We receive many pieces for publication on Nigeria Health Watch. We review these with a great sense of responsibility regarding what should be shared on our platform. For this historic week of the inauguration of a new government in Nigeria, we share with you this piece that illustrates not only the depth of the challenge that we face in the health sector, but how we, as Nigerians, contribute to it. As we look forward to the change promised by the new administration, it will be of little value if we do not work to become the change that we seek.
by Chinazo Anya
Thursday 25th July 2013 began like any other work day, but it would turn out to be the day that I experienced the dysfunctional system we call the Accident and Emergency service in our public hospitals. I got into the office at about 8:30 am to meet cheerful Bode, the head clerk at our law firm sitting at the reception desk, and we exchanged pleasantries as I made my way to my office.
At about 2pm our Managing Partner came back from Court and walked into my office to enquire whether I had sent Bode on an errand, to which I responded in the negative. He walked to the other office occupied by associates in the firm, and I overheard him asking the associates whether any of them had sent Bode on an errand and they all responded in the negative. As the Managing Partner made his way back to his office I overheard him on his phone asking “Bode where are you … please come up quickly I need you to run an errand for me”. After about 10 minutes, I again heard the Managing Partner on his phone talking to someone, sounding a bit agitated saying “Abeg go give the owner of the phone back im phone, no dey tell me story oh…the owner of the phone is in Western House not Victoria Island”. He then stormed into my office and told me that he thought some criminal had stolen Bode’s phone because he had spoken with Bode 10 minutes earlier and Bode had told him he was downstairs (our office is situated at the Western House, Broad Street in Marina, Lagos) and that he had asked Bode to come upstairs immediately. However, having not seen Bode after 10 minutes, he called him again only for a stranger to answer, who claimed to be a police officer and that the owner of the phone had been involved in an accident in Victoria Island. When my colleague enquired which station the stranger was attached to, the stranger refused to disclose, and so my colleague wondered if the stranger was a 419 fraudster.
Ten minutes later, Bode had still not returned to the office, and the Managing Partner again called his phone, and again the stranger answered and said “Oga, we are now at the hospital, come immediately”, and the Managing Partner asked “Which hospital?”, to which the stranger responded “General Hospital, Marina”. The Managing Partner then called one of the Associates and a Clerk and asked them to proceed to the General Hospital, which is across the road from our office, to check if Bode was truly in hospital. The matter did not make sense, because Bode had said he was downstairs and now a stranger had answered Bode’s phone saying that Bode had been involved in an accident in Victoria Island.
About 30 minutes later, the Associate and Clerk returned to the office to confirm that indeed Bode was lying unconscious at the General Hospital having been brought in with about twelve other injured people from an accident scene around Bonny Camp in Victoria Island. Apparently the brakes of a mini bus had failed, and the mini bus had rammed into a Keke Marwa (tricycle), in which Bode was a passenger.
We immediately proceeded to the General Hospital to see things for ourselves and were greeted by the chaotic scene of a filled to overflowing accident and emergency department. Bode was lying unconscious on a theatre trolley with intravenous drips attached to his hands in the corridor near the entrance. Not much appeared to be happening around him apart from his friend, who was holding his hand as advised by the medical personnel. We enquired about the treatment being given to Bode but were told that only the saline drip had been given to him as they wanted to carry out a CT Scan first. We asked when the CT Scan would be carried out and were told it will be carried out only after the accounts department had prepared an invoice for it and payment had been made.
While waiting for the accounts department to prepare the invoice, we asked the doctor if there was anything we could do to improve Bode’s chances of survival, and the doctor recommended that we obtain an intravenous drug called Tranexamic Acid, which is apparently used to reduce bleeding. We dashed off to the hospital pharmacy, where we had been informed that the drug was out of stock, and drove out to search for it in pharmacies around Lagos Island without any luck. We then drove to Obalende and finally on to Awolowo Road in Ikoyi and still were not lucky. Amazingly, while no pharmacy had this life saving drug, the shelves of all the pharmacies were stacked high with libido boosting medication and fertility tablets. It was surreal – as if as a nation we had given up hope on saving existing lives and instead were concentrating on procreating and creating new lives.
Out of frustration the Managing Partner called a friend of his who is a Consultant in Medicine, and the friend asked us to proceed to a private hospital that he knew would have the drug and that would sell the drug to us if he asked them, which he did. We obtained the drug and rushed back to the General Hospital. By then, it was 6:30 pm, approximately 4 hours after the accident.
Back at the hospital we were informed that the invoice was ready and that we were required to pay sixty thousand Naira for the CT scan, however, we were told to come back the next morning as the CT scan technician had closed for the day. We couldn’t believe our ears and reminded them that Bode’s condition was critical and that every minute was important if he was going to pull through, but the hospital staff calmly told us that there was nothing they could do and that in any event “the Almighty God who kept him alive after the accident will keep him alive until the next day when the CT scan technician would be available”. We had the choice of doing nothing and waiting until the next day as suggested by the hospital staff or seeking an alternative.
We chose to seek an alternative. Again the Managing Partner phoned his friend, the Consultant in Medicine, for advice, and the friend told us to proceed to St Nicholas Hospital, a private highbrow hospital around the corner which had a functional CT scanner. However, we were informed that there was no ambulance at the General Hospital to convey Bode to St Nicholas Hospital. By that time, it was about 7:30 pm, approximately 5 hours after the accident. Luckily a friend of Bode’s, an ambulance driver, who had heard about the accident, arrived and quickly rushed out to fetch his private ambulance with which we hurried Bode to St Nicholas. At St Nicholas, while we made the necessary payments, Bode was quickly taken to the CT Scan Room.
The result of the CT scan showed that Bode had suffered a fracture to the skull and needed immediate surgery to reduce the pressure on his brain, but Lagos General Hospital did not have the expertise for such a procedure, and so we were asked to proceed to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Bode was rushed to LUTH, where we were told to deposit two hundred and fifty thousand naira before the surgery could take place. As it was late at night, there was no way of raising that amount, and so the next morning the necessary deposit was made, and Bode was wheeled into the theatre.
After the surgery we were assured that the procedure had been a success, but unfortunately Bode never regained consciousness and died three days later. Again Nigeria lost a diligent citizen, a loving husband, a caring father and wonderful son, yet another victim of our dysfunctional health facilities and the absence of an effective emergency response and a virtually non-existent health system.