This. Is. Spinal. Tap.


Dr. Stuart Chritton from Harvard is one of the wonderful physicians working with the Human Resources for Health (HRH) program here in Rwanda. He is an anesthesiologist (of which there are only 10 in all of Rwanda), but more importantly, perhaps, he is also a completely amazing teacher.

I’d been hired to get some pictures of him in action as part of the ongoing effort to recruit next year’s crop of American faculty/doctors for the HRH program, so last week Stuart arranged for me to scrub in on a spinal tap he was performing with one of his anesthesiologist residents in preparation for adminsitering spinal anaesthesia for orthopaedic surgery.

If you are not familiar with this not entirely pleasant semi-surgical procedure, it involves draining some spinal fluid by inserting a rather menacing-looking needle near the bottom of the spinal column. The fluid can then be tested for various conditions like meningitis. It’s not an easy procedure to do, and it was clear that the patient wasn’t exactly enjoying himself during the extended poke-me-with-a-sharp-stick-will-ya session (but then, he was already trying to cope with a badly broken leg, so the spinal tap really just added to his already miserable lot in life). Stuart was incredibly patient with his student, and talked her through all the nuances of the procedure, occasionally taking over and showing how things could and should be done.

It was a real delight to watch a master at work, and I can’t help but think that Stuart’s efforts that morning as a hands-on teacher epitomizes what the HRH program is all about. (The patient recovered from the spinal tap, and the subsequent surgery to set his broken leg was a success.)