In this piece, Femi Folarin narrates his ordeal in the hands of health workers in government hospitals in Lagos which eventually led to the loss of his father.
At about 9pm on Monday, 25 March, I stopped by at my parents’ place to check on my aged father who was not feeling well. His health had taken a dip. My next line of action was to take him to the hospital to seek immediate medical attention. With some assistance, we got him into the car and headed straight for the emergency ward of the General Hospital at Igando, Lagos.
At the hospital, we were told he could not be admitted because all the beds were occupied. A nurse, a supposed caregiver, reluctantly checked my father’s blood sugar level and temperature, while he was seated in the back seat of my car. The nurse told us that the sore on my father’s leg was as a result of diabetes. I challenged her about her ‘conclusion’ as I was sure that my dad was not diabetic. And when I demanded he be admitted, she maintained that all the beds were occupied and there were no extras.
At that point, the doctor on duty intervened, advising us to move him to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Idi Araba. He was kind enough to advise us against going to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) because it would likely have no vacant bed spaces.
LASUTH, however, is closer to where we were and I also have a friend, who works there. I felt it was safe to ignore the doctor’s counsel and take chances. We arrived LASUTH around 11pm with my dad still in pains. I was asked to pay N200 for registration card. Fair, I felt. This I paid through the official channel. While at it, I also ‘paid’ N500 to one of the nurses to have my Dad’s sugar level checked.
While I was worried about my dad, there were other patients brought to the emergency unit of the hospital in hired cabs and even tricycles. They were left unattended to for a long while. Evidently the number of doctors available could not meet up with the emergency demands. In my presence, a woman brought in by her husband who was in a taxi cab died while waiting to be attended to.
My heart sank. Is this what people suffer in our public hospitals? Back to my dad. After he was finally examined by a doctor while still in the car, we were informed that bed spaces were unavailable and advised to try LUTH.
At this point, I lost it. I went straight to the doctor on duty and gave him a piece of my mind, which was of course not friendly. He wasted our time by his sluggish response and at well after midnight, he was referring us elsewhere. But I thought it was a wasteful expenditure of time and emotions to continue with the altercation, not when I had an emergency.
We arrived LUTH’s second gate at Mushin a few minutes to 1am. The security man at the gate, despite being told it was an emergency, insisted that we would have to enter through the first gate at Idi Araba.
Every plea for mercy as my ailing dad needed urgent attention fell on deaf ears. We eventually made the journey to the first gate when the ‘oga’ at the other gate refused to let us in.
We drove to the Accident and Emergency (A & E) unit of the hospital, hoping to get attention, but the place was locked. The security men on duty did not allow us in. The modus operandi, obviously, was to call a doctor who attended to patients outside since they also did not have beds!
The A & E unit is a building of about five floors. Only the ground and the topmost floors were lit. A clear indication that the other three floors were either unoccupied or no medical operations going on there. The young doctor who attended to my dad echoed the same sad tale of no available bed space. He asked us to try our ‘luck’ at the spill over extension of the back of the A & E unit, hoping against hope that we might be able to get a space there, though at a high cost. The ‘spill over’ ward is for “those who can afford it”.
At this point I was ready to pay whatever amount they would demand for. But again, after we made our way there, there was no bed space.
While I was there cursing our luck and thinking perhaps these hospitals were not built to have any bed space at all, a young man was brought in with a bullet wound.
He was brought on a bike by two family members. A woman, apparently his mum, wailed loudly when they were told there was no bed. The sad part was that the doctor who came to examine the gunshot victim did not allow him to be brought down from the bike, insisting that he be taken away to another hospital. And the question I asked was, to what hospital? From the agitated shouts of his relatives, he had been taken to about two government hospitals around Surulere and none was able to attend to the victim. A major concern is about how we handle emergency health issues as a people. If indeed the hospital did not have any bed space to admit the young man, what about providing first aid to at least save his life?
Overwhelmed by my own need to seek help for my frail dad, we headed to Gbagada General Hospital. This was around a few minutes to 2am. On getting there, we paid N500 for another card. I initially queried why we were getting a fresh card since I had obtained one at LASUTH, which is run by the same state government, but I let it go just to get the medical help that had become elusive.
The nurse, as was the case in the LASUTH and Igando, ran some checks on him in the car. Eventually, they brought a decrepit wheelchair to convey into the ward, which for want of a stronger word, is a hovel. But what choice did we have? The nurse on duty, who had been civil, suddenly became annoyed when she saw the sore on my dad’s leg. They left the old man on the wheelchair along the corridor leading to the ward, with no one making any attempt to attend to him. The doctor on duty also did not seem to bother. I also found it curious that my father’s medical folder that we were asked to place on a table by the entrance to the nurses’ ‘office’ was nowhere to be found. It took a lot of shouting before the folder ‘resurfaced’ again and eventually taken into the doctor’s office.
At this point, I lost it. Why should patients be left unattended to in public hospital? How come the rate of response to medical emergencies in public hospital always take forever? Why this unsympathetic disposition?
When I couldn’t take this delay any more, I walked up to the doctor to give him a piece of my mind. He also became angry that I confronted him and after a while, sanity prevailed and we both apologized to each other. Then he opened up about the many challenges they battle every day, complaining about the hospital’s wretched facilities, which he and his colleagues have to work with daily.
Well after dawn, my father was yet to be admitted. At that point, we thought of options and settled on moving him to a private hospital somewhere in Surulere, where we were asked to deposit N300, 000 before they could even begin to examine him. I managed to convince the doctor to take what we had on us. Luckily, he agreed. My dad was at the private hospital for about 24 hours before we were able to move him back to LASUTH through the help of a highly placed staff.
We arrived LASUTH after about two hours from Surulere, a journey that should be less than 20 minutes but no thanks to Lagos traffic nightmare. To my dismay, my dad was left there in the ambulance for over an hour. It was no surprise that he died after he was admitted.
My father, although aged, died as a result of the negligence, lack of sympathy and unprofessionalism in the health sector.He could still have been alive today if very important details, apparently considered as minute to our government and health workers, were duly considered and worked upon to the smallest specific.
My experience has further opened my eyes to the many ills of this country. If we cannot get health care when we need it, then why do we even produce doctors? If lives are wasted right in our health centres because of the ‘I don’t care’ attitude of our health workers, why are they still kept in the system?
Another sad reality is that public health workers are really overstretched. A good number of them who are still in the country, are only hanging in there because they are yet to find their way out of the country.
In less than three years, we have had to change three doctors who came to check my father at home once a month. The first doctor moved to the UK in 2016 while the second relocated to Canada early 2018. The third doctor is still in Nigeria.
It is high time our health sector rose to these challenges. How do we encourage the coming generation to stay in a country that shows, by its actions and inactions, that our lives don’t matter?
It’s no wonder Nigerians are trooping out of the country at any given opportunity. It’s really sad. Shame on Nigeria!
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