Monday, November 29, 2010

My Run-In with Infectious Disease

Last week, my time in the Peace Corps was nearly cut short by a Leishmania scare.

It was two weeks ago that I spied a small, insect bite-looking mark on my neck. Thinking not much of it, I let it be. But the mark started to grow. In 4 days, it had turned into a red, circular scaly spot about the size of a nickel. It didn’t itch or hurt; I could barely tell it was there, so I really wasn’t too concerned.

But after another half of a week, it wasn’t looking any better so I decided to call someone. The Peace Corps sent me to the clinic in town, which is my least favorite spot. There’s no obvious order to the patients waiting there, which is probably why they can’t give you an approximate waiting time and appointments are nonexistent. Even if you’re half dead you might have to wait 2 hours before someone even acknowledges that you’re there. I feel like, if the Peace Corps calls ahead for me, I should be guaranteed a visit when I get there, but nope. So I waited about an hour and a half to see the Doc.

When I finally get in there, he takes a look. ‘Hmm,’ he says, ‘this looks weird. Have you been travelling lately?’ I said I’d been to Yamaranguila (20 mins away), Copan and El Salvador (a month ago). ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it looks like it could possibly be Leishmania, but I’m not sure. They don’t have it here in La Esperanza, but it’s endemic in El Salvador.’ But I was there a month ago, I protest, how could it just show up now? ‘I don’t know, he says, I’m not a dermatologist, but this could be something that ends your Peace Corps service…’

What!? I shriek over and over in my head. What do you mean? I ask as calmly as possible. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘they don’t really have Leishmania in the U.S., you’ve probably never heard of it. But it could be serious. We know about it here, we could give you some medicine to take back to the U.S. with you. You don’t live anywhere near Tulane do you?’ No, I respond. ‘Well, that’s where they treat it in the U.S.’ That was it. He suggested I see a real dermatologist in Teguz as soon as possible.

I ran home, collapsed into Nolan’s arms in tears and explained what the doctor had said. Nolan wasn’t the least bit convinced. ‘That makes no sense,’ he said. ‘How could they send you back to the U.S. if they can treat it here? And why would they only send you to Tulane? I think the U.S. has a better medical system than Honduras. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ Agreeing that he was probably right, I still quickly scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist the next day in Teguz.

The portly dermatologist took a look, scanned me with a UV light and declared it eczema, a simple allergic reaction to something. He assured me it was nothing serious at all, and that I should be fine in a week. But that wasn’t good enough for the Peace Corps. They still wanted me to get a skin test to check for Leishmania. The PCMO texted me on Thanksgiving Day to let me know the test was negative and as she said ‘we can breathe tranquilo.’ That was probably the one thing I was most thankful for this holiday. Now, the spot is almost gone and I am left wondering how I ever believed for a second that the doctor in La Esperanza could have been correct. It doesn’t instill me with a lot of confidence to go back…

But the incident taught me 2 lessons:

1) 1) Don’t trust crazy small town doctors who think the only place to treat something is Tulane.

2) 2) Take advantage of every second you have in your service, you never know when it might end.

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