At about 2:30pm on Monday, 12th December 2012, the dreams of a young promising lady collapsed like a pack of cards. Miss Tina Owolabi, a very lively and intelligent damsel known for her sparkling smiles, had spent 6 weeks on the hospital bed without improved ‘clinical status’ having struggled with every fibre of her being to stay alive. Eventually, she succumbed.
The trim-figured, 5ft 6inches tall, fair-complexioned lady had started her day with her usual excitement; this time around, her excitement heightened by the news of her admission to study law (her dream course) at the university. At about 11am on 16th October, she reported a sudden feeling of headache and fever. She was then taken to a nearby chemist where she was given drugs to relieve her headache. However, Tina was rushed to a private hospital ten days later because there was no significant improvement in her condition. There, she was ‘diagnosed’ of malaria and bombarded with drips and drugs for a week. By this time, her condition had worsened- her head had become swollen, the right arm and leg could not be lifted and she had lost the ability to speak.
“Tina slipped and fell two weeks ago while trying to lift a bucket of water she fetched from the well. She hit her head against the concrete built around the well in the process”- Mr Daniel Owolabi, Tina’s dad, said. Amidst anxiety, confusion and a quest for some cure, Miss Tina was transferred to a Teaching Hospital. There, she was placed under review by several clinical units while tests were being conducted. “Her ESR, WBC, CRP counts are all on the high side, this is suggestive of infection”, one of the doctors said. The imaging of her brain via CT scan was required and the Owolabis struggled to get the N40, 000 required for the scan but all their efforts proved abortive.
Finally, a Good Samaritan came to their rescue. The imaging procedure was then scheduled to take place on November 28, 2012. In Nigeria, not many hospitals are equipped with such medical facilities and where available, serve too many patients beyond their capabilities. Just before noon on the day the test was to be carried out, a very shocking event took place; the scanning machines broke down. “We hope to fix the machines in the next 2-3 weeks”, the Head of the hospital’s Radiology Department said.
Tina’s usual exuberance had been reduced to forced smiles every now and then. She looked like an aged woman; her right arm and leg were looking very lean and bed sores had eaten deep into her buttocks and heel. “Is this the same Tina I used to know, I can’t believe this”, an old friend exclaimed. She had suffered so much pain and depression in the face of poor healthcare delivery. The nurses did not comply with wound dressing instructions and times for drug administration. She was also not regular on physiotherapy (seen an insufficient two times a week).
Mrs. Nnena Owolabi (Tina’s mum) said most of the nurses and doctors turned deaf ears to almost all their complaints/requests claiming they were busy. “The nurses are supposed to be the closest to us in the ward but they are so wicked and unconcerned. Different doctors would come to talk and talk for hours and use her for teachings without any real benefit to us”, she lamented in tears.
On December 10, 2012, the worst hit the Owolabis. Tina developed fever and became restless. This was barely 40 minutes after she was given the ‘afternoon session’ of her medication. She started shaking vigorously and was seen gasping for breath. “….help, help, help”, her mother screamed. The nurses and doctors began the ‘ill-timed’ resuscitation. Tina was dead! It was less than 48 hours to her 20th birthday.
Who are those to be blamed for this sorry state of our healthcare system?
The answer is simple. It is EVERYBODY! From all the tiers of government to the management of various hospitals, all health professionals, and even the citizens. Let’s take a closer look, Tina could have made it if she had been taken to the hospital earlier by her parents. Don’t you think she could have survived if a proper diagnosis had been established? Maybe she could have grown up to become a very vibrant Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) if the government/management of hospitals has made our hospitals first-rate.
Probably, Tina’s dream to become the first female Nigerian president could have been a reality if not for the care-free attitude of our health professionals! When her father was contacted in January 2013, he said “December 10, 2012 was the darkest moment of my life; it’s still like a dream to me”. He continued: “I can’t imagine losing such a very promising girl because of our poor Healthcare System, may God help this nation”.
We all remember how the illustrious lawyer and human right activist, Gani Fawehinmi died as a result of wrong diagnosis. With tears running down her cheeks, Dr Joe-Okei Odumakin (National President, Campaign for Democracy) said: “I have known Gani for over two decades; he is a great life-wire in the human rights anti-democracy movement. He was not properly diagnosed and was being treated for pneumonia; because of that, the cancerous effect ate him up. It is a shame for this country”. I have also read true life stories- published in newspapers– in which patients complain of wrong diagnosis, bad staff attitude, long queues and delayed surgeries (years in some cases). Some of them that attend teaching hospitals complain that they don’t get proper care from the consultants/senior staffs, who don’t resume work until 10:30-11:00am on clinic days.
One of the dejected patients was reported to have said this: “I was first diagnosed of immature cataract, later; they said there was nothing in my eyes and I was sent to another private lab. But the two test results are yet to be interpreted by consultant”. A few years ago, one of my friends narrated his ordeal when he checked into the health centre of the university he attends to complain of the pain he was feeling in his stomach; he was given the ‘routine’ Paracetamol, Vitamin C, and B-complex with a sub-standard antimalarial drug. We later learnt from grapevine sources that the ‘standard’ antimalarial drugs made available by the government have been taken to the private pharmacies of some ‘Ogas at the top’. Isn’t that awful? …hummm …That’s all!
Is the Nigerian Healthcare System ever going to be AWESOME? YES, it shall. I’m much more hopeful than ever about this; I look forward eagerly to that time when the world would come to our shores to receive the best care. It’s just a matter of time. But hold on, what are the road signs that will take us to the promise land?
Editor’s note: This is not a true life story. It’s a fiction based on pockets of happenings in the Nigerian healthcare system.