Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Lab...

Frequently, we have to test little kids for HIV and malaria. It's a simple fingerstick rapid test, but I hate doing it. I get the kids to sit on their mom's laps. I smile and coo at them in Portuguese and English; most understand neither since they aren't taught Portuguese until they're in school. But they look at me with interest. Curiosity is the only emotion on their faces as I take a little hand and clean a finger with alcohol. They have so little experience with medical systems that they don't know to be scared when someone comes at them with a lancet. At this point, while the kid is still smiling at me in ignorance, I ask the mom to help me hold their hand still. “I'm going to pinch your finger a little,” I say in Portuguese, with a friendly look. I prick them with the lancet and see the inevitable, heartbreaking result. The first look is one of absolute surprise and betrayal. The nice lady who was talking and smiling just hurt their finger. Then they realize I've still got their finger and they can't get away. Panic sets in. They scream and cry, and try to twist into their mother's arms or stiffen their backs to slide off her lap and run away. Sometimes it takes me, the mom, and other lab guy to hold them still enough to get a drop of blood into a capillary tube. When it's over, I wipe the sweat off my brow and say to the lab guy, “Esse e porque eu nao sou pediatra.” I thought it was the worst...until the day I tested a child who lay limply in her mother's arms and never even blinked when I pricked her. I had been holding her hand tightly in anticipation of the battle to come, but she didn't move. Since then, when a child comes in who looks too thin or feverish, I find myself silently begging as I do the test. “Ok Mom, if you could hold her hand still please.” Kiddo please cry. Please react. Try to hide behind your mom. “Ok, if you'll hold this cotton on her finger until the bleeding stops.” Try to run away. Something. Anything. So many of them test positive for HIV.

At the lab yesterday, I was talking with the lab guy about a tray of sputum samples and I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. One of the samples moved. I looked closer and realized it was full of worms crawling around. Someone coughed up a load of live maggot-looking worms. I'm proud I didn't faint into a sweaty heap in the dirt. I need to refresh my differential of COUGHING UP LIVE WORMS!! Some nasty parasite. Ascariasis? Between brushing tse tse flies off my face and out of my ears while I try to use the microscope and spiders leaping out from behind the sharps box, sometimes the bugs are just too much.

3 Comments:

Blogger Linda King said...

Hi! I ran into Peggy at lunch on Sunday. She told me about your blog. I'm trying to catch up starting with your blogs in August. It is SO interesting! I love the way both of you write. I went on a mission trip in January (only a week) to Camalu, Mexico. I can relate to the dirt roads, poverty, and desolation. I had no experience with the medical aspect of their lives, but the people themselves were wonderful. The children were especially eager to see us and help us. There were so many shirts with American logos: Tommy Hilfiger, various sports teams, even a UT Volunteer shirt, and a "Don't Worry, Be Happy" shirt from many, many years ago. I got "chill bumps" when I heard the very same songs we sing in church sung in Spanish. I have retired after 30 years of teaching and am enjoying things I never had time for before! I'll be waiting for the next update. I love both of you. Linda King

February 13, 2008 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...

My goodness, Lara! I can't imagine seeing this. I was gagging as I read your blog, and I wasn't even witnessing it in person!

I am praying for you...be careful!

February 18, 2008 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Laine said...

The good in this is that help is trickling to the children who cannot help themselves and you are part of that.
Take care.

February 20, 2008 at 6:59 AM  

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