Our 24 Days in LUTH

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Emma Anya

At 5am July 15, 2019 , a telephone call from my wife roused me from sleep.

“Mummy J, what’s the problem?” I asked. Before her answer, my mind was on Jboy’s kid brother, who in his 12 years on earth has had a turbulent health challenge.

“Nuel,’’ my wife responded. ”It’s Jboy. He hasnt been hearing for over seven hours. Before then, his temperature was high. He also complained of headache. I gave him malaria drug but no relief came.” 

“Ok”, I responded. Get ready to take him to the hospital by 8am but in the interim, give him paracetamol.

By 7.30am, another telephone call came from Mummy J. “Nuel, Jboy isn’t able to stand and walk. His neck is also stiff now.” At this point, I sprang up from my bed about 600km from my Lagos home, pondering what was amiss. For almost 10 minutes, Mummy J’s line rang out, leaving me bewildered. What next? I asked myself. Suddenly, I remembered that my childhood friend, Akeem Opere, spent the night at my home because the perennial gridlock on the Isolo-Ejigbo road in Lagos, wouldn’t allow him enjoy the comfort of his bed in Ikotun. 

While dialing Akeem’s number, Mummy J’s call came again through her second telephone line. “We are on our way to the Federal Medical Center, Ebute Meta. Timininu helped to carry Jboy downstairs.” Timininu had to wade in since Akeem lacked the biceps to lift Jboy,a 15-year-old who is only two -inch less than a six-footer in height. At the FMC,my boy could not be attended to reason being that the health institution hadn’t enough bed space. My phone rang once again and my wife’s hysterical voice set my blood pressure rising to a boiling point(145/110 according to my handset).

“Call Nonye and tell her you have an emergency. Don’t worry about time since you would be going against traffic,“ I counseled her. This was after much pleas by Mummy J and Akeem to the personnel of the FMC fell on deaf ears.

At 11 am when they arrived the military hospital, Jboy could not feel any sensation in his legs and hands. The stiff neck had also gotten worse. My wife, Akeem and Nonye, a microbiologist at the military hospital, could not carry the young man out of the car. Luck however smiled on them as three soldiers who watched their futile efforts stepped in and lifted Jboy to a waiting bay where a male military doctor placed him on drip. After examining him and conducting a few tests, the military doctor, said they suspected meningitis. Unfortunately, the health facility had no equipment to test for such bacterial infection. Consequently,they issued a referral letter to LUTH. There and then, our 24-day stay in LUTH, a World Health Organisation centre of excellence began. My family had before late 2017 been a regular LUTH client . Yet Mummy J was terribly worried that LUTH came into the picture.You need a LUTH experience to understand why.

More than two hours after their arrival at the Children Emergency, my wife and Akeem could not get the attention of doctors and nurses in the department to attend to Jboy who was still on the drip from the military hospital.

Attention, however, later came. But that was after I had placed a call to LUTH’s Public Relations Officer notifying him of the development(imagine not having anyone to contact in such a situation?). Good man and a thoroughbred professional. He left his desk and headed for the Children Emergency for intervention.

Promptu,a nurse appeared, touched Jboy and retorted: “Madam(referring to my wife)why are you raising alarm when your son is conscious?”. Trust Mummy J. She gave it back to her. “Oh, you want him unconscious before you could do something?”

Anyway, Jboy got a admitted after payments for a bed space and a series of tests had been made. Two undisputable facts about making payments in LUTH are cumbersomeness and tediousness. In fact, you won’t for months need any form of routine physical fitness after scaling through the bureaucracy in payments in the 57-year-old health institution.

Five days after Mummy J had borne the challenges alone, I arrived Lagos and headed straight to LUTH to become a part of the unpalatable sojourn.

Everyday in LUTH was an admixture of despondence and hope. But the former far outweighed the latter. From the hospital’s main gate to the toilets in Ward D2 which served as Jboy’s temporary abode, sordid sights assaulted our sensibilities. At the main gate, the hospital’s internal security chase okada riders the way butchers drive away flies. Fear of accidents is ever palpable at the gate. In the toilets, water is a near essential commodity. Maids ration water. They complain when toilets are not flushed and curse when you step on any part of the floor cleaned by them. In fact, the maids feel their salaries are a right and not for any form of service.

When you move round LUTH’s wards, you notice a glaring lack of medics. But funny enough, the hospital appears to have more hired security personnel than medical professionals. Few of the primary duties of the security personnel are no doubt to prevent discharged patients from leaving the hospital without settling their bills and to control the influx of visitors into the wards. But beyond the officially assigned duties, many of the security officials behave like female almajiris. They heckle every parent, relation and visitors with demand for money to the extent that you begin to wonder if they have lost the spirit of empathy.

One other sad observation or attitude of most medics is the lack of communication between doctors and nurses; doctors and parents/relations of patients and nurses and parents/guardians.

If communication is indeed the nexus of all human relationships, what exists between doctors and nurses; doctors and parents/relations and nurses and parents of patients in LUTH is a negation of that widely held truism.

It is unarguable that every profession has guidelines but their implementation is near zero in public institutions. When a doctor examines a patient, writes down steps that should be taken by a nurse and walks away, the likelihood of the nurse not acting is extremely high. This happens in LUTH. It does not help the system one bit. Anyway, I believe the supremacy battle between the two groups in the health profession is responsible for the lack of communication. Relationship between many doctors and most parents or guardians of patients is worse. Most doctors appear cold or unapproachable. You hardly see them smiling. Ask a doctor a question and you are most likely to get ignored or receive unsavoury response. They fail to realize that a little conviviality or smile is a balm that could give hope to a patient and his/her parents.

Nurses are not different. Tell a nurse you need the attention of a doctor and be greeted with a loud silence. Remind a nurse that it’s time for his/her patient to have oral drug or get a ward maid to clean up a messed up bedside and be ready to wait eternity.

A nurse or doctor will hardly call the services of a specialist from another unit unless you get a little crazy.

LUTH management could very well minimize these negatives through little efforts. One is to regularly hold talk shops focusing on patience, smile, empathy and effective communication as the first therapies of healing. Two is to have a list of emergency lines of critical units pasted at the entrance of every ward.

Servicom lines are in some places in the hospital but in times of emergency, one may not have the patience to go searching for them hundreds of metres away.

One of the absurdities in LUTH is the fact that most drugs sold within its premises are costlier than what obtains at pharmacies outside. Common sense tells me that the reverse ought be the case.

Lack of basic equipment in public hospitals is no news anymore. And LUTH is no exception. I would never buy the assumption that it’s a systemic failure when some private health facilities boast of them. Imagine LUTH not having a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging ( MRI} scanner. Think of LUTH without a functional equipment for testing hearing. 

When in LUTH, stay away from lifts to avoid high BP. Lifts in most of the buildings are no longer electronically controlled but manually. In fact, they are as old in appearance as the buildings themselves. The operators determine the floors via ingenious ways that only them understand.

Most structures in the health facility bear eloquent testimonial of our inability as a nation to maintain public assets. Walk through the Accident and Emergency building, the first major unit that welcomes you to LUTH, and be greeted by fallen ceilings at the entrance and lobbies. The terrazzo stairs and floors are silently pleading for a change to tiles.

Pray not be a patient requiring oxygen. The sight of the cylinders, if you are conscious, would make you feel your death is being fast-tracked.

In spite of the negatives, a few positives were highly observable. One, the hospital management seems to have a facility that lends a helping hand to indigent patients. Two is LUTH’s management providing access to NGOs and churches to visit wards with gifts, help indigent patients with money to buy drugs and sometimes pay the hospital bills after being discharged.

Three is 24/7 power supply. Twenty four days without a one second outage? Yes, it happened right before us. How did LUTH achieve the feat? I enquired and learnt that an Independent Power Plant supplies electricity to the health institution. Kudo must go to LUTH management for this.

Our stay in LUTH did show graphically how low we have reached as a nation. Imagine infants being on admission because of kwashiokor(malnutrition). I saw and wept for a two-year-old who after she was discharged could not leave the ward until three days after an NGO rendered an assistance.

*MENINGITIS ON THE PROWL IN LAGOS. Yes . Previouly the belief generally in Southern part of Nigeria is that it’s a Northern issue.

“How did your son contract it?” This was one question people, including doctors, kept asking. I had no answer except the fact that extreme heat and dirty environments are the main causes.

I believe community health offices at both the federal and state levels should let out more information on the causes.

Its gladdening however to note that Lagos State Government recently initiated a programme to tackle the infection which either leaves one dead within days or deformed for life.

While in LUTH for the 24 days, we learnt that there were three reported cases. Until nine years ago, meningitis injection wasn’t part of the National Immunisation Programme for Southern Nigeria.

*SCIENCE/SPIRITUALISM :Our days in LUTH tested my ability to stand firm on my beliefs. Insinuations and suggestions on how to handle the vicious infection came in torrents. Many, including doctors believed it was spiritual attack and not just bacterial infection.

In fact, while a relation, after we had spent two weeks in the hospital , advised that my son be taken to my home town for traditional treatment, an in-law suggested that I send him to a church he attends for prayers.

To my relation, in-law and others who shared their views, my answer was absolute no. Not that I dodn’t believe in the efficacy of trado-medicines and the potency of prayers, I knew the infection was treatable with right antibiotics and other drugs.

But I appreciate all of them for their concern and love as we enter the second phase of Jboy’s recovery process, one costlier than the expensive meningitis treatment.

––Anya, an aide to Governor of Ebonyi State, has his family in Lagos