With crippling challenges of dilapidated infrastructure, obsolete medical facilities, dearth of professionals, teaching and paucity of funds to contend with, teaching hospitals have been reduced to centres of regrets and heartbreaks. Fresh from a two-month tour of these ailing facilities, Adekunle Yusuf reports that the regular harvests of woes in the public hospitals may not abate until the right structures are in place.
As far as miracles go, his is a classic example of life after death – or so it would seem. A businessman with unrivaled panache, Chukwudi Michael, 62, was traveling on a luxury bus to Enugu State, with a heart filled with grandiose business ideas. But contrary to all expectations, the journey turned into a nightmare for him and other passengers after the bus crashed into an oncoming vehicle and fell into a ditch near his destination. Seven passengers, including three children, were instantly killed. That was four years ago.
An accident victim unluckily caught in the crossfire of over-speeding, Michael survived by the skin of his teeth, but not without sustaining multiple devastating injuries that left him unconscious, almost clinically dead, for days. As he and other survivors lay on the roadside writhing in pains, help became a luxury at a time it was most needed, since no vehicle was willing to transport them to a hospital. And when a truck finally volunteered to help after about an hour, the businessman was made to share a space with dead bodies.
Despite being in a coma for two weeks, Michael woke up to the sounds of hope – thanks to the gifted hands that nurtured him back to life at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu State. This kick-started his slow but steady return to recovery in the intensive care unit, which served as his abode for almost two months. Three weeks ago, he was a grateful heart in Enugu, thanking God for saving him from the clutches of death, which would have cut him down in his prime. The grandfather, who was also effusive in his praises for UNTH, was all smiles as sounds of revelry issued into the night.
But as Michael and his family luxuriated in ecstasy, Funmilayo, wife of Femi Adebayo, a business mogul, was not that lucky. She was hale and hearty until she drove herself to the University Teaching Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, capital of Oyo State. Her mission: she wanted to know her cancer status. On that fateful morning on January 25, 2016, she was accompanied to the hospital by her house help, Odunayo. A meticulous woman who would not leave anything to chances, Funmilayo, 58, chose to undergo tests following the death of Toluwalade Akinola, her sibling who died of cancer last year. But in the process, she did not only lose her right to know her medical status, the process led to her untimely demise, leaving her well-to-do husband and family grieving.
Not ready to accept explanations for her passing away, a heart-broken Adebayo cried foul, alleging that a medical murder had taken place.
“My wife was killed by the carelessness, negligence and incompetence of the doctors,” he insisted.
Ready to draw a battle line with the management of the teaching hospital, the millionaire businessman called for an urgent autopsy, enlisting the services of two prominent Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to force the hands of a reluctant management to accede to his request.
“I was somewhere holding a meeting in Ibadan and my maid, Odunayo, who came with her to the hospital, informed me on phone that her madam was not feeling fine in the hospital. I was disturbed because of the simple fact that what could have happened to somebody who drove herself to the hospital to meet up her 9a.m. appointment?”
But by the time Adebayo reached UCH, he got the surprise of his life.
“I overheard her telling them (doctors) that she was no longer interested in the test and that they should normalise her system and allow her to go home. She was seriously in pain and told them to allow her to go.” The business mogul said the doctor told him that he put gas into her when it was discovered that she had intense pain. Because the pain refused to subside, Funmilayo was taken to the x-ray to see what was amiss. And realising that the lungs and intestine were not okay, she was asked to undergo surgery immediately.
“We went for x-ray to see what went wrong. After that, they said they had to take her for surgery because the lungs or intestine was not okay and I said the lungs or the intestine that were okay before the test began, how come you were saying she had perforated intestine? At that level, I suspected that maybe the gas was too much and the intestine has been damaged in the process,” he narrated how his wife’s ordeal unfolded.
However, as he was contemplating what to do next, another doctor approached him, asking him to pay N110, 000 immediately or forfeit further intervention for his better half.
Despite Adebayo’s readiness to pay any amount, the woman died, even without reaching the precincts of the surgery room, leaving a livid husband to fume and fume to no avail.
Much like Adebayo and his household in Ibadan, Ausbeth Udebu has been reduced to a psychological wreck, having been endlessly tormented by the agony of sudden bereavement. He is yet to come to terms with the discrepancies between the laboratory diagnosis for which Ngozi, a secondary school teacher and wife of 15 years, was admitted and the cause of her death at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, Lagos. She died during the Easter break this year, plunging the family into chaos. Precisely, on March 25, Ngozi was referred from a Catholic hospital in Mushin to LUTH. She was diagnosed of ulcer, while the autopsy conducted after the death showed that she died of asphyxia, a medical condition arising from loss of consciousness due to the body’s inability to deliver oxygen to its tissues.
Udebu, an estate developer, insisted that professional misconduct by the doctors and nurses led to the death of his wife and mother of four children on Easter Monday. Narrating the sequence of events that led to his wife’s demise, he recounted that it all started on that Good Friday after the family observed mass at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, which ended about 6pm.
“I was with my friends when my phone rang. I was asked to come back home because my wife was in pain,” he said.
Udebu, who said he initially assumed it was one of the usual gimmicks to bring him home, ignored the call to head home. However, when his daughter persisted, arguing that the pain was not the usual discomfort the deceased used to experience during her menstrual cycle, a dutiful husband abandoned his friends and hurried home.
“I took her to Regina Mundi Catholic Hospital at Mushin. We were referred to LUTH. At the LUTH Accident and Emergency, we were received when they saw the referral letter. After a while, they traced the veins and took two bottles of blood and told me to go and do test at Pathcare, which I did and the result was ready by 6am.”
On returning to the ward, the doctors had written another scan investigation, which Udebu did within an hour.
“Unfortunately, all through this time, my wife was still writhing in severe pain. She was in extreme pains that I have never seen before. After collecting the results, I went straight to the pool of doctors so that they can analyse and maybe take actions. But I got the shock of my life as they asked me to wait until they were ready for ward round. I went back to my wife’s bed, which was the first on the line in the section and, unfortunately, she was the last to be seen.”
The estate developer, who accused LUTH doctors and nurses of negligence, lamented that he had to wait for over 90 minutes before “they could see us on a case that was supposed to be treated as an emergency.”
His words: “We waited patiently until they came. They looked at the result and said all the vital parameters were in place and in order. They asked me if she had ulcer before and I said no. They even asked me about the kind of food she liked and ate. They were asking me some questions ordinarily I would not have answered but just because I wanted them to attend to my wife I managed to bring up myself to answer them all. At the end they concluded that it was ulcer that was disturbing her.
“That gave me so much hope that they would recommend something for me and my hope was high. They wrote all the drugs for me. Of all the things they wrote, the things they had in their pharmacy was the box of gloves, disinfectant and spirit and cotton wool. The drugs Gascol and other injections were not available, which I bought outside. There was no improvement and they wrote another drug and specified a particular brand that I managed to get after a lot of trouble. This was now on Sunday. We were now moved to the ward because we were told we had stayed up to 48 hours when the rule was 24 hours.”
But at LUTH, there is a caveat that no patient relations can stay with his or her patient in the ward. Despite all entreaties to allow somebody to stay overnight with his wife, the nurses held their ground. “It was like a drama when I questioned how two nurses would take care of 35 patients in a ward. She said by their training they know how to give priority. I wasn’t convinced but I had to give in. They made me to go and buy oxygen mask at about 9:30 pm; they tested it and assured me it was working.”
However, by the time he returned to the hospital the next morning, it was a rude shock that perched on his nose like a recalcitrant bird following a buffalo.
“I looked at where I left my wife the previous night. They had already drawn the curtain. I knew what that meant because I lost my uncle in LUTH. They were trying to prevent me from seeing her, but I resisted and I saw the lifeless body of my wife, the love of my life for 15 years and mother of my four children laid dead. They never called me; I included my numbers on every form I filled but they never called me,” he protested. Promptly, he demanded an explanation about the death of Ngozi. The hospital asked him to pay for the autopsy, which he did. But when the result was out, it had that his wife died of asphyxia, which is miles away from the scan and laboratory results preceding the treatment.
Udebu, who recalled that there was no light in the accident and emergency ward, said it was a big challenge to find another vein when the first part of the intravenous fluid got blocked.
“I had to use the use the torch of my phone in order to help the doctor trace the vein. There was no ventilation. Even the window in the room could not be opened. My wife was restless and uncomfortable. I tried to force it open but I couldn’t,” he lamented.
He continued: “During my wife’s stay, the toilet was unusable. The floor was water-logged and I had to personally wade into the toilet to carry the bed pan she used for toilet. No patient could go into the toilet to use it. It is a terrible thing,” he said.
But if the treatments meted out to Adebayo and Udebu were utterly reprehensible, how does one describe the cause of commotion and confusion galore at the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu, Ogun State, last October? To her family’s chagrin, Ajarat Muftau, 40, suddenly went missing three weeks after she was admitted at the hospital owned by the state government. The mother of four, who was undergoing heart-related issue in the teaching hospital, was declared missing by her husband, Muftau Muritala.
But that was his only headache. He also accused the hospital management of not showing concern about her whereabouts, forcing the Sagamu police division to wade in. This led to the arrest of some hospital personnel, including the chief security officer and nurses on duty. Her family heaped her disappearance from the hospital’s female ward on the negligence of the nurses. They also lamented that police investigation into her disappearance was slow, adding that no progress had been made in finding the woman since she went missing.
It was learned that Ajarat was receiving treatment for a heart-related disease at the hospital after going into a coma on October 13. She was admitted to the emergency and accident ward of the hospital, before being later taken to the female ward, where she went missing after regaining consciousness. “She was supposed to go for treatment at the hospital on October 19. But on October 11, her condition got worse. We rushed her to the hospital and I was told to pay N10,000 admission fee, which I did. She was placed on oxygen all through that day. In the evening, I went to pay for a scan she was to have the following day. At about 10am the next day, some nurses wheeled her into the x-ray centre for a scan.
“She was taken to the female ward after the scan. A doctor came to attend to her and she was served a meal. After she finished eating, she said she wanted to rest. Her elder sister, my second wife and my mother, were with her in the ward. They were later told to go outside. I went into the ward around 12pm to check her but she was not on her sick bed. There were about six nurses in that ward. They told me to check her in the toilet. My relatives outside joined me and we searched everywhere but we couldn’t find her. We rushed to the gate to inform the security men and they said they didn’t see any patient. Meanwhile, the nurses didn’t help us to search for her until they handed over to their colleagues on afternoon duty,’’ he said.
An enraged Muftau’s brother, Taofiq Muritala, a lawyer, said he had petitioned the Ogun state commissioner for police, Ahmed Iliyasu, to thoroughly investigate the case.
Attempt by The Nation to speak with OOUTH’s Chief Medical Director, Prof. Alfred Jaiyesimi, was turned down. In a text message, he said he is not authorised to speak about the hospital and its activities, being a civil servant.
Another heart-rending case took place on the morning of July 6 this year, as millions of Muslims around the world filed out in resplendent attires to celebrate the end of Ramadan, tragedy struck in the homes of Rasheed Akeyede. Instead of merriments and revelries that the day demanded, it was sobbing and wailings that rented the air, as neighbours and other sympathisers were forced into compulsory mourning mood over the demise of Fatimah, who died in questionable circumstances. It was the mourning of a woman who gave her all to support her husband, despite her unsuccessful efforts to secure a white-collar job.
Her journey to the great beyond started on the 30th day of Ramadan, almost three hours to the sunset, when fasting Muslims would break their Ramadan fast. Having just worked on the beads jewelry for her friend ahead of the festivities, Fatimah decided to put her kerosene stove together to cook beans for her husband. But as she attempted to fetch onions in the kitchen cabinet, the holder of Higher National Diploma from the Lagos State Polytechnic saw drop of blood oozing out of her private parts, which was unexpectedly. Her pregnancy was just eight-month-old.
But when blood kept coming profusely, she called the mobile phone of her husband, Rasheed, a graduate of Agricultural Extension from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTEC), Ogbomosho, Oyo State. With the arrival of Rasheed, a petrol attendant at one of Total filling stations, the couple headed for Epe Primary Health Care Centre in Ita Opo on Ijebu Ode Road, from where they were referred to the Epe General Hospital.
Hardly had they settled down than the doctor on duty called on the husband to source for blood, informing them that a caesarian section might need to be carried out on her. From that point, she began an unexpected journey to the grave on the eve of July 6. She died after a caesarean operation on her, but the baby girl survived.
After the operation, she needed blood transfusion badly, but which “some hospital workers deliberately made impossible to get,” as Rasheed put it. An enraged husband attributed her loss to the negligence or dereliction of duty on the part of some health workers in the hospital.
With tears running in rivulets down his cheeks, he carpeted the health workers that allegedly mismanaged his wife’s case. “All efforts to save Fatimah were truncated by the health workers whose attitude to saving life was questionable.
“I met the laboratory attendant already sleeping. We had to knock the door for nearly 10 minutes before he opened the door. We told him that we needed two pints of blood for a pregnant woman in critical conditions, but he told us the blood is not available,” a heart-broken Rasheed said. He added that the laboratory attendant was gracious enough to provide contacts of different hospitals in the state that can supply the blood. But as fate would have it again, all the numbers were called but none was available. “When this was brought to the laboratory attendant’s attention, he called his boss, one Mr. Okunu, who later helped to call a private line belonging to another health officer in Ikorodu General Hospital. That was why we headed for Ikorodu for the blood. I couldn’t go to Ikorodu, but my brother followed them while I was asked to stay back to enable me buy other recommended drugs needed for the surgical operation and attend to other needs.”
Then a new condition surfaced: N7,500 must be paid to enable him use the ambulance that would convey the blood from Ikorodu General Hospital. With the condition met, he also coughed out N9,000 for the two pints of blood, each costing N4,500. “To my surprise, the lab attendant at Ikorodu General Hospital insisted that she would not give us the blood, saying that nobody told her anything about blood but Sallah rice. Before the woman could release a pint out of the two pints needed, my brother had to call me and I gave the phone to Epe General Hopsital lab attendant who then pleaded with her and she eventually released one pant.”
But on returning to the hospital with a pint of blood, the doctor said the family should look for all possible means at this point to get blood. “Around 12:20am, three of my wife’s brothers arrived with their parents, saying they were ready to donate the needed blood, since they have the same blood group. The lab attendant insisted that they can’t take unscreened blood. I pleaded with the attendant to make use of the o’positive blood in the bank that the doctor is saying the woman is in a critical condition, but he stood his ground. The lab attendant argued that the deceased had 24% blood when she was brought in, saying that with a pint of blood already gotten from Ikorodu, she should be able to sustain till the morning,” Rasheed said.
The lab attendant, again, called Okunu on another private line who told the family to go to Lagos Island Hospital for the blood. The young widower added that the hospital management insisted that he must pay another N7,500, just as the driver of the ambulance insisted on seeing the receipt of the payment before he could start the engine of the ambulance. He rushed to make the payment. At this stage, while waiting for those who went to source for blood, the doctor suggested that “we used the unscreened blood provided I was ready to sign an undertaking, lamenting that my wife was dying, but the lab attendant said he would not allow the use of unscreened blood.” Shortly after, Rasheed said he heard the doctor scolding the nurses for failing to give adequate attention to his wife as instructed.
“On getting to ward 3 to call the doctor, I saw my wife’s lifeless body already packed, with wool in her nose and mouth while her feet were tied together. That was when the doctor announced to me of her passage at 3:30am. To me, it was the height of betrayal on the part of the doctor and the lab attendant, who I have begged for almost 8 hours to consider the use of the available blood when we couldn’t get what we needed on time,” he narrated amidst tears.
Even infants and children generally, despite their pristine innocence and extreme vulnerability, hardly enjoy humane handling in public hospitals. The following cases, which involved children, are as blood-curdling as they are hair-raising. It was barely four hours after Fatimah lost the battle of life at Epe General Hospital, but the hospital saw nothing wrong in further jolting her grieving husband. It simply asked Rasheed to take the baby away, saying it was the deceased mother that was admitted, not the few hours’ old baby she left behind.
“Just about few minutes after we buried my wife in accordance to the Islamic rites, pressures were mounted on me to come and carry the baby. I had just finished raising money to enable me pay the remaining hospital bill because the hospital management insisted that I pay the balance before they could release her body for burial. A nurse told me they have no business with the baby, saying that it was the mother they admitted and since the mother is dead, they couldn’t take the custody of the baby for any reason because there is no space in the hospital. I told them that we were ready to pay whatever it takes to take care of the baby at least for the night because we didn’t have the wherewithal to nurture the baby as she is too young for our care.
“I told them there was no single woman to take care of her (the baby). My mother-in-law, who came to the hospital collapsed on hearing the news of my wife’s death. The woman was rushed to a hospital in Lagos where she was admitted due to the shock of her daughter’s death. All my pleas didn’t move them. It was disheartening to know that until someone helped me to call the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, before they decided to admit the baby. It was when he intervened that they began to give us VIP treatment and agreed to admit the baby.”
Indeed, it was Idris’ prompt intervention that saved the baby, who was later discovered to be unable to breathe properly.
“The following morning when I went to the hospital, I realised the baby was supported with oxygen. She couldn’t breathe independently. That was when it became clearer to me that the health workers were heartless. I wondered what could have happened if I had taken the baby home as they insisted. At this time, we reached out to the commissioner on her situation report. That was when the commissioner, again, threatened to deal with all the staff of the hospital if the baby died like her mother. So, the baby was transferred to Massey Children Hospital in Lagos Island, where she spent three weeks before she was discharged.”
Now, almost seven months after the unfortunate incident that led to her mother’s death, the baby she left behind does not seem to be as healthy as expected. Up till now, she hardly opens her eyes or cries, a condition which experts attributed to circumstances surrounding her birth. Baby Fatimoh has since been taken to the Federal Medical Centre in Owo, Ondo State.
As Rasheed braces for a new lease of life, he said has started receiving threat messages. This started the very day he honoured the invitation of Dr Idris, where he denied authoring a letter purportedly written to commend the hospital where his wife died. “You are joking with ur life but you don’t know. Very soon we shall see if the police & soldiers can protect you 4 dis Epe,” the text message to his phone read.
But if Rasheed’s experience is disgusting, John Okafor’s (also known in Nollywood as Mr. Ibu), who also had a dose of inhumane care prevalent in Nigeria’s public hospitals, can lead to criminal liability. This incident, which led to the death of his two-year old son at LUTH, took place in January 2011, shortly after his wife and son were released from the den of kidnappers in Enugu. Having secured their release with a ransom, he moved his family to Lagos. That was his undoing, as his son fell ill afterwards, and diagnosed as having inflammation of the liver.
“The hospital suggested that he should be scanned. At the same time, I was informed that I could take my son out of the hospital to get the scan done elsewhere. But the same people later declined, saying that everything had to be done in the hospital because he was too weak to be taken outside. After a while, I was told that there was no electricity in the hospital. When I asked if there was no standby generator, they said there was no fuel in it. I offered to pay for fuel only to be told that the man that operated the generator was not around. When I left the place and got back later, the man still had not returned.”
Later, Okafor said he found out that his son needed blood transfusion, which along with other things, was not attended to till the boy eventually died.
But, like many voiceless Nigerians who are made to nurse a permanent wound after a distressing experience in the hospitals, Okafor seems not to have forgotten the heartbreak even with the passage of time.
-by Adekunle Yusuf