Sick Babies and Tear Gas


Monday mornings are always a bit insane in the clinic - lots and lots of mothers lined up, sitting on benches to wait with their sick babies. Everyone holds on through the weekend with their sick little ones, eager for the clinic to open on Monday. After less than 10 minutes in the clinic, I had to put in an emergency IV and start resuscitating a little one.

Our day went beyond the usual Monday chaos with some added craziness. The nurses at the hospital were on strike. Health care workers striking is not good for patients, but it too-often seems to be the only way they can make the hospital administration meet their very reasonable demands for appropriate drugs, gloves, and medical supplies.

A peaceful protest cannot last very long here, sadly, as demonstrated by the horrific crackdown of the police on school children protesting the destruction of their playground last week. Sure enough, the Kenya police showed up today in riot gear and decided to disperse the nurses using tear gas. Insane. The tear gas came in all through the hospital buildings and clinics, making everyone wheeze and cough and gasp even in areas relatively far away from the demonstrators.

police_riot gear

In our busy clinic, we didn't know what was happening at first. Your throat begins to burn, your lungs are closing up and wheezing, and you can't stop sneezing and crying. Tear gas is horrible.  And very, very bad for sick babies. So, that was a disaster to sort out as I tried to keep breathing well enough to make sure everyone was ok and get the sickest little ones moved to where the gas was thinner. Our babies already come in breathing too-fast with their pneumonias and fevers. Tear gas was the last thing we needed.

On top of all of this, the main washing machine at the hospital had broken down over the weekend. This doesn't sound like such a big deal, except that we had no clean linens or scrubs or gowns. This basically shut down all of our surgeries for the day, and made things more complicated for dealing with really sick patients who needed new beds in units that were closing down for lack of linens. Plus, many more patients needed gowns to replace clothing contaminated by tear gas or would have benefited from wet clothes to hold over faces.

BUT, not a single patient of mine died today, and so in my book it was not a bad day. Bad days are days when children die. This was just a crazy one.

Posted at 07:39


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