Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hospital Visit

Today we went to the University Hospital in Leipzig, which is where the students at the Berufsfachschule go for their clinicals. We were fortunate to run into a nurse named Clemens who went on the exchange several years ago and he showed us to the orthopedic unit. The unit was more open than ours with a  sunroof right in the center. They still use paper charts in the hospitals and the nurses here are more like LPN because the doctors do most of the work, but Clemens said that was in the process of changing. 
We then headed up to the Reverse Isolation/Transplant unit. We were met by the Head of the Ward and he explained the rundown of the unit. The unit is funded by the International Leukemia Foundation established by the great tenor Jose Carreras, (one of the Three Tenors) who became ill with leukemia but recovered from the disease years ago. In Germany they do bone marrow as well as stem cell transplants. Note: this is not stem cell research. Our bodies actually make stem cells in our bones and that is where they are harvested. These patients have severe illnesses that require treatments that completely wipe out the immune system. Since there is no way for their body to fight off even the mildest of colds, they are put into reverse isolation. This means that instead of protecting the rest of the world from this one patient we protect the patient from the entire world. Even as visitors who had no contact with any patients, we had to take off our shoes and clothes, and put on different shoes and sterile packaged scrubs. 
Each single room looks like something out of a fancy magazine, but with a plastic bubble wall on one side. The patients remain in this one room for about a month while their immune system rebuilds itself after the stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Basically no physical contact if possible--even the nurses and doctors who come to get blood or check vitals stay outside the room and do it using long gloves attached to the plastic wall. Once the patient's white blood cell count reaches about 1000 then they are free to go. If they bring anything from the outside like books or computers, (or for one little girl, a giant stuffed animal horse)  it all has to be sterilized up the wazoo, and they have to keep a really careful personal hygiene regimen too. On this ward there are two separate parts; one side is for patients ages 8 - 65 and the other for 65+. Each treatment protocol is very strict and the patients are monitored extremely closely because even though this is one of the very best transplant units in the entire world, the five-year mortality rate is still 50%. 

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