Saturday, September 17, 2011

Adding to my trove of hospital experiences

One thing is for sure, I could not write for a living because I cannot find the energy or motivation to sit down and write about all the things that I often think about or experience.

This blog, for example, has languished for some time. I could claim that there is a hiatus in Lin’s follow up care which is true because he is in between check ups (thankfully he gets his port-a-cath flushed without event).

We are thankful that he is in fine health.

More recently I got to know more about a different illness and treatment; this time it had to do with an abscess of the liver.

My brother called me one Friday evening to say that he was running a high fever, had chills and a bad headache but would wait until Monday to visit his GP.

He called me on Saturday afternoon to say that he was feeling worse and was going to the 24-hour clinic and Accident/Emergency department at Gleneagles, a nearby private hospital.

I insisted on driving him there and before too long the duty doctor examined him and suggested a blood test to check for malaria, dengue or something else. Rather than wait there for hours we went back to his apartment.

When the results came back the diagnosis was a bacterial infection and my brother decided to wait until Monday to see his regular GP – who also did some more tests.

In the meantime he was started on a course of antibiotics and felt a little better. But at my prodding he spoke to a friend at the National University Hospital (NUH) who happened to be flying out that night for a medical conference but urged him to go to the walk-in A&E, which we did after dinner on Wednesday night.

Until then I had no idea that Singapore’s government hospitals were overloaded. Not only were patients waiting to be examined, there were announcements over their public address system to say that they were experiencing a shortage of beds.

At about 3:30am we drove home – he had been examined, prodded and poked. Blood was extracted for testing and he was given medicine via IV. There was still 100 patients waiting to be seen by the two doctors on duty!

Perhaps that was why the doctor on duty that night was curt to the point of being rude. The first thing he said when we walked into his room was “name” and then he pointed at the only other chair in the room and said, “sit down”. I stood the whole time, trying to pretend I was an IV stand.

Being me, I waited until we were ready to return to the waiting room and asked him for his name. He gave me the shortened form and as I had not come across such a name I asked him to spell it. “J-O-C-E” he said. I later found out it was Jocelito.

Overworked or not, he had no excuse for being so rude and offhand with any patient, but I guess the patients were all too ill to notice.

Anyway, my brother was asked back the next day for a consultation with a gastroenterologist and the upshot was that he was asked to check in. But no beds were available so he went home to wait.

Later that Thursday night he was checked in and antibiotics were administered intravenously for his liver abscess and an infection.

However, what he at first thought was prickly heat from his rather warm, non-air-conditioned accommodation turned out to be a severe reaction to one of the antibiotics. By that time they had managed to find him an air-conditioned room and he was much happier.

Because of the allergy they pulled the IV and gave him oral doses of antibiotics instead. And decided to wait for some improvement in his skin condition before they introduced a needle through his abdominal wall to drain the abscess.

This meant more waiting and, finally, on Wednesday after the dermatologist had given the OK, the abscess was drained.

By the next day he felt much better. Three days later (Saturday)  I think he will be allowed home soon – after they have removed the drainage baggie.

Needless to say, every morning I would “WhatsApp” him and bombard him with questions, some of which he would ask the doctors - the doctors being fortunate not to have their visits coincide with mine!

The drug allergy is a mixed blessing. While he does not have to live with an IV for six weeks while antibiotics are pumped into him 24 hours a day, he still has to take six weeks’ worth of antibiotics at timed intervals even if it means waking up to take them.

After this, he will be quite healthy and bacteria-free. And he is going to be a teetotal purveyor of wines until the doctors give him the green light to resume imbibing wine!

What I have learnt from this is to suffer any headaches and fever combination until such time as the doctors have been able to take blood samples and culture them for bacteria.

This would enable them to target the type of bacterium and administer the appropriate antibiotic.

Otherwise they would have to throw the kitchen sink at the infection which could be caused by any or a combination of the usual suspects -including streptococcus and staphylococcus (real nasties).