Yemen: The little girl is losing oxygen

13 April 2017

Hella Hultin is a surgeon from Sweden. She is currently on assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Khameer, Yemen. Here she blogs about a little patient returning to the operating theatre for a second time, in desperate need of medical care.

Oh no, my little girl is worse!

We were about to sedate her again today to finally sew the abdominal wall, because everything looked so good. 

She had started drinking juice and water and ate a little, and her stomach had become less swollen. Her parents were excited and grateful and everything was positive. 

We were only planning to do this small operation, which might have taken half an hour. I was in the operating room and waited, pre-washed prior to surgery, while my fellow doctor sedated the girl. 

However, things declined in connection with the anaesthesia: she developed acute respiratory problems and was unable to oxygenate herself. 

Her oxygen levels fell to appallingly low levels and the atmosphere in the operating room became tense.

Hella and the team in the operating theatre, about to perform surgery on the little girl. Photo: Hella Hultin/MSF 

After a period of time that seemed very long, but probably only lasted a few minutes, the situation improved. However, at the next attempt to insert a breathing tube the same thing happened again. 

She experienced a bronchospasm, which means that the small airways of her lungs cramped together, making it impossible for her to oxygenate her blood. 

We decided to postpone the surgery and wake her, and start bronchodilator treatment. She improved quickly, but still need a little oxygen to thrive. 

Me and my colleague Ivonne, an anaesthesiologist from Chile, now look after her constantly. 

Tomorrow we are going to make soap solution and teach her how to blow bubbles. She needs to both play a little bit and work on her lungs. 

I'm now crossing my fingers even harder!