By Seun Ibukun-Oni
Not many people will have the opportunity to clear the air like Pa Little Joe on fatal irredeemable dereliction by medicalpractitioners especially in this part of the world. The twin problems of weak legal framework and stigma are contributory factors why patients or their relatives do not report medical negligence to appropriate quarters. A few cases have been addressed successful in Nigeria and settlements have been the often preferred option which usually takes years. Many commentators have likened it to the spirit of comradery among medical practitioners which easily lets a negligent medical professional off the hook except in few cases of brazen reckless dereliction. The second problem which is the perceived stigma associated with bringing the details of infractions that led to the demise of a relative or love one, is endemic partly due to the myth that you don’t speak ill of the dead. Hence, many choose the painful option – silence.
Pa Joe shared his story a few days before his demise on the 6th of December, 2019. He said that the unusual medical condition began a few months after his 70th birthday. “I discovered that my bladder gets filled quickly and I have to visit the rest room several times in a day. It gets worse at night and sometimes I would have visited the convenience a dozen times between dusk and dawn. I began to use different local prescription but the situation soon degenerated so bad that I can’t go to public meetings again. I stopped going to church as my often voyage to the toilet had caught the attention of fellow parishioners and tongues have started waging,” he said.
Joe was quick to point out that it was not his desire to depend solely on local herbs which were affordable but sadly he had invested all his savings to see his seven children through the university but due to the harsh economic climate non of them is gainfully employed; thus he survives with his wife on the proceeds of his subsistence farming.
However, he said his younger siblings supported him and encouraged him to visit the hospital. When the primary health facilities referred him to a tertiary institution in Lagos, one of his brothers hosted him and his family clinic was the first point of call. The initial two weeks in Lagos were devoted to running series of tests and eventually he was diagnosed with prostate cancer which the doctor termed malignant according to his younger brother.
Joe narrated his ordeal: “After spending five weeks as an outpatient across three hospitals and four medical laboratories in Lagos, I was billed for an operation to salvage what was left of the malevolent cancer. I was told the procedure went on for a little over two hours before I was wheeled to the intensive care unit where I was recuperating. The first bad news was that I could no longer control my urine, it dropped like an unlocked tap and I had to start wearing a urine bag. Then, a biting pain migrates from one part of my body to the other and the incremental dose of pain killers simply aggravated my discomfort.
“After monitoring my emaciating body for eight days, I was billed for a follow-up surgery. At this point, my younger brothers have spent over N800, 000. I was told a specialist doctor had been invited from the teaching hospital to lead the follow up procedure. While the theatre was being prepared, I excused myself to say a word of prayer alone in the convenience and I asked my wife who aided me close to the toilet to give me a moment alone. As she made her way off, I could eavesdrop on the conversation between the invited specialist and the resident doctor and it revealed that the resident medical doctor wrongly interpreted the results as malignant. He told him it was benign and placing me on prescription of specialised drugs would have sufficed. However, he obliged to do a corrective surgery to limit the damage.
“The procedure came and passed but as you can see I believe God for a miracle as I have been confined on my back to this bed. My wife feeds, births, and does everything for me. I must be honest with you; I prefer to die than to remain in this helpless state. At this point I sought to know if the doctor admitted his fault and his answer was no.”
Joe shared this revelation with me on the 3rd of November last year and I was called around 2am on the 6th, December that he had breath his last. The truth may never be unearthed but more lives will be lost to medical negligence without consequences, in our dwindling health system if nothing is done urgently to address this ugly trend. A new legal framework which lowers the barrier to enable patients seek redress if they have reasonable grounds should be instituted. Sanctions must be increased for any erring medical practitioners. Investing in E-Health then becomes a viable platform to write the wrongs done to innocent patients by reckless medical practitioners.