Thursday, June 18, 2015

Día de los Padres

Here in Perú we celebrate both Mother and Father’s day similar to back home and on the same dates. The tradition at the health clinic is there is usually a small party for both holidays. This coming Father’s Day we will work a half-day on Saturday and then all the woman and single men will set up and cook for the party. We give small gifts to all the fathers and have a nice lunch followed by some drinks, music and dancing. In Perú music is a must and it seems to me is always played at the highest volume no matter the time of day.

Since coming back to mission in 2014 now as a father of our son Charlie, life has a different view. I enjoy the fact that often I am taking care of Charlie while Toni takes call in the hospital. I often walk him in the stroller through town or go to the soccer field to play and watch the soccer and volleyball games during the afternoons when the rains have taken a siesta.  We have father and son time that I might not otherwise have with the work schedule back in the U.S. Charlie is now almost two and is much more active and now able to run around and play with all the little kids his age in town.  

Being a father I now understand the work of caring, providing, and guiding your family and children. I recently have been happily surprised, as I have become more aware of how fathers are interacting in their family here in the culture of the Napo River. Last week on rounds in the early morning hours I was attending to several kids with pneumonia and/or severe wheezing from respiratory illnesses. As I finished with my last patient I walked to work on the clinic notes and orders smiling. The last 3 kids I saw were all being cared for and supervised by the father. A role not usually taken up by the father, but one that all three men were doing with ease in caring lovingly for their children. All had good questions for me as to how to take care of them upon their return home or thanking us because their child is notably improving.

We recently had a father come from 6 hours up river with his daughter who has been having convulsions for a little more than a year. After the natural remedies and first medication given in the local health post did not work he decided to come to Santa Clotilde. His daughter was obviously having seizures and we started some medications to help, but did not stop them entirely. We also were limited on diagnostic tests needed to find the cause of her seizures so we discussed with the father the need to travel to Iquitos, another 6 hours away on boat for a CT scan and an EEG (electroencephalogram-which studies brainwaves to identify the location of the seizure causing lesion).  He responded happily that if we were able to help with the transport and costs he would go; as all he wanted was his daughter to be healthy. They came back after 2 weeks of tests in Iquitos and he joyously told us his daughter is well on the medication and has not seized in over one week. She has a form of epilepsy and had a normal CT scan. She has follow up in Iquitos which the father said he will be ready to travel again in a month because he sees his daughter healthy and wants her “to be normal again like she is now”

Life on the Napo is hard for all and I am very proud to see the fathers caring for their family’s by going to plant and harvest food in their chakra (small plots of land), building their thatched roof houses, leaving at 3am to go fish to provide for their families and also in helping with their care by bringing them to their visits and caring for them in the hospital.  I wish them and all of you back home a Happy Father’s Day.  God Bless

Thursday, January 1, 2015

See More Blogs at

Thank you Dr. Wayne Farmer


I'd like to take time to thank Doctor Wayne, a humble, smart, compassionate pulmonologist, who came as a volunteer through Mission Doctors Association for over 6 weeks. 

From the moment he arrived, Dr. Wayne went right to work, stepping foot off of a 5 hour boat ride and into the clinic. His first patients were a family of 5 children whose mother was diagnosed with active tuberculosis.

It was serendipity  that he arrived within a weeks of a few newly diagnosed patients with TB, as well as others with hemoptysis and allergic lung disease. What an amazing asset to have, being that we are surrounded by patients with lung disease! Above, Dr. Wayne is precepting Ray Mendez, a forth year Loyola student who was here volunteering, for the second time actually.

We did spend some time exploring too. Thanks to Dr. Wayne's yearning for adventure, we took a trip to Huiririma. We started with a hike through the jungle, much of which Charlie slept on Carlisle's shoulder

Dr. Farmer leads the way, and I stick close behind Carlisle, on guard for mosquitos landing on Charlie and keeping him protected from the sun (with his cool hat from Auntie Erica)

He loved looking at the expansive canopy, chattering birds, muddy puddles, mushrooms growing off rotting downed trees, and ferns sprouting from every crevice. 

We arrived at Manolo's (a co-worker's) aunt's house, and she offered to prep and cook the fish that we brought for lunch, and then provided us with boiled plantains to complement the delicious fish soup. Thank you also to Colin and Afshan, in the right of the picture below who were visiting from UCLA. 
Below is Manolo's family relaxing in the afternoon heat after working over their wood burning stove to cook the food.

We love getting away to Huiririma, and although it's often only a for a few hours, to swim and relax and boat on the tranquil Napo is good for the soul!


Thursday, November 27, 2014

On the boat to Iquitos

I'm sitting on the back our our hospital speed boat, heading to Iquitos, with the bright sun reflecting off of the calm water to my left. To my right, the sky is somewhat overcast and Treycy is sitting in her mom's lap, smiling with a cast on her arm. Grodier, an amazing young carpenter and father of three, is laying on a stretcher in the front of the boat. He can't walk and we suspect that he fractured his back after falling down carrying a door. Our new pharmacist Luis Alberto is at my side. Since his arrival, patients have not wanted for any medicines. He does a good job.

Charlie is home with dad, and for the first time I'm traveling without him. Knowing that we should return by tomorrow afternoon to Santa Clotilde makes this a gentle transition. I have no worries... I came home from my first "real" call two days ago (in other words I was in the hospital the whole evening, overnight, and then all morning rounding on our 25 patients and tending to patients who arrived with malaria, vomiting, and dehydration). Brian was in the shower. Charlie was fed, bathed, clothed, and watching Rio2. The laundry was done, the house was clean, veggies washed, powdered milk made, and he had food waiting for me. So as you could imagine, I'm loving this boat ride... it's the first 
time in over a year I've had to myself. 

What a miracle it is really, to be here in Peru.
Charlie is 16 months and I've been considering weaning him from nursing. The local wisdom that I consistently hear while talking to other mothers here is "put toothpaste on and then he wont want to nurse anymore." After weeks of contemplation, I tried it. It worked like magic! After one taste of toothpaste, he wanted nothing to do with me. I offered him a bottle which he happily accepted. Multiple times throughout the day he would re-address the issue, pulling my shirt down and digging for a drink. Every time, he saw the flaking toothpaste and the smell of mint, looked at me and cringed his nose, and walked away. After 15 hours, I actually gave up. He was half asleep at 10pm, fussing and crying, and I was tired and overfull, so I gave in. I thought maybe a bit of a slower transition over a couple weeks would work better for me.

Work has been busy and fulfilling. I feel so happy to be able to meet the needs of local
families. Last night we gave Treycy ketamine to reduce her fracture and cast her arm. We played lullabies and talked about rainbows and butterflies and she smiled. This morning I walked over, knocked on her cast, and asked her "when did you put this on?" and she giggled, shrugged her shoulders, and replied "I dont know." The beauty of ketamine is that kids don't hurt and remember nothing. We also have 3 kids in the hospital with glomerulonephritis and high blood pressure, three patients with HIV- two of whom are incredibly sick, a bunch of people with pneumonia and possibly TB, a few kids with severe malnutrition, fevers, and big livers. One 14 year old boy had surgery for spina bifida as a baby and although he can walk, he has ulcers on his butt and foot because he lost some of his sense of feeling and forgets to shift his weight. He's healing well. We had a woman who was 22 weeks pregnant with a severe infection in her belly who ended up delivering a very premature baby. Another woman was on her way to our hospital from 4 hours upriver and ended up delivering TWINS en route, in her canoe. The mom and full-term healthy twin girls arrived healthy and breastfeeding and went home two days later. 

In Iquitos, after bringing the patients to the hospital and ensuring they get the X-rays and care they need, I'll be shopping to re-stock our pantry and buy a few fresh items for thanksgiving dinner. Although Santa Clotilde is a small town, we find almost everything we need there. For the things we cant buy in Santa Clotilde, we go to Iquitos. For the things we cant find in Iquitos, like good ground coffee, hershey bars, and peanut M&Ms to fulfill Brian's addiction, we phone a friend and the monthly volunteers are often able to find room in their bag for us. We're so grateful for all the support from back home that allows us to serve here!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Felicidades Vanessa, Bill y Baby Mia Valentina!

Vanessa is one of our superstar nurses. Having surpassed a couple of pre-term labor scares, and enjoying a fun filled baby shower last night at Lili's house (below), she arrived to Centro de Salud Santa Clotilde this morning in labor pain! As you can see above, she's ready for this baby to come!

                    Can mom or dad feed a baby faster?
Padre Jack, making balloon animals!! What can't he do!

One last ultrasound for Vanessa! Baby looks good!

After saying an "Our Father", as is custom here, doctors Yesica and Toni perform a Cesarean Section, to find, as suspected....

A perfectly healthy, gordita baby girl Mia Valentina!! 

God Bless Vanessa and Bill and Baby Mia!

Friday, November 7, 2014


We've recently have two young mothers admitted with active tuberculosis. One lives here in town, and active TB was detected two days after she gave birth to her 5th child. Another woman from upriver came in to clinic with her 4 month old (her 4th child) and was diagnosed with active tuberculosis. All 9 children are PPD positive and need chest X-rays, as do the husbands and other family members. We need to know if these kids have active tuberculosis (which in children is sometimes asymptomatic), and the only way to know is based on chest X-rays. If we give them prophylaxis against tuberculosis and they have active tuberculosis, the bacteria will become resistant and transform the infection into a very hard to treat dilemma.

Do you know the diagnosis?

We do not have an X-ray machine here at Centro de Salud Santa Clotilde (CSSC). This is #1 on our needs list at the current time. We serve over 30,000 people along 250 miles of river. Our top three most common diagnosis here at CSSC are 1) infectious disease/parasites/abdominal pain, 2) respiratory infections like pneumonia, and 3) musculoskeletal complaints like fractures and trauma... most of which "require" an x-ray. It costs $100 per patient to go to Iquitos (on the fast public boat) for an Xray, most of which we end up covering because most of our population are subsistence farmers and don't have that amount of money.

Some families choose the "wait and see" approach to fractures in their children due to fear of the cost, and children end up with permanent disabilities. Without X-ray, we treat complex pneumonias including tuberculosis and attempt to put bone fractures back into place. We had a premature baby born with respiratory distress and after 10 days of no improvement she went to Iquitos and with a simple X-ray was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia (intestines herniated into her lungs). Stranger things happen... we recently had a woman who swallowed a fish bone, but on evaluation we saw nothing in her throat. She admitted that it was no longer in her throat. On her second day here in the hospital, she was alert and talking, and we felt the fish bone starting to poke through the skin of her neck, and hours later she died. Maybe the X-ray would have detected the fish bone earlier and saved here life.

We have a long list of people who need X-rays, and we have rampant tuberculosis in the area, and we have a 35 bed hospital, and we have a fantastic radiologist at U of Michigan who reads all our X-rays (done in IQT)  for us, and we recently had a volunteer pulmonologist Dr. Wayne Farmer who gave two amazing talks on reading X-rays and tuberculosis, and we are living in the 21st Century. So why don't we have an X-ray machine? I ask myself this question almost daily. We are actually just $150,000 away from a portable digital X-ray machine, and have high hopes that the local government here will come thorough with funding next year, in collaboration with the local rotary club and maybe other generous donors. This will allow us to bring the X-ray machine to our 100 communities and formalize a tuberculosis program.

Cutaneous flour migrans

This is a bag of flour that we use to make pizza, pancakes, roux, tortillas, etc. 
"Cutaneous flour migrans"
 Most of the bugs come out with sifting, and we could use a little extra protein anyway!