“Her wound will never heal if she doesn’t eat.”

It’s as true in Canada as it is in Rwanda, that a patient who can’t eat will stay sicker for longer. A body deprived of calories and nutrients simply can’t rebuild its damaged tissue. It’s most obvious, of course, for large visible wounds and ulcers, where you can appreciate how little change there is from one day to the next.

Although I’ve seen emaciated ICU patients in Canada, I’ve never been so struck by food’s important as here. There’s one patient, in particular: a young twenty year old woman with a severe post-Caesarian infection and a prolonged, complicated hospital stay. She recently came out of the ICU and back to our ward, her falling abdominal wounds no longer infected but still not healed. And she’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen anyone. It reminds me of those starving orphans on TV, but in a previously happy, healthy young woman. People her age aren’t supposed to get sick! But there she is, every day, lying in bed, too sick to eat, and too malnourished to get better.

But at least she and her family can afford food. They can even afford expensive intravenous nutrition, which she will soon be getting. Most other patients agent so lucky. Many can barely afford the necessary medicines we prescribe, and some can’t even afford something as basic as food. They may complete their course of medication, but still be nowhere near their previous health, with the usual hospital deconditioning exacerbated by malnutrition. These are young patients, mothers, who would never be this sick in a rich country. It makes me extremely grateful for our Canadian healthcare, which so many of us take for granted.

Published on 17 December 2014 and tagged as
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