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Zhou Lin's First Hospital Exam
June 17, 2006
Brecken Swartz
Zhou Lin had her first examination at Shriners this morning, and it went beautifully, although it left us with more questions than answers. We had an "interesting" time trying to get Zhou Lin's medical history -- none of us knew how to translate such things as "diptheria immunization" into Chinese, and of course Zhou Lin's family has no real medical record for her, so no one could confirm or deny her having ever received certain vaccinations, nor do we really know if she ever had childhood diseases like chicken pox. The hospital decided to give her a full battery of tests to get the information they needed, and left it at that.

Shriners had a case worker talk to Zhou Lin and her mom for a while about what lies ahead, and although all the legal disclosures about privacy and everything were obviously confusing to them, Zhou Lin and her mom were convinced that everyone at the hospital is nice. I'm turning out to be the official translator for everything, so I definitely need to pick up a good Chinese dictionary so that I can learn words for things like "informed consent" and "anal fistula." This will be a definite learning experience for everyone.

The surgeon, Dr. Rob Sheridan, is a terrifically nice guy, and even though Zhou Lin was naturally as nervous as any 14-year-old girl would be about having a foreign man examining her legs and pelvic region, everything was mercifully quick and professional, and the staff were able to get a sense of the extent of her damage, which is indeed severe.

The staff consulted with Zhou Lin and her mom about what their priorities are, and they seem to want to start with her feet and ankles, which are currently extended like a ballerina "en pointe," making it impossible to stand on her own for long. Dr. Sheridan thinks it may be possible to reconstruct her ankles so that her feet can drop into a natural position for walking, but he won't know for sure without consulting with some top orthopedists here in Boston. He ordered a very comprehensive battery of photos and x-rays, which took hours this afternoon. They will be sent out by email for doctors in the local orthopedic community to consult about over the weekend, and then we are to go in to see a famous doctor from Mass General Hospital on Monday before a surgical schedule can be worked out. I think Dr. Sheridan is glad to have this chance to show other doctors what happens to a child who receives basically no physical therapy after a severe burn, and they are using the case for research purposes, which Zhou Lin's mom feels good about.

Dr. Sheridan thinks it will be fairly straightforward to add some skin to the backs of Zhou Lin's hands to give her finger stubs more range of motion, and to add some skin to her anal region to make it easier for her to go to the bathroom. (Right now, Zhou Lin only goes every few days and takes at least an hour in the bathroom each time. She was on the toilet for an hour and a half last night, for instance.) But that procedure will be later in the summer, or perhaps even next year. Dr. Sheridan wants to get to work on the ankles first, so that they can hopefully see some results by the end of August.

The decision seems to be not to do any major reconstructive cosmetic surgery on the skin of Zhou Lin's legs, but to focus mostly on restoring independent function. Dr. Sheridan did mention prosthetics as a possibility if Zhou Lin's ankles really don't have what they need to function again, but given her situation living in rural China, everyone realizes that those might be tough to maintain throughout her life.

Anyway, we have the next three days off and are to report to the hospital again on Monday for further examinations. Zhou Lin and the gang clearly enjoy hanging out here at the apartment, and we also hope to do some sightseeing over the weekend once the rain passes. Zhou Lin has brought a fair amount of homework from her school in China, I am working with her for about an hour each day on her English, plus we make her do exercises in the wheelchair to increase the strength of her arms and hands. I also taught her and Xu Lan a fun "hand dance" last night, which had us all up giggling until almost midnight. The song we chose is by The Monkees, which seems fitting since Zhou Lin and I were both born during the Chinese zodiac Year of the Monkey. We'll keep practicing, and would be happy to perform our dance for anyone who gets up here to Boston to visit us!

Some photos from our homework session last night and our appointment today at the hospital are attached. You'll see in the photo with Dr. Sheridan that Zhou Lin drew him a beautiful picture that says "Xiexie Yisheng" ("Thank you, doctor"), with which he was really delighted.

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