I moved to Houston almost 2 years ago now for work. I don’t talk or share a lot about my work with friends outside the medical field because, well, it’s mostly sad. If I talk about work, it’s usually to give advice and occasionally to spread awareness.
The story starts with a girl, 7 years of age, deciding she wished to go swimming with her friends. Her parents acquiesce, after all they love her and it would be her birthday in a few days. They drive to a lake where she dives, swims and plays with friends and siblings. About two days later, she starts complaining of headaches with high fevers. About three days later she becomes disoriented and is rushed to the ER. And about 1 week later, despite all heroic measures possible, she is dead.
The name of her disease is Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis. It’s an ameba that eats the brain. And no matter our attempts as physicians to try and save a life, there is no stopping this ameba once it’s in the brain. Yes, you heard me right. It turns the brain into mush. It is devastatingly fast and fatal. To know that life can change so swiftly. To think that this could be prevented. Where is it found? What can you do to prevent it? Simple. Don’t go diving or swimming in lakes or rivers, especially in the summer months. The ameba thrives in warm freshwater. It finds passage through the nose and into the brain. It is a very rare infection that affects all age groups but most commonly affects children, with the highest rate of infections in male children. It is very preventable and so I urge everyone to be aware of this.
For me, the most shocking part of this story, and what I will never forget, are the parents. Despite learning they were going to lose their child by day 2 of hospitalization, despite their fear and sense of hopelessness in those intervening days, despite then losing their child, and despite their immeasurable grief, they were forever grateful to us physicians. I remember thinking we did not deserve their gratitude, after all, this was an infection. We should be able to stop infections if caught early. But, their gratitude always reminds me that even in the worst of circumstances, even when life drags you to the lowest pits, you can either let your grief drive you mad, drive you to hate, drive you to despair, or you can mold it into something more and something better. You can remember that, “Death, be not proud, for though some have called you mighty and dreadful, you are not so. You are a slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men and your companions are war and sickness. Why are you proud then? One short sleep past, and we wake eternally, and death shall be no more. Death, thou shall die.”
Dr O is a pediatric intensivist in the process of completing her specialization. She wrote a couple of books at the ripe age of 16. She loves to read fantasy and dystopian books. She is a foodie and enjoys Houston’s assortment of restaurants after which she then enjoys high intensity work out.
This post originated from www.akwukwo.com blog. The folks @akwukwo have a mission to igborize the next generation with fun educative Igbo (a Nigerian language) children’s books and learn Igbo YouTube videos. They do feel strongly about all children related topics!