It’s not a problem many, if any, Western doctors can say they’ve handled. Even our Jungle Medics had never heard of it. An internet search showed one or two cases. But we found it on our doorstep this weekend.
A 34 week pregnant woman showed up at the clinic claiming to have a leech in her airway, causing great discomfort and obstructing her breathing for the last 6 weeks. Our staff explained to me that if you drink out of the stream without checking very carefully you can swallow a tiny leech, but usually it goes up, lodging in the nasal passages, a condition that they see in people and dogs. In this case, it went down. It started feeding. And it started growing.
We needed to get that little sucker out before something worse happened (like he dislodged, got into her lung, her lung collapsed, bad stuff like that). Because the woman was so pregnant, our doctor was worried that she could start having contractions during surgery, so the medics started an IV drip which, apparently, would prevent that. The medics got everything ready, put her on O2 to really pump up the baby’s oxygen level, and with 5 medical staff members, the good Doctor, and myself eagerly monitoring, we put her under a safe anesthetic.
Once the Doc got a good look, he could see the culprit hiding behind the woman’s vocal cords. Every time he tried to grab it with forceps it would slip away, as if playing hide-and-seek, knowing that it’s life was the prize. A few minutes in her O2 levels started to drop.
Now let me say, I’ve been practicing CPR, rescue breathing, and bag pumping O2 for literally half my life. I’m a champ on those manikins. And I guess you practice for half a life for moments like this.
I bag pumped O2 and we suctioned out her mouth until she was back at a rosy 99% oxygen saturation. Then our doctor said a quick prayer and went in again.
This time he had better luck, as a veracious cough pushed the leech far enough out that the Doc could get a good hold on his tail. And, honest to goodness, he came out a couple of inches long, almost pencil thick, and alive and wigglin’!
We kept the patient on O2, and she slowly woke, but when we offered to show her the author of her discomfort, she politely declined.
The team did a great job, from calculating IV fluids, anesthesia, and medicine to monitoring her vital sighs and condition throughout the night. Without our medics and medical team, this poor woman would have had no chance of easing her comfort, and possibly an even worse outcome. Now we look to a bright future for her, her baby, and our medics as they gain experience one patient at a time.