Thought Leadership

Medical Accidents: Are doctors still burying their mistakes?

8 Mins read
Thought Leadership

Medical Accidents: Are doctors still burying their mistakes?

8 Mins read
Our recent blog on the words of the Minister of Health regarding the attitudes of doctors and nurses to work in public hospitals has inspired this piece by our guest contributor Kingsley Obom-Egbulam.

Its a must read!

Like most people, we all went into 2009 with so much expectation. If you are a Christian in a country like Nigeria, in line with the usual “prophetic declaration”, your pastor must have given the year his or her name, thus changing the year 2009 to “ year of endless harvest”, “year of sweat- less success”, “year of soaring on eagles wings”, and this popular one, “year of laughter”.

I am not too sure what the year was called in my place of worship. But whatever name we called the year, was almost eroded by a terrible news we got less than one week into 2009.

“Have you heard the sad news?”,that seems like my happy New Year greeting that morning. I had just settled down to business that day which incidentally was my first day at work in 2009 and my colleague, who must have suspected my need for some updates sauntered in and announced the unexpected news. “Sister Nwugo died last night”.

You can imagine the reaction that followed the bombshell.

Nwugo Okoye was until her death, the Head of Corporate Communications at Etisalat-one of Nigeria’s mobile telecommunication companies. Before moving to Estisalt, Nwogu had worked as Manager in charge of Internal Communications at MTN, this was after over a decade of robust practice in the advertising industry.

She was good!

Nwogu’s fruitful and vibrant life was cut short after a failed Myomectomy ( an operation done to remove fibroids while leaving the uterus intact).

She went into the theatre certain she would make it. She could afford to have the surgery done anywhere in the world. But she chose to have it here. Was it a gamble? Did Nwugo commit suicide by opting to remove a disturbing fibroid here in Nigeria –a simple surgery many other women have had and came out successfully in Nigeria? Was she just another addition to the growing list of medical accidents we all have to put up with in Nigeria?

Less than ninety days before Nwogu’s death, somewhere in London, Ada Effiong had gone for an even more complicated surgery. Considering the nature of the surgery, she didn’t want to gamble, or so it seems. Unlike Nwugo, Ada never thought she would make it. “I had to settle all outstanding issues, my will, and other issues that needs to be resolved, something just kept telling me I wouldn’t make it; so I didn’t want to leave any problems when Im gone”.

Ada made it. She is still alive , hale and kicking.

A public health physician recently said that in resource-challenged settings like Africa, more patients are likely going to die in hospitals due to medical accidents occasioned by negligence than the impact of the illnesses they are suffering from. This, according to the doctor, is a global fact, even if it appears questionable and only applicable to developing countries. But is this a rule in Nigeria or an exception? Can this pass for a rule that must be obeyed by hospital users and people who will have cause to see any doctor and be eventually admitted or it is an exception we should not bother about?

In the wake of the June 12 Celebration last year, a few Nigerians in Lagos were mourning and preparing to bury one of the best female voices on radio -at least in the last decade. Adetutu Badmus, former Radio Nigeria Network news caster, fantastic compere’ and gifted voice-over artiste had her voice on over half of all the radio commercials produced in Nigeria. She had just moved from Radio Nigeria to LTV 8 as Head of Programmes and Content Management. Many of us were already looking forward to a revival in that stations programming policy and consequently its quality of programmes. All of our dreams suddenly turned into nightmares.

Tutu died in the labour room of a tertiary health institution in Lagos, less than a year after her wedding.

Again, did she commit suicide by opting to have her baby in Nigeria since she could afford to have the baby abroad?

Incidentally, Tutu’s service of songs was officiated by Gbenga Adeoye ,a Pastor with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, who lost his wife a year ago in circumstances similar to that of Tutu. Adeoye said the doctors who attended to his wife had a case to answer. Though they’ve buried their mistake, Adeoye believe “God will judge them for their negligence”.

Dr. Badmus, Tutu’s elder brother said he is not just sad that he lost his kid sister , but that he is sad that his sister died a needless albeit avoidable death. And being a doctor himself, he certainly knew the undercurrent of Tutu’s death.

Without casting aspersions on our health system or passing a vote of no confidence on our medical personnel, truth is: we are fast building a health system that swallows its patients.

It is becoming dangerous not to have some working understanding of basic diseases and possible therapies and (depending on your faith),a team of prayer warriors or Alfas interceding on your behalf before seeing any doctor these days. You may end up being a cadaver( a corpse good only for teaching medical students in teaching hospitals) if God doesn’t show up on your behalf and avert an accident or negligence.

Three of my friends lost their dads to this chain of medical accidents and it continues to form their attitude towards medical care in Nigeria. The first one, her dad suddenly started convulsing(or so it seems)and was about to kick the bucket. He was taken to the hospital and they found out after some tests that his blood sugar level had risen far beyond normal. He was immediately given some medication to bring down the sugar level at last close to normal. But the drug had an adverse effect on the man .He was given more than he required. He lost his mind and was like that until he passed on less than two weeks after.

The other two are similar even though they were in separate hospitals that were hundreds of kilometers apart. They both had hypertensive dads who were also diabetic .And in both cases, their dads had malaria and were rushed to the hospital after some days of trying to find out what exactly was wrong. They were admitted immediately they got to the hospital and were infused with dext
rose because they hadn’t much energy, food and water in them due to severe loss of appetite. Nobody bothered to know their medical history or find out whether they were diabetic or not. Can you believe that?

Of course, they both passed on ,one of them died less than 48 hours after being admitted.

Another pathetic case was that of a patient-an old man ,who was diagnosed of hernia. He needed to be operated upon. The surgeon wanted to make it snappy and get it done with in no time so he could attend to other personal perhaps more important matters. To achieve this, the patient was generally anaesthetized-this was to put him to sleep and save him from experiencing the pain of the surgery while it lasted.

But it back fired.

The patient responded badly and the complication that arose was not bargained for. Considering the age of the patient, and the fact that he was also diabetic, some medical experts believe that he should have been locally anaesthetised. By this, the pain would only been relieved around the part or region of the body where the surgery would be carried out while the patient remains awake to see what was going on. That would have reduced the amount of anaesthetics in the old man’s system and consequently the length of time he would have spent out of this world.

The good news is that this patient is alive today and kicking-thanks to the hospitals massive investment in ultramodern medical facilities.

It is still too early to forget that renown Attorney and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fewinhimi also had a taste of these of these medical accidents. Our beloved Senior Advocate of the Masses and of Nigeria, still flies in and out of London for treatment.

Fawehinmi is scared…yes scared for you and I who may not be able to fly abroad like him and the president when we are about to join the growing list of victims of medical accidents in Nigeria.

Gani, a living legend and a firm believer in the future of Nigeria and its potentials, had to escape for his dear life to London contrary to his patriotic principle. Gani had been on treatment for pneumonia in a highbrow hospital on Victoria Island.

Gani’s treatment was informed by a misdiagnosis. He go to know this when he arrived London mid last. After several checks in London, he was confirmed to be down with cancer and had to be placed on cancer treatment. It is not clear how much damage the initial misdiagnosis had done on his health, but the truth is: if Gani had died in Nigeria before he was flown abroad chances are that doctors in that Victoria Island hospital would have told Nigerians that he died of pneumonia. And we may never get to know the truth. Never!

If this could happen to the likes of Gani and even the president(before he had to run to Germany)what then is the fate of other Nigerians?

Millions of medical mistakes are mostly premised on wrong diagnoses. Leading most times to unnecessary surgery and sometimes failed surgery which may lead to death.

In cases where the diagnoses are right, negligence and lack of respect for the patient is said to be the main enemy and when this enemy shows up in the course of treatment someone has to pay the price most times it is the ultimate price.

How do we stem the tide of medical accidents in Nigeria? How do we ensure that doctors are held responsible for negligence when a life is lost needlessly in their hospitals or clinics? How can we even prove these cases in the first place? How alive is the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA)and indeed other bodies regulating medical practice in Nigeria to the responsibilities of ensuring patients protection and standard of practice?

The Lagos State government stirred the hornets’ nest last year when it passed the Corona’s bill into law .The law ,among other things was supposed to (at least, on paper) keep doctors in check and put an end to questionable deaths of patients in hospitals. Of course the law also contained aspects considered injurious to medical care-aspects which well meaning doctors say can prevent them sticking their necks to saves lives already at the brink of death.

For now, one reality we cannot run away from is the fact that many Nigerians have died (and would still die)simply because their cases were poorly handled in hospitals. Some have gone unnoticed and in the case where the victim is a prominent person, some questions may be asked. But like all cases, no one will be held responsible or brought to book. How can we end this unusual epidemic confronting ignorant Nigerians and their families lost to medical accidents? How long will doctors continue to bury their mistakes while pilots die with theirs?

Too many questions. When would the answers come?

Kingsley Obom-Egbulem, a social entrepreneur and communication specialist is Chief Creative Officer, Health Communication and Development Initiative(HCDI),Lagos and Editor-In-Chief, MANHOOD Magazine.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

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