It was a Friday evening when the nurse asked if I could come quickly to evaluate a young patient. Dr. Viator, the Cornerstone Clinic’s physician and medical director for TCOAC, was taking a much-needed weekend off and I offered to cover the clinic for emergencies. The nurse who summoned me was Jean Pascal, an amazingly talented young man with whom I had worked at another clinic in rural Burundi several year prior.
I entered the room to find a young woman desperately ill. Her name was Florence and she was surrounded by a loving and extremely worried family. She had a high fever, low blood pressure, and was completely unresponsive. Her mother relayed that she had been sick for two days with sweats and fever and had become increasingly confused and then unresponsive. It was the rainy season and Jean Pascal had administered tests for malaria, which were negative. We elected to treat her with IV medications for both bacterial infection and malaria although there was no evidence of either. I explained to the family that her condition was critical and that she may not survive the evening. As I left to start my evening charting, Jean Pascal said he would stay with Florence and the family and pray. A few minutes later, I heard the most beautiful Burundian hymn coming from Florence’s hospital room as I left the clinic.
Morning arrived as it always does in Burundi. The sounds of various kinds of birds let you know the sunrise is coming. However, I had been awake already for several hours due to jet lag and concern over Florence and her family. I hopped on a moto and when I arrived at Cornerstone Clinic, I was greeted by a very exhausted Jean Pascal who informed me that Florence had survived the night. My assessment was essentially the same as there was not any clinical improvement and the malarial testing was again negative. Her examination also revealed no abnormalities so there was nothing else to do but continue our course of treatment and continue to pray. That is exactly what the nurses and staff at the Cornerstone Clinic did that Saturday. They prayed over the patient and with the family, they sang beautiful songs and cared for Florence in a fashion that humbled me. As a physician who practices in “the developed world” and with every imaginable resource at my fingertips, I knew that the staff and family were doing all they knew to do. They believed that every word and action being taken was making a difference. I saw a few other patients in the clinic and then headed back to the TCOAC office for lunch and to attend some meetings. At approximately 3 PM, I was called back to the clinic to check on Florence. The picture above was taken soon after I arrived. Florence walked out of the clinic with a smile on her face several days later.
I don’t know what Florence suffered from medically. However, I do know what she received those days at The Cornerstone Clinic. She received love, hope, compassionate care, and prayer from some of the most amazing people I know. I am proud to call them friends and colleagues. They are the staff at the Cornerstone Clinic in Bukeye Burundi.
As told by Dr. Tom Byrd, TCOAC clinical consultant and board member