Vietnam doctor beats meningitis, returns to risky job

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Doctor Nguyen Xuan Quang performs an ultrascan on a tuberculosis patient at Pham Ngoc Thach Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

People close to Dr. Nguyen Xuan Quang urged him to give up his job as a doctor after exposure at work left him hospitalized and bed-ridden with nearly-fatal meningitis for two years.

But that was seven years ago, and Dr. Quang currently finds himself more committed than ever to his job as one of Vietnam's top tuberculosis doctors. 

"If everyone is too scared of infections at their jobs, who will take care of the sick and cure them?" said Quang, who has been a doctor at Pham Ngoc Thach Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City -- a leading TB hospital -- for 30 years, news website VnExpress reported Sunday.

Quang remembered the day he started to feel sick April 27, 2004 when he suddenly came down with a fever and a headache that would last for several days.

He asked his colleagues to conduct a lumbar puncture to check if he had meningitis.

They refused at first, believing he only had a normal flu, but he insisted, knowing full-well the risks he had been exposing himself to every day, he said.

"Test results confirmed my suspicion, even more serious as it was the resistant kind. The chances that I would die were high; and even if my life was saved, there could be permanent damage such as [ending up in a] vegetative state and other neurological problems," he said.

He spent two years receiving treatment at the hospital, characterized by sleepless nights, headaches, regular vomiting and legs too weak to walk.

His wife, then a teacher, had to quit her job to take care of him and their children.

But through all the misery he never considered switching jobs.

"I just felt more sympathy for my patients. I understood them better," Quang said.

He has returned to his old job, instead of taking early retirement or accepting being transferred to a different position.

The hospital was reluctant to give him his old job back, so "I had to write a statement that I would be responsible for all the risks I would incur on the job."

Quang was assigned to perform ultrasounds and he has been examining hundreds of patients every day since.

He also organized charity examinations for poor people.

"I have never thought about quitting. Since I chose this job, I have anticipated the risks I would have to face.

He said several of his colleagues at the hospital, doctors and other staff members, have also returned to work after contracting and  healing from various ailments.

The experience strengthens doctors' bonds with their patients, he explained.

Dr. Tran Ngoc Buu said tuberculosis is a "community disease" and that far more has to be done than simply treating patients.

The hospital must launch prevention programs at the local level and doctors at hospitals must regularly visit district medical centers to examine patients who have even slight cases of tuberculosis.

Buu said tuberculosis patients need to receive treatment for six to eight months, or between 18 and 24 months if they show signs of resistance.

"Doctors will have to provide them constant care and medication, and then go to their houses to instruct them on how to protect themselves from getting infected again and how to prevent it from spreading to others.

"So the risk to doctors and other staff members of becoming infected is very high," he said.

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