle; with his synth work laying a beautiful orchestral background, Pat is afforded the chance to colour the rhythm with a sparse picking of his guitar strings. There is a tight interplay between their work, but Metheny is clearly allowed to be the front man for this section. Lyle's synths provide a sad solemn undertone, and Pat's guitar adds layers of emotion above it. Despite this song being dedicated to a fallen comrade (Bill Evans), this is not a dirge; it still comes across as a romantic ballad, particularly in its preamble.

The second part, a slight smidgen above 2 minutes, is a waltz piece contributed by Pat. If you've heard his live performance you'd no doubt recognize this part. His solo medley (for the longest time) has consisted of Phase Dance - Minuano - September 15th (Waltz) - Etc. As he tells the story, he actually wrote it specifically for another group, but they didn't end up using it; so he re-purposed it and ended up using it here. Lyle is on the piano in this portion, but does use the synths to lay down a haunting intro to the piece. This is equal parts Metheny and Mays, matching each other note for note, with the strings and keys melded into a unified whole. This is my favourite bit from the song, immediately likeable and invigorating.

The third and final part is a stroke of luck, just pure serendipity. As Pat tells the story, the written portion of the music was over, so this remaining section was open ended and built on the fly. I feel like this segment hands the reins over to Lyle, using Pat's guitar to chime in occasionally to add accents. When they played this live (during the Imaginary Day tour), this third segment actually ended up being a Lyle solo. While the opening seems heavy laden, and the middle a tad whimsical, this latter portion personally resonates with a sort of cautious hope. (I didn't write the music, but it probably inspires me in this specific way...a good piece of music does that!)

I am definitely not gifted with the musical acumen to describe this song; but then again, maybe something this complex doesn't have to be broken down further for it to be enjoyed. Basically, this is one of my Metheny/Mays staples; it never gets old and is sure to please each time. If you're looking for some inspiration or just need to appreciate some impressive artistry at work, this is the track for you.

God Bless

7:16 PM

2017

Happy New Year!

As my blog attests, I’ve begun this year with a touch of procrastination 😃. I can sadly attest that despite being employed this year, unlike last year, the workload is quite intense. The doctors’ strike which I thought would be resolved in 3 weeks time is still going strong, and that means that a vast number of patients are headed towards the less price friendly mission hospitals (of which PCEA Kikuyu Hospital – my work station – is a veritable member). Add to that the fact that the Medical Officer interns (paid by the government, but posted to PCEA Kikuyu) have shown solidarity with the medical union and walked out on us, let’s just say I’m busier than I had ever expected to be.

All things considered, I’m very hopeful for this year. I’m going to try and get on the old education horse, and see if I can get into a post-graduate program (in China, perhaps) so I can finally start training as a surgeon. Elections will be coming in August, which presents me with the first chance ever to vote in a Kenyan election. Over the 3 past election periods, during which I was eligible to vote, I’d always been out of the country so I missed my chances to bring about any change. I’m hoping that they don’t postpone the election dates because this time I have a vested interest in tossing out the incumbents; frustration voting all the way.

I’m also hoping to pick up a useful hobby or two. For some time now I have developed an affinity for plants – especially beautiful trees – so now is as good a time as any to develop a ”green thumb”. I hope to start off with some Bauhinia purpurea whose seeds I picked from the trees growing at the hospital grounds. Maybe after that I can move on to Cape Chestnut. With this being the year that the family house finally gets built in Ngong, I would love to add some nice flourishes to the land that will make it more homely.

Lastly, I am hoping to get to write more and read more. I think I’ve hit that dreaded plateau where I can’t seem to pick up a book and get some reading done. I get back so tired from work most of the time, and when I’m home I just want to de-stress by doing absolutely nothing – my own little kind of sensory deprivation. This year things change: I’ve got Wangari Maathai’s "Unbowed" to start with, and I’m sure I’ll pick up something else along the way. As for writing, apart from more blog entries, maybe it’s time for a new independent project; or perhaps I could just flesh out my old papers. I wish I could bootstrap the hell out of "the Hyacinth Economy", but it seems like I have to address my medical career first (wish I had come up with the idea while I was in college, much younger, and with a lot more time on my hands). Time will tell what happens.

Well, here’s to an eventful 2017.


God Bless

11:31 PM

My Thoughts on The Doctors' Strike



So, the long awaited strike finally happened! I don't call it long awaited because I've been looking forward to it; rather, I'm just bringing your attention to the fact that we in the medical field always knew it was slated to happen. I remember thinking that it would be the reason that I would end up serving a lengthy internship. (In the end, I did end up serving a particularly lengthy punitive sentence during my internship, but that's another story for another day)

I can't figure out for the life of me how the nurses ended up involved in this bit of mass action as well, but it certainly will make the strike sting that much more. As I've mentioned previously, the nurses are the true backbone of that hospital, and you couldn't hope to run a decent hospital without their help.

I've talked to a few people about the issue, and they believed that the strike would only last a short period - a few days - because of the calamity that's likely to befall the common wananchi. However, I'm sticking to my guns and reasserting that this strike will definitely last for the stipulated 3 week period...if not longer. I have experience on my side to prove this.

Back in 2014 when I started my internship, I had gone 2 months without receiving a salary. This deserves a little context: here in Kenya, medical interns typically begin to receive their salary after having worked for the first 3 months. So, basically, you skate by on pennies until you get the bountiful "boom" payment. Having joined the service 2 months after my colleagues had already started, I was assured that I wouldn't be subjected to waiting for a "boom" payment, and would instead receive my 1st salary as expected. That didn't happen! I ended up going 2 months without getting a salary, and my friends had slogged out 4 hard months without any sort of payment. As can be expected, we ended up going on strike that lasted about one month just so we could get our dues.

With that little experience, I'm pretty sure that the government's response will follow a tried-and-tested formula.

  1. As usual, with all strikes we've had in Kenya, it will be declared an ILLEGAL strike. 
  2. Label the striking staff as senseless heartless human beings who place profit over the lives of their patients in the hospitals. Aren't these the same individuals meant to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath - doing no harm?
  3. Subvert the whole initial negotiation process
  4. When forced to eventually enter negotiations, they will drag their feet, stall the process further and insist that their isn't enough time to institute the measures required to bring the strike to an end.
  5. Remind everyone that Kenya is a poor country with an extremely huge public wage bill, and as such assert that the money required is not available.
  6. Make excuses hoping that public opinion turns against the striking staff, or at least the consciences or better judgment cause them to end the strike.
  7. Make some sort of concession, and agree to fulfil the rest of the agreement at a later date; which will of course set the stage for industrial action at a later date
  8. Repeat ad infinitum
As things stand, we've successfully toed the line from steps 1 - 3; step 4 is already underway. So let's recap. It really is strange how the government runs roughshod over court decisions that do not favour its position; it's even stranger that they somehow get the same courts to later on pass counter-intuitive measures that simultaneously contradict the court's standing, and victimize the aggrieved plaintiff (in this case the medical staff). The Collective Bargaining Agreement did not just appear out of thin air; a previous administration and the doctors' union are signatories of that agreement. It is an act of bad faith to suddenly plead amnesia and refuse to honour the arrangements set forth in the document.

It is even cheaper to try to turn public opinion against the doctors. Yes, we did agree to abide by the Hippocratic Oath, and we do care for the lives of our patients. There is more than just remuneration at the heart of our grievances. It is one thing to know how to save a life; it's a whole other thing to have the tools at hand to save that aforementioned life. I've come to terms with the fact that I will see a lot of people die; it's the nature of the business. However, when those deaths are preventable, it hurts; if you run across enough of those scenarios and merely feel helpless, then you become ambivalent. The deaths that are occurring every day this strike is maintained are indeed tragic; however, they pale in comparison to the total number of preventable deaths that we are exposed to on a regular basis.

I have no idea why the government can't seem to undertake any sort of negotiations without playing hardball. Keep in mind that they delayed the implementation of the CBA, and avoided arbitration that would have forestalled this strike. When I had gone on strike as an intern, I remember our Medical Superintendent making promises week after week that we would be paid. He was of course adamant in his position, and expected us to work come what may. During the strike, we made trips to Afya House, where we were given the same empty promises by the Director of Medical Services (DMS); of course, later on they would pass the buck and tell us that our money wasn't available because Parliament had not passed the supplementary budget that would allow Treasury to release our money.

The crux of the issue is that the people in power just do not care enough for the typical mwananchi. For goodness sake, my president and his deputy continue to frivolously campaign as the country sits on the cusp of a major crisis. It is ironic that the people who are strutting about so pompously and waxing lyrical are the most well paid of individuals (pay that is many times not commensurate to their level of education or work output). How can these people have the gall to remind us that we medical staff provide an essential service, yet undercut us by providing minimal funding for that very same essential service? 

All these talks are set against the backdrop of an administration which is so plagued with corruption that it seems to lack any semblance of credibility. In this regard, I feel like public sympathy will side with the doctors, if they play their cards right (which definitely doesn't include a boneheaded move like sabotaging Private or Mission Hospitals ability to provide services to the sick).

I should remind you that I work at a Mission Hospital, so I am in fact still offering medical services to my countrymen. I would love to see this strike come to an end as quickly and amicably as possible. What Kenya really needed was a harmonization of all the salaries in the country. It is senseless for the political class to be making as much money as they do, considering that they do the least work to propel this country forward. However, the Salary & Remuneration Commission (SRC), which was meant to take up this role, is powerless to enforce any sort of meaningful change. So we're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Only time will tell how this bit of drama unfolds.

Oh well, strike week 2 rolls on. I hope things turn out better and sober minds prevail. If not, anticipate a progression similar to the 8 steps I laid out.

God Bless

8:24 PM

The Things That Medical School Won't Teach You (2) - Don't mess with the nurses!



This has basically been one very crazy week; a crazy year for that matter: first we had Brexit, and now...well I don't even know what to call that little stunner that our American compadres just pulled on us (Amexit hardly seems adequate). Oh well, if frustration voting is the current wave, I'm hoping it persists until next year so we can get some real change down here in Kenya.

But I digress; as an addition to my medical school series, on this occasion I'm highlighting a topic that's on a different end of the spectrum than my usual fare. So without further ado, another rule of thumb for the wise clinician: Don't mess with the nurses!

Whenever I've highlighted my experiences, they typically focus on the doctors; that's mostly due to convenience because trying to encompass everyone and the skill sets involved would make for much longer posts. If you happen to spend anytime near any sort of health facility, however, you would quickly come to the realization that most of your time is spent in the company of nurses, the true unsung heroes of the medical world.

From a lot of my posts, and a myriad of others floating freely online, you can understand that the life of a medical doctor is no mere cake walk. However, nursing is on an even grander scale of difficult. I would estimate that as much as 70 - 75% of all the strict medical work taking place at a hospital is carried out by the nurses. Nurses are so essential that - as I've experienced in Kenya - to get any sort of decent medical strike going, you need the nurses' muscle to weigh in on the matter. You can keep a hospital running with a few Consultant doctors and a full team of nurses, but you can barely even hope to run a mere Outpatient department with all the doctors in the world devoid of a single nurse on board.

As I've mentioned before,
"Contrary to common thinking, it is a team effort that helps save lives."
Therefore, the message herein is twofold: 1. Respect the nurses; 2. Fear what comes with crossing a nurse.

During my stint at the Memorial Hospital (circa 2006), I remember one of my colleagues highlighting the importance of nurses; surgical nurses, to be precise. Surgery is hands-on, and the consultant will only 'hold your hand' for so long. You are expected to gain competency in surgical procedures through the long respected traditional method: "See one, do one, teach one."
However, even in cases where neither your Consultant nor medical officer are around, you are never really alone! The surgical nurses are veterans and have participated in so many surgeries as assistants in the Consultants' presence that they could actually perform some of the procedures themselves. However, since they are not legally licensed to carry out the procedures, they can at least guide you.

Now, initially, interns may be unaware of this vast resource at their disposal. Particularly egotistical interns might even rub the nurses the wrong way and choose to treat them like second class citizens. Now, nurses are a patient lot, and will usually let things slide; however, should the aforementioned intern find himself stuck during a surgical procedure in which he is the primary surgeon, then the nurses will just be content to let him sweat things out on his own. Worse still, at the end of it all, the intern would have to call his superior in to assist him, which many times could end up with the intern being berated. To me the point was clear: Respect the nurses!

I would daresay that the greater part of the refinement of my surgical technique occurred under a nurse's watchful eye. Mr. Nyabaro taught me subcuticular suturing, Mr. Mutaroki schooled me on the surgical tools; Sr. Asiago, Sr. Lydia, Sr. Dinah, Sr. Judy and Sr. Alice augmented my effort in any procedure that I performed. When the tides had turned and I had become adept at performing a myriad of the tasks, then they all helped me teach these skills to the next bunch of interns and students.

Of note is one memory that is as clear in my mind as the first day it occurred. I remember on my very first night on call in Obstetrics/Gynaecology, there was a lady who had an obstructed labour so she required a caesarean section. However, I froze up on the table, and I couldn't extract the baby; the scrub nurse was the one who successfully pulled the baby out. In the same procedure, I had yet another stroke of bad luck: I was unable to find the edges of the uterus, so I was unable to suture it and progress any further. At that point, I had to call the Medical Officer to assist me.
He was livid! From the moment he made his way into the changing room I could hear him protesting and cursing me out! He made his way into the operating room and scrubbed in amidst all sorts of threats. At the end of it all, he told me to either shape up or he would have me dismissed from the Obs/Gyne rotation. It was at that point that I made up my mind to be as self-sufficient as possible; also, I decided that I'd rather rely on fellow experienced interns or nurses to get me through the rotation.

There is a silver lining to this particular story, though: the scrub nurse was so disgusted with the behaviour displayed by my medical officer, so she made a point of reporting him to my Consultant; personally, I'm more of a "let-things-slide" kind of person (Lord knows I didn't want any bad drama), but the nurse stood up for me, and in the end won me some respite; and for that, I am deeply indebted to her.

That's right...nurses protect the doctors too! I can give two example in this regard: when (as a fledgling doctor) you mess up and write up the wrong medication, dosage or route of administration, the wise nurses will bring it to your attention, correct you (in private without embarrassing you), and prevent you from causing major harm to the patients. Also, recalling the "perception of impending death" that experienced nurses develop, the nurses will be able to draw your attention to the most critical patients. Depending on the kind of hospital you work in, sometimes the workload is overwhelming; this means you have to be able to triage the patients so you can divert a limited resource (your time, energy) where it's needed most. To the inexperienced doctor, it might be easy to get overwhelmed by the work, and to come to grips with the challenge of managing patients in a resource poor setting; however, the nurses will keep you on track, thus protecting you, the patients and the hospital's reputation all at the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I have no delusions that all nurses are good people. Some particular painful experiences during my internship came courtesy of nursing staff. Like I've mentioned previously, (medical) school doesn't teach people how to be good doctors; the very same truth applies for nurses. What I am highlighting is the positive outcome that comes from working with good nurses, and in my experience most of them have been very good individuals. There is an unparalleled synergy that just makes the job a delight. I would compare it to a good marriage where you're so in-tune with your partner that eventually you become aware of their thought patterns and can complete their sentences. I remember trusting some midwife nurses so much that if they told me that they would be unable to deliver a child naturally, everything else became academic; I would schedule the mother for a caesarean section on the spot! (You know yourselves Sr. Zipporah, Sr. Lilian, Sr. Elizabeth, Sr. Rose, Felix and Nyambane). When people give you their best each and every day, then you in turn can give your best.

This post wouldn't be complete without me reminding you to steer clear of vexing the nurses. It is one thing for nurses to bear the heavy load associated with their work; it is yet another for them to feel underappreciated, especially given the nonchalant and boneheaded manner in which people of authority have usually dealt with them. Kindly, do not add to their stresses by treating them disrespectfully for they can act out with a vengeance; keep in mind that the camaraderie between nurses runs deep, and one slight against one of them could be technically be viewed as a slight against all of them. Imagine trying to get your work done without the aid of the nurses! Thus, act accordingly and pick your battles; you can't win if you pick a fight with the nurses.

Patients too should be mindful of the manner in which they treat the nurses. In the course of their practice, the nurses develop an acumen in simple things...like knowing the least painful way to administer a certain medication. Acting belligerent towards a person who might end up with the task of injecting you with a multiple cocktail of medications throughout the course of the day can end up causing quite painful ramifications. Therefore, please, be kind to your nurses (for your own sake).
Have a Blessed day.

10:25 PM

The things that medical school won't teach you (1)

It's been a bit overdue, but I guess I might as well jump into that whole list of things I stated about the "fine print" with regards to things medicine; let's start things off with a biggie: You will sacrifice a great deal in caring for your patients that will never be compensated.

I actually mentioned this as number 6 on my list, but it is as fine a point to start with as any other. Poignantly so with the latest spate of medical strikes that have occurred in different counties all over the country.

I don't know if there's any analogous experience outside of the medical field that can really prepare you for what practising medicine really entails. I should know: I've taken quite the long route to get to where I currently find myself - 10 years of post-secondary education (4 years of Pre-Med Biology and close to 6 years of Medical school). Interspersed somewhere in there is some volunteering and doctor-shadowing.

The medical profession is still one of those very revered fields (seems like the reverence currently far outweighs its economic incentives). I'm making a calculated guess that any parent would feel proud if they were to hear that their child had chosen to pursue a medical career; sadness may creep in, though, when they realize how much money they would have to invest in that decision. So we make the decision to follow this path, put in all those hours of work and commitment, choose the right schools, get adequate extracurricular activities that reflect well on our character; also, lest anyone forget, medicine today, just as it was in the past, is learned through apprenticeship; therefore, having a good mentor in the field helps keep you motivated, and can show you up-close the sacrifice entailed in your career choice.

So, when you eventually make it past medical school, you eventually settle down to one year of basic serfdom aka "the internship". I'm thankful here in Kenya we only spend one year doing our internship, because my Ghanaian colleagues have to spend two (dreadful) years as interns. As I mentioned earlier, learning medicine is done through apprenticeship; the nature of that apprenticeship can very often mirror boot camp at the mercy of an unkind Drill Sergeant. I would be lying if I claimed that any two internship experiences are alike; some people have relatively calm internships, while some people (myself included) go on to have troublesome internships (the universe can be so unkind). You may find yourself dealing with many a cantankerous consultant; if you're unlucky, the medical officers might also decide to make your life a living hell. In my case, I run across the foul trifecta while I was rotating in the Obstetrics/Gynaecology Department - the Consultants, Medical Officers and even some of the Nursing staff took turns dishing out grief.

It really is quite the sad turn of events. Despite all the knowledge we rack up in medical school, nothing quite compares to full hands-on experience with a living breathing patient. What we do in medicine is definitely far from the norm. Normal people aren't supposed to do the things we do. Normal people aren't supposed to see the things we see; poking/prodding/probing and incising/ligating/exploring the human body all while assuring you that we mean you more good than harm is a hard deal to pull off. And in case you haven't noticed, a lot of your friends in the medical field are a tad unhinged - possessing a wry sense of humour and unmatched fortitude. It's just the nature of the business, and unfortunately, you pretty much have to learn it on your own.

That's right, there is plenty that is learned on the job. One of the more fascinating facts about medicine is that despite the fact that we deal with death on quite a regular basis, no one actually teaches you how to deal with it (breaking news to the patients' relative, how to inform someone that they have a poor prognosis); no one lets you know how to deal with the fact that your actions (in)directly may lead to a patient's death; also, no one teaches you to develop the sense of detachment from the patient that keeps you objective come what may. Something else they may not emphasize is that you also become really adept at knowing your limits with regards to saving lives. Sometimes you walk into the ward and you have a pretty good feel about the patients most likely to perish on that day. At first, it unnerved me a bit that nurses would just mutter that

"the patient in bed so-and-so is a goner!" (rephrased). 
Dastardly as that might sound, it actually is a "good" thing because it lets you know where to focus your intervention the most. Also, it lets you know who needs to be referred out for special care that you may be unable to provide. However, if you're in a resource poor setup dealing with poor patients who obviously can't afford to go anywhere else, then you prepare yourself for the worst. We don't get to wash our hands of the impending death, but we can at least assuage our consciences of the guilt.

Sometimes people assume that this stuff is easier to deal with because (apparently) doctors make a ton of money. Personally, on many occasions, I've had people step up to me and state that "medicine is a calling!" When you have people from all walks of life constantly reminding you that your chosen profession is a calling, you better believe that the money will definitely not be commensurate to the amount of work you'll put in. If the money's the reason that you're choosing medicine as a career, I'd prefer that you chose one of a host of other jobs that require less schooling, afford you more free time, better salaries, and a life free from frivolous litigation and egotistical individuals. Apart from medical professionals, the only other professionals that gets reminded so much of being "called" are probably teaching staff. (that's not exactly what I'd consider good company!)

Despite all the challenges and pitfalls, there are many good doctors who are in this profession and conscientiously make the effort to care for their patients no matter what the circumstance; who aim to do good by their patients with whatever they have at their disposal. They take care of your precious defenseless children, they support you in your times of weakness, will care for your aged relatives when their feeble bodies fail them, and will add life to any person's days that they encounter.

It is a hard life, but it's a life that I enjoy; I've witnessed some crazy stuff, but it's interesting to share treasured war stories with my colleagues from time to time. Though, I do wish the government would do its part in helping us take care of our patients. I would definitely prefer the job satisfaction that comes with being able to adequately address my patients' needs over a pay rise. The government has absconded its commitment to the health sector and the majority poor; without giving us the tools to care for this society, they turn us into mere palliative specialists. Like I've already mentioned, I have already learned to be pretty detached in my line of work - for my own sake, and my patients' too; but having my hands tied any further would only make me bitter, cynical and ambivalent...qualities you do not want in any of your doctors.

Take home message: if you choose this life, prepare for a gamut of challenges, and for the reward to mostly be in the work itself. That being said, you should also remember that it is a noble profession, it is God-ordained. Not many jobs have as immediate of an impact on the people served; so embrace it, and make you mark in this world as only you can.

God Bless.

2:59 PM

Dr. Strange Movie (Spoiler Free) Review


This has definitely been a superhero heavy year, and here comes another addition to the long list of superheroes to hit the big screen. As long as they're making great movies and telling good stories, I won't be succumbing to any comic book movie fatigue anytime soon.

From all the vibe surrounding this movie, and the praise for its visuals, I was definitely poised to watch this in 3D, and definitely at the IMax Theatre. My twin brother organized this one on the fly, thus, despite not necessarily being a fan of being in downtown Nairobi that late, we settled on the 9.50 pm showing yesterday night. (I can attest that this time the IMax didn't do us dirty by starting the movie while we were still lined up outside the screening area. I gotta say, though, the IMax has one of the worst concession stands I have ever come across; drab and inefficient, it really spoils what should be a good total experience).

I'm pretty sure that this movie has already gotten a myriad of comparisons to other movies of yore. Of course there's the alternate reality type of thing entailed in this movie's plot, so The Matrix and Inception (especially due to the trippy visuals) will get tossed around a lot. This is an origin story, and Dr. Stephen Strange is an egotistical individual, so Iron Man will also get mentioned a lot. At the end of the day, it is clear that Dr. Strange is its own unique movie, and it one-ups all those other movies it gets compared to.

The movie is a linear narrative, detailing everything from the evil turn of the antagonist, to Dr. Strange's fall from grace and his desperation, and finally to his humbling and metamorphosis into a hero. Benedict Cumberbatch shines as the fledgling hero, interesting to watch in all his emotional turns, and lending gravitas to this comic book movie. His arrogance is more akin to Dr. House MD than to Tony Stark. He's not a bad person, per se: his demeanour is just atrocious (like some great doctors). By the time this movie even comes to an end, he's not yet even become the great Sorcerer Supreme that people usually know him to be; but, he's a humbled man rising to the challenge that has been unceremoniously tossed his way.

We have some good turns from everyone involved, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen. Seems like they threw an extremely gifted bunch of thespians into a mere comic book movie, but I'm not complaining. However, in setting up Kaecilius in a role that the comics usually reserve for a certain unnamed villain (no spoiler here!), I feel like some of Mads Mikkelsen's role might have been sacrificed. Therefore, as usual, people will complain that we've been given yet another weak Marvel villain. In the grand scheme of things, he's a secondary antagonist - similar to Loki playing second fiddle to Thanos in The Avengers, but being the biggest sinister presence within that movie. Fortunately for Loki, he'd had a pretty well established history by that time.

It would be very remiss of me to fail to mention the visuals of this movie, which are very much an unsung character in this movie. If you've ever picked up a Dr. Strange comic, you'd know that trippy visuals are par for the course with this character. This comic truly was Inception (and then some) before Inception was an inkling in Christopher Nolan's mind. However, bringing those visuals to life as beautifully as it was done here is in itself a superhuman feat. Once the Ancient One lays her hand on Stephen Strange's head, you are in for the ride of your life. I'm pretty sure Astral Projection has been done before, but this movie sets a new standard for what astral projection SHOULD look like. I'm not sure whether Dr. Strange has a faithful animal companion in the comic book, but this movie filled that role by imbuing the Cloak of Levitation with that manner of sensibility. From the moment the Cloak make its onscreen presence, it will be delightfully seared into your mind. As for the locations, London, New York and Kathmandu are stunningly shot and a beauty to behold.

This is a Marvel movie, so the colour palette is warm, and though the mood get heavy at times, it is lighthearted most of the time, and the jokes do hit the mark. I also love the characterization portrayed in the movie. Typically, Stephen Strange is the resident egotist who needs to be humbled. However, everyone in this movie, even the well-meaning sages, are shown to be flawed. Even the well meaning good deeds performed with the best of intentions can sometimes backfire terribly, and those ramifications are what will be explored further in what is to come in this franchise. It really highlights the Yin and the Yang really well; that there's a bit of good in the most evil of people, and likewise a bit of evil in the most good of individuals.

I had only one gripe in this movie, and it comes during that otherworldly visual street chase scene pitting Dr. Strange and Mordo against Kaecilius and his minions. In most of this movie, Dr. Strange and Mordo, whether they're winning or overwhelemed, are typically stoic and keep fighting. However, towards the end of that scene, they appear unnecessarily powerless and feeble, which serves as an exaggerated prelude to the tragedy that follows. It could have been played out differently, but like I said, minor gripe.

This movie is a beautiful addition to the MCU, and is probably their best Origin movie story to date. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Sorcerer Supreme will fit into the MCU from this point onwards. I can only rate this movie as an A+; I suggest you give it a watch in IMax 3D if you get the chance (wouldn't want you ruing missed chances of you wait till it comes out on Blu-Ray).

God Bless.

9:37 PM

The Music of Pat Metheny - Farmer's Trust



I've been an avid fan of Pat Metheny since being introduced to his work in the form of his beautiful song, 'James,' some time circa the early 2000's. Truth be told, my first true introduction to him came in the late 90's as a result of the Walt 'Baby' Love countdown show, which used 'Here to Stay' as a segue piece.

Since that time, I've gotten to listen to a lot of his music, and he is quite the busy artist with prolific output. Some of the stuff he puts out is straight ahead jazz, other stuff (example, 'Here to Stay') borders on smooth jazz; and then some of his stuff is just straight out of this world experimental.

Today, I'm focusing on 'Farmer's Trust' from his live Travels album, which consists of a slew of the Pat Metheny Group's hits recorded during live sessions in 1982 (yep, this recording is technically as old as I am). This is my best song on the album, and probably one of his all-time favourites. I believe the best way to describe the song would be as "...a melancholic chant, a soothing lullaby, a celebration of life in its simplicity and just a hint of an ode to Mother Nature"; at least those were the words I used when I wrote to the Q&A page on his website.

This ballad has that open plain Midwestern charm that's at the root of Metheny and Mays' humble beginnings. It sounds like they concocted it as they sat out over some open plain late past dusk, and tried to evoke the mood of the calmness settling over the earth. Nana Vasconcelos (rest his soul) provides the delightful bird chirping that gives this song an ethereal quality. I couldn't believe that he actually used a rubber duck to pull off such an impressive feat! (the man was a wizard).

The interplay between all the moving pieces that are the 5 musicians involved in crafting this gem works so well that it actually seems like a really simple song. (Jim Hall & Pat Metheny in fact have a very beautiful rendition of this song that only comprises of the two of them on guitars). It has this great use of silence interspersed within it; sometimes Metheny on guitar shines through while everyone else takes a back seat, then Mays on the keyboard takes the lead; Rodby lays out a beautiful bass line, Gottlieb's drums as just the slightest hint of a whisper...and finally, Nana's got the chirps. I think what's really impressive about this band -in all its permutations - is its ability to fill up space orchestrally with their notes. It feels like they use the bare minimum of notes here, and it works perfectly.

If I were on a deserted island, this is definitely one of those tracks I'd have with me. There's just so much hope at the core of this song.

God Bless