By Onochie Anibeze
Death never crossed my mind. The worst I expected was his long stay in the hospital. He had been referred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, from a private hospital in Amuwo Odofin in Lagos. That was the beginning of another ordeal that could have been avoided if our healthcare was fairly good. Yes, admission into LUTH for the treatment of any ailment is usually an ordeal not only for the patient but also for the family going by the account of many Nigerians including this reporter.
My brother, Thomas Anibeze, was admitted in LUTH in January this year. He had respiratory problem. The mosquitoes that attacked me at LUTH, on my first day, were vicious. Nothings dispels them. They were special LUTH breed. It was double wahala for my brother.
I imagined that there was no way my brother could have slept under such condition and he concurred. He said the mosquitoes were unbelievable. We asked for mosquito net. The one the hospital brought was torn in many places. That’s our University Teaching Hospital for you. I bought one for his use.
The ward was not airy. If you felt bad about the condition you had to do something about it, not the hospital. I bought a standing fan. I was told the hospital had standard and that only a table fan would be allowed. We changed it. Other patients had same too. You try to improvise in many areas. But there are ones you simply cannot help. You feel ashamed of your country. The toilets will make you sick. What do you do? You manage it.
After few days, my brother complained about the feeding. Food vendors bring food to LUTH. The hospital does not make use of the kitchen in the wards. They are no longer functional. That’s our University Teaching Hospital for you. We started taking food to the hospital. But that was not for long. On January 30, my brother lost the battle with respiratory disease.
The death marked the beginning of another ordeal. We began what they call clearance before death certificate could be issued so that his body could be released to us. You must go to three to four or more places for the clearance that will prove that you have cleared your bills. If you are not fit then you may have another story to tell, trekking from one part of the hospital to another, for the clearance that must be done in those different centres. This is our University Teaching Hospital for you.
LUTH is not IT compliant. You are in trouble if you misplace your receipts. Luckily, my nephew kept all the receipts. From one clearance point to another we walked up and down for this process until I left the young man to do the runs. It was not as easy. There are always queues in such places and one by one they will be screening the receipts and checking with their own documents.
The drugs prescribed and given and the drugs prescribed and not given (when the patient had to buy them himself), everything has to be checked manually. You spend some time doing this. This is a University Teaching Hospital in a 21st century world. No computers to keep records of payments. Odiegwu (wonderful). This is Nigeria, one of the largest oil producing countries in the world. Need I say shame?
We actually started clearance from the Blood Bank. My brother never took blood. His problem was with his lungs. He never lacked blood and was never given blood. He was on oxygen. But they insisted that we must begin our clearance from the blood bank because they did not know if he was given blood or not. Can you imagine? And they were attending to him? The Blood Bank officials must give clearance that you had no bills to settle. We moved to the block and joined the queue there.
It took a while for them to attend to us. The man in charge was not on seat for a while. It took about two hours for us to get clearance from there and proceeded to other pharmacies for clearance too . My brother died in the morning. And I wanted to move the body to Enugu that day.
I never knew the system would not make that possible. Sometimes it takes days for people to finish with clearance and obtain the death certificate they need to take the body of a fallen one from the mortuary. This is our 21 century University Teaching Hospital. Poor facilities , poor equipment, mosquito-infested wards that cannot pass cleanliness tests, unprofessional attitude of staff although there are exceptions. Our teaching hospitals are nowhere close to the centres of excellence that they claim.
I made calls before my brother could be attended to. Initially, it was almost hopeless but days after admission it got better when they assigned a doctor to him . The doctor was caring although helpless going by the equipment and technology available in the hospital. I started thinking if our University Teaching Hospital could be the best I could do for my brother. I started searching for one Dr Anumneze, a specialist in that area. I was on my way to track his hospital that Saturday morning when my brother passed on.
And so our hospitals are daily recording avoidable deaths that could easily be handled in hospitals abroad. That’s why Nigerians spend billions on medical tourism abroad? Nobody who has had an experience in any Nigerian hospital would like to resort to one if he can afford treatment abroad. That is the story of Nigeria, the so called giant of Africa. Good nobody ascribes that sobriquet to us anymore.
As I was concluding this piece, I remembered the beautiful piece veteran journalist Uche Ezechukwu wrote in his column in The Sun in 2013. Mr Ezechukwu almost lost his life at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH but God kept him alive to write a piece that remains green in my memory.
It’s a shame such stories are common in Nigeria and nothing tangible happens. Did I hear somebody say s—t happens? But I must add that I have gone to some hospitals abroad and I know that many of our billionaires can set up some of the hospitals Nigerians patronise abroad.
I know that if we cared about our healthcare the government could also raise facilities, equipment and the system that could make our university teaching hospitals what their names connote and not what Mr Ezechukwu called University of Nigeria Death Hospital. I feel obliged to share Ezechukwu’s melancholic experience with you as written by himself in September 2013. It is the story of the Nigerian state. Enjoy part of the piece.