Do you find yourself tongue-tied in the presence of health care practitioners? Are you afraid to ask questions? Do you take medication whose names and side effects you do not know? Then you are the one I wrote this post for. I often kid people that in Nigeria, the herbal doctors are superior to the practitioners of orthodox medicine. This is because of the awe in which they are held. Knowing that there is sometimes a superstitious angle to their prescriptions, people rarely question their diagnoses. They pay huge amounts for treatments that no one can be held accountable for; as these doctors are not culpable for the consequences of whatever they do to you, or give you to drink.
When I was in medical school, we were required to observe as many surgeries as possible. Standing behind the operating table we would watch the surgeon, all the while struggling not to show our revulsion for the blood flowing like no man’s business. On my very first day in the theatre, I was excited at the before me. Giggling with my friends we changed into our scrubs and showed off our knowledge of surgical procedures. Suddenly, we heard a whine from the theatre. It was a low moan of someone in pain but too weak to even cry. I asked a friend what case we were expecting but neither she nor any of the others knew. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight that greeted me when we went in.
Lying on the theatre table was a female child of about 5 years of age. She was strapped to the table, moaning softly for her mother. Then I observed a foul, putrid odor. I was wondering how a theatre which is supposed to be extremely sanitary, could give off such an odor, when I looked at her right arm. I will never in my life forget the sight. It was mangled and decayed, with bits of her bones showing through the dead flesh. I ran outside to gag, as did several others. No one could pretend to be unmoved indeed. The surgeon came in and announced that he was doing an above the elbow amputation. It was obvious that the arm was a danger to her We held back tears as he sawed off that arm. He told us “Sometimes, this job is just distasteful!”
After the surgery, I stood outside trying to make sense of all I had seen. The surgeon had told us the little girl fell from the swing in school, and fractured her upper arm. Rather than come to the hospital, her parents decided to consult the native bone setters.( A number of people in Nigeria have this erroneous impression that orthopaedic surgeons are quick to recommend amputations, even when a fractured limb can be saved by other means). The bone setter tied some cloth on the fracture site so tightly, that it prevented blood from flowing to the injured arm. Since the life of the flesh is in the blood as the bible says, that arm started dying. Each time her parents visited her where she was left lying on the floor in very unsanitary conditions, she complained that the pain was increasing. The bone setter cautioned her against this, informing her parents that the pain was a sign of progress and was to be expected. Even when the gangrene set in, the parents wondered why the arm was changing colour but, he had some other explanation to quell their doubts. Finally, she became weak, pale, and unable to communicate as before. That was when she was rushed to hospital for a ‘miracle’.
Her father made the mistake of coming to ask me if he could get her a prosthetic (fake arm). I was so angry that I asked him why he didn’t listen to that girl when she was crying for help. He was holding her amputated arm in a bag, looking miserable. Eish! (That is a Nigerian expression I cannot interpret dear reader).
I write this because I know that you may be in the position to save a life by giving the right advice. Even if you want to patronize the traditional doctors, do not keep quiet when you don’t feel better. Ask questions even when in the hospital. Find out the meaning of the tests, scans, diagnoses, and then possible side effects of the drugs you are given. Make intelligent decisions and do insist that your loved ones (especially those who may be less knowledgeable than you are), get a medical opinion before trying alternative medicine. As imperfect as orthodox medicine is, at least we are culpable for malpractice. I don’t know how life turned out for that littlegirl, but I sure hope she’s living a great life despite her handicap.
To all those living with handicaps and disabilities, you are awesome! Be blessed everyone and live to influence your world for good.