My second week working for SHAWCO Health, I felt less anxious about going and more excited to get to the clinic. I was hoping to have more exciting cases and learn more that night. We went through the same process of loading onto the buses and driving to the township. It was warmer this week, so we had a lot of patients to get through. Luckily, there were a lot of students there to help that night, so we were able to run all of the cubicles and have extra people to run tests.
We began the night with the usual pep talk and cheer, and then split up to start seeing patients. The first man that I saw came in complaining of an infected eye. We started taking his medical history and as we went on we began to notice that something was off. He had said that his first language was English, but he had trouble talking to us and often acted as if he didn’t know what we were saying. We discovered that he was an extremely heavy drinker, having up to an entire bottle of liquor a day.
As the questioning went on, his concentration deteriorated. After a while it seemed as if he wasn’t comprehending what we were saying and he started to shake violently and lose consciousness. We went to get the doctor to see if she had any insight into what was going on. Immediately she had us to an eye exam, asking the man to follow her finger with his eyes. We found that he had a bilateral delayed nystagmus, which led us to believe something neurological was going on. We then had him do a number of walking and balance exercises, which he struggled greatly with. Throughout all of the testing, the man had extreme difficulty understanding what was going on, where he was, and at one point he forgot who the doctor was. The doctor believed that something neurological was happening but said she wasn’t good with neuroanatomy. Being a neuroscience major, I realized that this was my time to shine. I was able to collaborate with the doctor and write a referral for the man to a specialty clinic to assess him for Korsakoff’s and Wernicke’s encephalitis, both caused by severe alcoholism.
It was the most amazing experience to use knowledge I had studied for months in the real world. It’s one thing to read about a disorder in a book and another to discover it in an actual patient. I was ecstatic getting back on the bus. We celebrated by going around and saying one thing we learned and one thing we would research. I said I learned that the problem a patient comes in with may not necessarily be the only thing you end up treating them for and that I was going to research the effects of alcoholism on the brain. In the cab on the way home, I felt so accomplished and once again already excited to return the next week.