By Dr. Obinna Ihemedu
The next time you read a story about how somebody died due to “negligence” of hospital staff, please take it with a pinch of salt. Don’t go about exclaiming “Nigerian doctors.”
I am not saying that Nigerian doctors and nurses don’t make mistakes, far from it. It will be very impossible to escape errors in the type of health system we practice in this country, but experience has taught me that most of these stories are usually far from the truth.
Let us take an example of a woman that just gave birth in a hospital and her blood pressure is elevated up to two days after delivery. The doctor wants to keep her in the hospital until her blood pressure is controlled, but she feels she is healthy enough to go home or that there is no need to incur more bills. The typical scenario in a Nigerian hospital is the husband coming to knock at the doctor’s office and peeping in like a secondary school student at the principal’s office “Doctor please I want my wife to be discharged. I know the BP will come down once she gets some rest at home”. An inexperienced doctor might discharge them out of sympathy while others will stand their ground. In the end they will sign against medical advice and leave. If the woman runs into trouble and dies, will the husband tell his people that they left the hospital against the doctor’s advice? No! Nigerian doctors.
A woman delivers and her packed cell volume is 15 percent. Doctor insists on blood transfusion, but the husband and another relative waylay him “Doctor please discharge her. We want to go home and give her vegetables and malt and milk”. They end up signing against advice, the woman dies. Whose fault is it? Nigerian doctors.
I have seen a couple bring in a very sick child to the hospital after they got tired of managing him at home. The child came in grunting, with oxygen saturation of 64 percent and temperature of 40 degrees. The doctors and nurses started resuscitation for the child, gave paracetamol injection for the fever, and as they were making efforts to save the child, he gave up. The man started destroying things in the hospital, accusing the doctors and nurses of killing his child with an injection.
There are so many of these stories, but unfortunately people only hear the side told by the patient’s relatives, and everybody else is very quick to jump on the train of criticism. But the truth is that our doctors and nurses do far more than they are given credit for. Of course there are bad ones amongst us, but the fact that we don’t have effective litigation mechanisms in this country to checkmate their excesses should make us question the government not the doctors and nurses.
If you go to any external examination venue where other countries are recruiting doctors, you will see that almost every doctor in Nigeria is looking for a way out of the country, even if it is to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Let us appreciate the ones who have decided to stay back and look after our health.
Ihemedu is medical practitioner, and writes from Owerri in Imo state, Nigeria.