By Dr Bolaji,
I stood near the side of my patient, speechless, my heart quite weary from much anguish, as I struggled to break the news to her.
She was a middle-aged woman, obese with a huge chronically infected wound on her legs. She was really pale and sick. Her blood pressure was dropping. I had spoken to her the night before. She was distressed from her illness yet subtly optimistic. She has told me the night before in her low, shaky voice “Doctor, I have gone through a lot in private hospitals without improvement, but I decided to come here to the teaching…. hospital, I hope I will be fine? I had answered her in a calm reassuring tone, a telltale sign of years of treating similar illnesses with strings of successes. “ma you will be fine, we have specialists here, that will take good care of you”. I smiled as I said those words, and I could see her grin, her eyes lit up with hope and blazing optimism.
Now I was there again the next morning, struggling to speak, I was broken and felt pangs of guilt crushing my heart. I was about to dash her flicker of hope, but I knew I had to speak. I stuttered at some few low monotonic words “ma…. ma… I am sorry ma to tell u that doctors are on strike, so we might need to discharge u to another hospital”. Immediately, I muttered those words, the little flicker of hope in her eyes vanished, I could see her eyes dim in gloom. “o…k” she deeply sighed
Later that day, I accompanied the relatives as they wheeled the patient outside into a small car packed in front of the ward. I assisted the patient as she got into the car. I stood still as the driver started the car. I looked at the pale, weak woman struggling to survive, her head bowed, she still was able to mumble a few words of gratitude “Thank you doctor”. I watched her as the driver zoomed her off, to where? I could not say, but I knew we had failed her, our strike has left her with no choice but towards an uncertain destination. “Nothing can justify this”, I thought in my mind, no amount of right or just privileges can pay the price for an unjust and painful death of a patient.
Major breakthrough in modern medicine all arose out of the need to save lives. The early inventions in medicine from Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, India and China were all driven by quest to solve the mysterious illnesses of patients. It was Hippocrates, father of modern medicine that said “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” Florence Nightingale, pioneered modern nursing when she saw the distasteful, unhygienic state, soldiers were treated during the Crimean war. It was out of this compassion to care for them that formal nursing programs were instituted. Medicine and Priesthood was difficult to separate in the medieval times because of the unique role of both in cure of the mind, body and spirit of its client.
Overtime, because of the need for efficiency and the advent of evidence-based medicine, specialization in medicine and nursing care was introduced. Pharmacy, Laboratory science, and Radiography were incorporated to medical field to improve the effectiveness of patients care. Innovation then was geared towards improvement of patients care and health. The mystic nature of human disease was the single driving force towards medical innovation.
But how come, the single driving factor of the existence of hospital and medical practice has now become puns and squabble in the hands of health workers. How come the grass that sustained the elephant have now become vulnerable to the animosities of the elephants themselves.
The singular answer to that is that we health workers have left our first love…we have become enmeshed in the battle of superiority and hegemony. We have become fattened by pleasures and have forgotten the reason for our employment. We have lost our vision of a perfect health care where all diseases can be treated. We have allowed our hospitals to be filled with carcasses of innocent lives.
It is undoubted that we have the right as health workers, as free moral agents to demand for our well-deserved privileges. We have the right to protest. We have the right to seek for the improvement of our various disciplines. We have the right to reach the highest stage of Maslow’s pyramids “self-actualization”. We have that right to seek for a better welfare.
However, the right and privileges we seek must not be viewed through our angle alone, but it must always be visualized only through one microscope and only through one question; Will this demands improve patients care? That is the only moral scale we can use to measure the validity of our demands. So if we want a Lab scientist to become the CMD of an hospital, will that improve patients care better than before? If we have a consultant nurse, will it improve patients care ? Will residency in physiotherapy improve the patients care? Will the frequent attack from doctors against the demands of JOHESU improve patients care? Does the incessant strike from Doctors and JOHESU improve patients care?
If we can ponder on this question across all our demands and answer it in a most sincere way. If we can also recognize the only inescapable truths that we will all be a patient one day, then we would have started the race towards having the best health care in the world.
As I walked back home that fateful day, I heard the echoes ringing in my mind. “There is no rightful privilege just enough to substitute for a human life, no matter how right or sacrosanct the demand is”.
That patient of mine died some months after we discharged her, longer than I thought, thanks to the private hospital that upgraded their services when we down tooled.
To her I dedicate this write up, and the myriads of patients who have died during the strike.
About the author: Dr Bolaji writes from UCH Ibadan