Gaining Insight Through a Child's Lens
by Phoebe Martin-Laplante
"Keep your eyes on the prize" is a common inspirational saying one hears while striving to pursue their dream. Well, I'd like to share a story about the jaundiced eyes that opened my own eyes to fulfill the calling to pursue pediatrics. While at St. George's University, I was given the opportunity to spend some time in Grenada General Hospital. For those of you who have never been to Grenada, or at least off the Sandals Resort, the country suffers from extreme poverty and lack of resources to help their own. Just to put it in perspective, there is only one dialysis machine on the entire island, acetaminophen is the only drug they provide during labor, and any medical condition that requires surgery is left upon the family's shoulders to try and raise enough money to fly to the States.
Have you ever looked into someone's eyes that are filled with hope, but you have to provide information that shatters this hope? Their hope is immediately shadowed with sadness and your own heart is filled with grief.
This experience had never happened to me, and quite possibly might never have if I didn't experience medicine in a developing country, such as Grenada. During my first of nine weeks at the hospital, I was assigned to the pediatric unit. The unit had about 20 cribs, all lined up with only enough room for a chair between each. No parents in sight, children crying because of the humid, hot air coming through the windows that were wide open to the ocean, as well as to the mosquitoes that were carrying chikungunya at the time.
As I went over to one of the only mothers in the unit, she explained to me that she brought her infant in a few weeks ago because his skin was staying yellow, despite the doctor telling her it would go away. This was not her first child so she had an inclination that Rubin's yellow skin was not normal. As she handed her child over to me, he opened his eyes, and these eyes I will never forget, they were the most deep yellow, large round circles I have ever seen on a child. As I continued my physical exam, she explained to me that the doctors told her that he would not make it much longer unless they could find enough money to fly to Trinidad for surgery to repair his biliary atresia. After finishing up, I went over to the attending physician, filled with confusion as to why the doctors could not perform a Kasai procedure which would prolong this child's life, like we had learned in lecture just a few weeks ago. The doctor explained to me that none of the doctors on staff were trained pediatric surgeons and that Rubin was not the first and he would not be the last to die in this hospital because of lack of training or resources on the island.
Fast forward nine weeks later, I was in my final week at the hospital and was again assigned to the pediatric unit. As we were being assigned patients, we stopped by a crib, and this little boy was sitting up playing with his toy. He looked up at me, with his big beautiful eyes; the jaundice was gone, his eyes were white as snow. I grabbed the name card hanging from the crib, to make sure that I was not confusing this healthy looking child with the baby I was told was not going to make it just nine weeks ago. Sure enough, the name card read: RUBIN. I could not believe it! I rushed over to the doctor, asking how or why this baby survived. Was it a miracle? The doctor explained to me that a pediatric surgeon was visiting the island on vacation with his family a few weeks ago and he stopped by the hospital one day to volunteer his time. When he learned about Rubin, he immediately performed the Kasai procedure that would save, or at least prolong this little boy's life.
Everything clicked at this moment for me: Becoming a doctor could not be about me. It was not about the dream I was in pursuit of. Rather, I realized that I must become a doctor because there are children like Rubin who have no chance without us. It is about giving them life so they may fulfill their dreams. They have no chance to live without the skills we learn and later provide. Medicine has advanced so much over the years, but we must allow for these advances to reach poverty stricken areas, as well. I urge you to travel, give your time and talents and who knows which patient will look into your eyes so deeply, with much hope and trust, that will change your life forever.
Author's Note: "As I seriously reflect on why I will be applying for a pediatric residency this coming Fall, I think back on my first experience dealing with a sick child in Grenada. This reflection reminded me about my calling to service, using my medical education to help others."