Benny is one of my special patients. He is 21 years old, only looks about 12. Benny is sick with a condition called nephrotic syndrome. His child-like face is a side effect of steroids that were used to treat his disease. The illness has damaged his kidneys to the point that they no longer work; his creatinine is unmeasurable by our lab (something greater than 10). He has been admitted to the hospital several times for complications such as anemia and heart failure. And his admissions have become more frequent over the last couple of months. Really, it is amazing that he is still alive.
Dialysis would be the first line treatment for Benny's disease, IF he lived in Australia or America or another such country. Dialysis is a mechanical kidney, a machine that cleans the blood of patients with renal failure. Patients on dialysis must be hooked up to a machine 3 times a week, every week for the rest of their lives. I'm not sure if dialysis is available anywhere in PNG, but certainly not in the highlands. A kidney transplant would cure his problem, but of course that is no more possible than dialysis. There isn't much we can do for him, so Benny will continue to get sicker and sicker until he goes home to heaven.
On Monday I opened the door from my clinic room and saw Benny waiting in the hallway. He was so weak he could barely walk. I quickly helped him into my room and took the history. He was having increasing symptoms of heart failure, feeling more chest pain and shortness of breath. I listened to his heart and heard a pericardial rub, a sign of pericarditis or inflammation around the heart... most likely a complication of his renal failure.
Benny was looking pretty bad and I wondered if this would be his last hospital admission. For the past few days Dr. Becky has been taking care of him on medical ward. Thankfully he has perked up a bit with some adjustments in his medications!
A few months ago, Benny asked me if there was some sort of medicine that you could give a dog to help it learn to do tricks. He wanted a dog, and the miracle medicine to go with it. I laughed and told him that it just takes a lot of hard work. That gave me an idea... pet therapy :). So this afternoon four of my nieces (the Dooley and Kerr girls) and I took Brutus for a walk to visit Benny. Brutus loved meeting this new friend and gave him lots of slobbery kisses. And the visit was definitely therapeutic for our patient. He couldn't stop smiling!
You know what they say about laughter and medicine. Did you also know that it comes from the Bible? After all, the writer of Proverbs was a very, very wise man.
"A cheerful heart is good medicine."
~ Proverbs 17:22