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Fulfillment In Low-Resource Medicine – Angola Day 2


“My son was playing with a coin and now it’s stuck in his throat!” explained a distraught father in the CEML Hospital emergency department. Objects lodged in the upper esophagus or trachea are especially deadly. They can quickly obstruct breathing or rupture into the neck, causing rapid sepsis and death. Gratefully, at that moment the boy was not yet critical.


By Angola standards, CEML Hospital is exceptionally capable. Dr. Ralph Zacharia, an anesthetist, and I took the child to the operating theater, and after a very tense hour, dislodged the coin.


Despite being my 17th summer in Angola, I continue to experience an unsettling emotional shock each time I re-enter this world of low-resource medical care. A procedure like this in North America would be usually conducted with fluoroscope guidance: a live action X-ray showing the coin’s position second-by-second. It would also be done by an ENT physician specializing in such challenges.


The lack of such resources and specialization deters many healthcare professionals from serving in locales like Angola. Yet for some, like myself, the momentary unsettling emotional shock is inconsequential compared with the fulfillment of making the best of what’s available, and frequently witnessing a happy outcome: a shiny coin in its proper place.


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