DAY THREE: LOVE MEDICINE
"Sometimes what you need to give a patient is love. For two months, little Steve was our fuel. He kept us going," Dr Rodrigo told me.
I think that in medicine, as in life, there are ordinary relationships and extraordinary ones. Extraordinary ones teach us about ourselves and connect us deeply to other people. They change us as they remind us of each other's humanity. It sounded to me like the relationship that was fused between young Steve, his family and his team of doctors was extraordinary.
When Steve came to the hospital he was sick. His first line ARV treatment had failed. Whatever medical interventions were tried seemed to be failing as well. Steve, at just 12 years old, was facing death.
"For two months he was our fuel," said Dr. Rodrigo. "He kept us going and now the medical me doesn't understand what happened! When I look back, I ask myself: what did we do to make him better?
"At the time I was trying to phase into the stage where you let him die peacefully. Then we started to get closer to him. We talked to him about his dreams. ... The emotional me wants to believe that love was the treatment. The medical me still wonders what was that got him through and made him recover.
"I remember a couple of days being fed up with work. Things weren't working and I went and saw little Steve who was dying and he would give you a smile and everything was better.
" One day, Helen, Steve's tuberculosis doctor, told me she was having a tough day but after seeing little Stevie's smile, things looked completely different, somehow better. I felt jealous for not being there.
"Eventually he started to recover. We saw he gained a kilo of weight, then two, the three and so on. Every little weight gain was like a grain of hope. Helen would come and check him very early and then she wouldn't be able to keep the good news. It kept us going like fuel for our souls."
In here you need to win some battles from time to time, little Stevie is one of those.
Steve was put on second line ARV treatment and, after a short while, he started correcting a nurse who delivered his medicine.
"When a patient is correcting his nurse by telling her she is not giving the right amount of drugs, that is the sign that the patient is ready to take his medications alone! In the end, the magic was Steve. He found the will to follow his treatment."
The point of Dr. Rodrigo's story to me is not that love will conquer all or that on its own a miracle. But I do believe, because I have seen it in my own life, that when love, compassion and curiosity are shared with a patient the patient can see a world that is bigger than the disease.
And they can summon the will to live in the world that they see.
My mother was sick for years with multiple sclerosis. I took her to hundreds of doctors appointments. Most of the time the news was grim. She would be told: "You are worse off than the last time I saw you and it's likely continue to get worse." Then she was told that it was vaguely possible that the steady march of disease could be stalled at its current stage for a short period.
There was one doctor, Dr. Phillips, who made the time to listen to her. He asked about her work and her family. Then he would tell her that he admired her courage and that if he could ask God for one miracle he would ask for her recovery.
By then she couldn't walk. So I couldn't see her quicken her step&#…. But I did notice that she would push the wheelchair out of his office herself.