Waiting to Die…Tales from LASUTH

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By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
Of course, there are more than enough reasons to make one sad in Nigeria; but it never crossed my mind that my Monday morning (3/12/12) could start on such a very bad note. Yesterday morning, I found out that it is “normal practice’ for the sick, the weary and the afflicted to be sent off to die patiently, while their names adorn the waiting lists of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. I am shouting because there may be so many out there on “death row” who can’t afford alternative medical care; who don’t have the voice to complain, and who may never get heard.

I have been struggling with a throat infection, popularly known as tonsillitis, that has defied treatment. After frustrating months of seeing countless doctors, taking drugs that only provided temporary relief and indulging in creative self medication, i decided to submit myself to an elective surgery to remove the goddamn tonsils. Google searches and literature seem to suggest that tonsil removal is the only sure path to lasting peace. 
Although my doctors at the private hospital I use in Egbeda, Alimosho Local Government Area advised against  surgery, they gladly referred me to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja to see another (ear, nose and throat) ENT specialist that would conduct a more robust medical examination, and give a second opinion regarding the need for surgery. Armed with  a referral letter, I excitedly raced down to LASUTH, trusting that my problems would be over in a few hours. I was dead wrong!

First of all, i went to the ENT department where i was redirected to the Client Services Unit (CSU) to get formally booked to see the consultant surgeon. At the CSU, I submitted my referral letter and patiently joined the pretty long queue of patients waiting to get booked for an appointment. It eventually got to my turn, and to my greatest shock, i was booked to see one Dr. Batholomew at 8 a.m. on May 5, 2013!  So, that means i have to either live with my affliction till  the next 6 months,  or perhaps die while waiting to see a doctor! As i was still fuming with rage, another patient quietly explained that there was a conspicuous shortage of ENT doctors across the country, and the few available ones are always over-booked. Imagine!… Years of bad governance have now conditioned citizens to make excuses for bad governance and view inefficiency as normal. 
Brightly-colored statistics and fiscal calculations often bandied around by state and federal officials portray Nigeria as a country with a very strong economic base, with improving access to basic services, including healthcare. Long waits to see a doctor for a mere re-confirmatory medical assessment, in my view, are signs of bigger governance failures. Not only do long hospital waits and appointment dates sharply contrast with the annoying statistics of progress advertised to the world, but also evidence the harsh social and economic realities millions of Nigerian face on a daily basis.  The long waits at LASUTH are longer than ideal response times, and flout wide-ranging international standards that espouse healthcare as a human right.  
Come to think of it, not long ago, Lagos State Government threatened striking Lagos doctors with sack letters. Were they planning to sack the few available expertise within the grossly under-performing healthcare system in Lagos State? What were they thinking?  What is more…Eko oni baje – whatever that means – makes no meaning to me. At all!


4 thoughts on “Waiting to Die…Tales from LASUTH”

  1. Wow, serious man power shortage…and to think i was at Unilorin Teaching Hospital today. Job no dey, work no dey; now work full everywhere but no qualified personnel. The solution is obviously to make the job more attractive to encourage more students to tow the path and to remain in government employ after graduation. Just sad.

  2. Vic, I’m moved by this story because I recently had an experience that caused me to realize just how problematic Nigeria’s healthcare system is. My older sister, who lives in the US just gave birth to a baby girl that is about 2 months premature. She’d had a difficult pregnancy complicated by a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy. Her doctors were checking in on her weekly to make sure she and the baby were fine. A little over two weeks ago she went in for one of these regular check-ins and they found that she had sever preeclampsia and decided to perform a cesarean section right away. Their immediate attention saved both my sister and her baby’s life. Contrast this with the news my family and I just received last night. A pregnant aunty who lives in Port Harcourt was almost at full term. She was rushed to the hospital because it became clear, from her own self observation, that she had extremely high blood pressure (the same severe preeclampsia). She got to the hospital and was told that there were no doctors present but that she should wait while once could be fetched. Both she and her baby died while waiting. This is an absolute injustice; clearly both the lives of my aunt and her baby could have been saved. Why is this happening? I’m not one to condemn Nigeria so quickly, as I like to think there are some positive examples throughout the country that just need to be scaled. But I’m floored here. Can any readers here comment on what sort of work is being done to address this capacity issue in the Nigerian healthcare system? Are there any organizations in the country that are having success here?

  3. Spaces for Change

    Nse, i thought my story was bad enough until i heard yours. My heart still bleeds after reading your story. I have now posted the story in our discussion room on FACEBOOK. A radio presenter is also taking up the story. Could you please provide the name of the hospital, and the date the incident occurred? We have to do more than shout in order to bring the offending public health institutions to account. I look forward to your response. Please do.

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