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Saturday, August 21, 2010

No Problem My Mother Can Take Antibiotics for Dogs.

Life is a cocktail of joy and sorrow. Sometime I think life is bipolar, it has peaks of elation followed by depression. I guess you need both, so that they can compliment each other. Sometimes you try to forget but you can not. Memories remain stuck in your head.  I am visiting New York today and last night before going to bed I was watching news about the flood in Pakistan.

It all came back to me last night watching the news, reminiscing about the time I spent in Pakistan. Whenever poverty sets in a nation, it brings an all inclusive deal. You get many days and nights of corruption, daily rounds of crime, daily entertainment with nightly news of more problems and general frustration. At the same time I also saw extraordinary stories of compassion, altruistic acts and love. It is much difficult to be nice and generous when you have nothing. We all share the same genetic code, live on the same planet and dream while looking at the same moon. We are all alike; the only difference is conditional learning.  I am hopeful, given time things would turn around.

I went to medical school in Pakistan. In early nineties corruption was at its peak. Patient would be admitted to the hospital but not treated appropriately due to lack of resources. I remember an instance where a patient was admitted for a possible stroke. We could not get a CT of the brain as patient was unable to afford a forty dollar CAT scan. We were not able to place a central line on someone as our hospital had none at times. There were hundreds of these events every month. There was and there is still a very dangerous trend in Pakistan that at professional institutes there are political parties for students. These student groups represent national political counter parts. Almost all of them have ethnic or religious agendas. Their goal is to recruit new “talent” and desensitize them.

When I entered medical school I decided never to be a part of these organizations. Though it was a hip thing to do, their membership used to come with a lot of perks which I would rather not explain here. Our number one problem in the hospital was shortage of common medications, no screening of blood for HIV and hepatitis C and lack of organization. Drug addicts would make a line at the blood bank and sell their blood everyday.  We made a decision to do what we could. I got together with some of my close friends and started collaboration with two NGOs. We eventually formed a single organization, our goal was to provide free of cost medications  to patients, arrange blood transfusion drives all over the city and screen it for HIV, Hepatitis B and C. We were able to get major contributions from like minded people.  It took us two years but we succeeded in our goals. We were able to provide medications at no cost to patients and all blood was screened before transfusions.

What we didn’t realize was we were attracting attention from members of these political parties. First they came and harassed us. They asked us to give them portion of our revenues. When we declined they kidnapped some of my junior members including yours truly and beat us up. They even banned us from coming to the medical school if we did not comply.  Eventually, we were allowed to come back again after some negotiations but we never gave them a cent.

I still remember that day when we came back like it was yesterday. I came to school in the morning and I saw our office with all our supplies burnt to the ground. Our years of effort gone just like that. When I saw the office I was literally paralyzed. I couldn’t say or do anything. I sat down with our other team members and basically lied that this was not a big problem, we would start again. A 12 or 13 year old boy walked into our former office as we were talking. He came to me and said that his mother has bad lung pneumonia and the physician has asked him to get this particular antibiotic. He could not afford it so this doctor asked him to come to us. We had the antibiotic the only problem was that it was baked. In Karachi during summer it is so hot that you can really fry an egg on the pavement and this little kid walked at least 5 miles to come to us. He was an orphan or maybe his father left them, his mother was the only one who provided for him and his younger sister. I went back to see his mother and she appeared to be in sepsis due to pneumonia. Blood culture showed Staph. Aureus infection which was resistant to almost all antibiotics except for a few. We started calling different pharmacies but unfortunately there was a shortage of this antibiotic.

This kid came to us in the morning and in late afternoon I got a lead that this particular antibiotic is available at a remote location. I drove my very cheap and unreliable car to this place. When I reached the pharmacy the guy who was working there told me that this particular preparation of antibiotic is for the dogs, however they have given it to humans in the past. I was horrified, first of all I was just a student I did not know any better. I called the physician back and told him the story. He said it should work as there were no other options any way. The kid agreed and the physician gave me a green light.

I reached the hospital around 7 pm. I was excited that I got the job done. I entered “Ward V” through the old wooden doors and started to walk towards the patient. Everything which happened next is in slow motion as I recall. I turned to my left and saw this little kid sitting at the end of the bed in a poorly lit room. He was holding his mother’s feet, she was covered by a white sheet from head to toe.  He looked at me and than ignored as I was not there. I saw a tear roll down his eyes when I turned around to head out. Apparently she died ten minutes before I came.

I never faced the kid, I just could not. They say that no parent should have to bury their child; I think no kid should have to bury their mother either.

I left the country after a year. In fact I just realized that all those who were with me left in the next few years. One of them is a critical care physician in Phoenix, another an ophthalmologist in London, one a psychiatrist in British Colombia and an anesthesiologist in Arkansas

You may wonder what happened to the guy who burnt the office. Only in movies you have a marvelous ending where evil is punished… not in real life. He is doing very well. He received a political asylum in England. He is an advisor to a politician there. I saw his profile the other day on facebook, of course he is not on my list of friends. I often think of letting him know but I have not done it so far. Not so sure if I should.

The good news is history repeats it self. After we left some of our fellow students carried the baton and created a far better organization than we did. They established Pakistan's first burn unit, it has been doing great, serving patient with no cost to them for the past decade or so.

I was at time square maybe an hour ago. I saw people of every color, race and religion having the time of their lives. Now that is an American dream. I hope we all follow this.
This flood in Pakistan has already caused more destruction than the Tsunami, Haiti and Kashmir earthquake together. Do what you think is right.
About the picture: I took this picture of a billboard in Manhattan few hours ago. 

1 comment:

RK said...

It brought tears into my eyes!!