My Experience with a Death & an Illness

santas-dumant-200I’m sitting at my gate in an airport somewhere in Europe (thank you United Airlines for not flying Houston-Lagos anymore), and I’m here pondering on the reason I left Nigeria in the first place; everything that has happened to me in the last month and how it’s worth sharing. It’s been a minute I’ve been on here and that’s because the struggle in Nigeria is real! I’m so grateful for the fact that my year long service is coming to an end. I came, I saw, I conquered National Youth Service Corps!

So what am I doing outside Nigeria two weeks to my ‘Passing Out’? Well, it started off with a holiday and quickly snowballed into something else. If you recall, I work in a psychiatric hospital in Port Harcourt, and I got time off as I wasn’t doing anything in the hospital and the MD took a vacation. We’ve been having major difficulties carrying on with “work” in the last few months at the MD’s office; the waiting room and the secretary’s office basically caved in – the roof came off and being that it’s the rainy season, it was always flooded. It’s a health hazard (my cousin even stepped on a nail going on about her duties as she was an intern at the hospital), and I felt things were growing and living in the mess. The MD, his secretary and I couldn’t stay in the office when we were in the hospital, so we were barely doing anything. Then the MD went on a month long vacation and I got clearance to take a vacation. I decided to go back to Lagos till I was needed back in the hospital.

Two weeks into my holiday, I got a call from my cousin, informing me that his dad (my favorite uncle) had a stroke and was admitted in a hospital. I panicked for a couple of minutes, then I told myself that people have strokes, survive it and recover. It wasn’t the end of the world. My grandfather had a stroke a couple of years ago and he’s fine now, though on a stick, but all good nevertheless. I was confident that my uncle was going to survive it – such a good man with a big heart, he’ll be fine. I planned to go to the hospital to see my uncle, but I was told that he would be moved from the general hospital where he was first admitted to a teaching hospital as it would give him a better chance. While waiting to get confirmation of the move, I got a call from my cousin (Kay) and he sounded really flustered. After the move, a cardiologist had examined my uncle’s brain CT scan and explained to Kay that there was a lot of damage in the frontal lobe and other things using medical jargons that he couldn’t really understand. He only remembered the ‘frontal lobe’ which was what he told me. He believed I’d have a better idea about what was going on because they didn’t understand what was happening, so I rushed down to the hospital. I had questions: Has he seen a neurologist? Why’s a cardiologist examining brain CT scans and giving a diagnosis?

Kay told me that a few days before the incident, my uncle had been stressing himself a little more than usual and complained of a really bad headache. He went to see his doctor and all he was told was to continue on his blood pressure medication as he was a hypertensive patient. The night before, he found it very difficult to sleep, so he took a local concoction ‘alabukun‘ which is supposedly used in treating headaches and all sorts of things. The next morning on his way to work, he slumped and that was it. My uncle knew something was terribly wrong with his body, that’s why he went to the doctor’s. But it was dismissed and he was asked to continue with his BP medication. I’m not a medical doctor, but if a hypertensive patient came to me complaining of a headache, I’d admit him right away and monitor him as it’s a first sign of an impending stroke. I’d also have advised him against taking anything with caffeine. Alabukun usually has an unknown but high percentage of caffeine, and caffeine increases heart rate, so why would a hypertensive patient not be warned against such? 

When I got to the hospital, I went through the CT scans and the radiologist’s reports. The radiologist wrote that it was an ischemic stroke. I’m not trained to read CT scans, so I couldn’t understand the scans, but my uncle’s left side was paralyzed, so that meant the stroke happened on the right side of his brain. I originally thought he had a hemorrhagic stroke because of the story I was told – He was hypertensive, he took a large dose of caffeine, then maybe a blood vessel burst. But the CT scans were showing an ischemic stroke, meaning a blood clot had deprived his brain of blood. With ischemic strokes, they have to be treated as soon as possible, within 6 hours of the stroke occurring to have a great shot at complete recovery. It was almost a week after and no one knew what was happening with my uncle, whether he was improving or deteriorating. I was told he was on insulin and anticoagulants. I didn’t know which anticoagulant, the dose and the manner he was being given. I didn’t have access to my uncle’s files, so I didn’t even know where to start. He just needed to see a neurologist, who would be in the best position to understand what was happening and know what next to do. It turned out that the hospital that had boasted to me a few months prior about how they have the best neurologists in Lagos when I was thinking of serving there didn’t have any available. All they did was write a referral letter. My cousin knew someone, I knew someone at the hospital, we tried to get them on the case and they told us to be patient. There was nothing else we could do but wait. It was a Wednesday afternoon.

By Saturday morning, I was very excited and optimistic. Although I had a disturbing dream the night before, I brushed it off. It was going to be a good day, I was going to the hospital to be with my cousin and his family, everything would be fine. I was in bed due to period pains, nothing serious, I’d get up and get ready to head to the hospital. While waiting for the period pains to subside, my phone rang and I was surprised to see my dad calling because of the time difference. It was about 3am where is he and it was way too early, especially on a Saturday morning for him to call me. I missed the call while I was contemplating what it could be about – “maybe he misdialed, maybe he’ll call back later.”I decided to make myself breakfast before calling my dad back, so I went to the kitchen. I got a pot, bent over at the tap to get water. Immediately, I felt like something popped in my lower abdominal area and with it came a very sharp pain. I dropped the pot and muffled my scream. I was the only one at home and I couldn’t cry out to anyone for help. After a few minutes, I managed to drag myself to my bed. Once I laid down, the pain subsided a little. When I tried to sit down or get up, it was just as bad as the first time I felt the pain. I stayed in bed till my cousin who was staying with me (Dams) came home. I decided to call my dad back at that point. He picked up and phone and asked me if I had spoken to my cousin Kay. I hadn’t call him yet because I was planning to call him when I was on my way to the hospital. My dad asked me to call Kay right then because he had received a call from his sister informing him that Kay’s father had passed away that morning.

My uncle had passed away. I was in shock and it was only after a couple of minutes my emotions caught up with me. My uncle was dead, my uncle was gone, he was no more. I cried … the emotional pain and the physical pain I was already feeling overwhelmed me. I remembered the last time he called me, I missed his call and I noted to call him back, but I kept forgetting. That was only a few days before I got the call from my cousin about the stroke. I missed my last chance to talk to him and say goodbye … He was the most caring and generous person I knew. At the hospital, he was only attended to by a physiotherapist who barely did anything, and a cardiologist. A neurologist didn’t attend to him … he didn’t have a chance. After almost 2 weeks at the hospital, he was gone. My emotions at the moment won’t let me get into more details about the passing of my uncle. This experience is the most painful experience I’ve had to go through.

Rest in perfect peace Baba Ibeji Otubamowo, you’re always and forever in our hearts. You made such a huge difference and touched the lives of many in the little time you had here on earth with us, and we know you have gone home to rest. Sun re o. 

Through the physical pain, I still had to get myself to my cousin’s place for the burial. The morning I was to leave my house to stay at my late uncle’s for a few days, the pain became more intense, so I decided to go to a hospital before continuing on with my journey. There was only one hospital I knew and trusted in Lagos – the hospital I did my internship in. So I contacted the doctor and told him of the pain and he asked me to come in.

The pain had started a day after my period on my lower right abdomen. I thought it was just a “really bad period pain” and would be gone by the second day, but it persisted and got worse. He said he could only think of three things it could be because of the location of the pain: Pregnancy, an ovarian cyst or appendicitis. I got an ultra sound, and it ruled out pregnancy and ovarian cyst so the doctor said it could only be appendicitis. It was all guess work as there were no other tests done. I was in so much pain I believed him; couldn’t help but wonder what else it could be. The pain was really bad and I just wanted it to stop so I asked him the next course of action. He prescribed antibiotics and pain killers, and advised I have my appendix removed as soon as possible before it ruptures. It was a Thursday. He asked when I’d be available for surgery and I told him Monday as I still had to be at my uncle’s burial during the weekend, I couldn’t miss it. I told my parents about it and they gave me the go ahead. On my journey to my cousin’s, I had lunch so I could take my drugs. There was a certain tablet that came in a foil-like sachet, and supposedly had 10 tablets. After opening each one, I discovered that 9 of them were missing, there was only 1! It was too late to turn back to the hospital, and I guessed that the hospital was probably not aware of what they had been supplied. It was either a scam or an honest factory mistake – I’ll never know! 

During that weekend, I made it through it pain and by Friday morning, the pain was more manageable. I could sit down and only have to deal with a little discomfort. My mum called me just after the church service and told me my dad and her decided my best option for treatment was going back to Texas to the family clinic, so they booked a flight for me to leave Sunday night. It was a relief! I had been in the O.R. a couple of times with the doctor that was going to supervise my surgery during my internship – he was going to call another surgeon for my operation – and I kept imagining myself on his table; it was the scariest thing ever! I also didn’t have any immediate family around, and I wasn’t happy about the fact that no one was going to be there for me 24/7 after the surgery. I never ‘wanted my mummy’ the way I needed her at that point. I was so happy I’d be getting advanced medical care, and I’d have family with me 24/7. On Sunday night, I was at the airport and my parents stayed with me on the phone till I boarded my flight. We were all scared that my appendix would act up during the journey or the pain would become more intense. I pulled through and by Monday evening, I was in my mother’s arms. We booked an appointment for Tuesday morning and I took my last dose of antibiotics and pain killers from the hospital in Lagos on Monday night. 

When I got to the clinic, the pain was so dull it was almost nonexistent. My vitals were taken, doctor examined my side, ordered urine and blood tests to be done that day. She also ordered an abdominal CT scan to be done the next day. By the third day, I got all my results. I saw them online before going for my doctor’s appointment and everything was normal! I was in the best shape possible, my appendix was fine. What could have changed? The doctor in Lagos made it seem like I needed to have my appendix removed as soon as possible, so why was I totally fine then? I went in to see the doctor and she said she couldn’t imagine what could have been wrong. She guessed that if I had been taking antibiotics and pain killers, and the pain went away, it was probably an infection that had resolved itself by the time I had gotten to Texas. 

I broke the news to “my people” in Nigeria, then they told me all the stories they had. They knew so many people that had been diagnosed with appendicitis in the country. It was the norm: you have a little pain at your right side, it’s appendicitis, and you’re booked for surgery straight away so that it doesn’t rupture. They open you up, see there’s nothing wrong, take out your appendicitis since you don’t really need it anyway, or leave it and close you back up. They’ve made a buck! I can’t imagine how many people that had pain on their left side and were also diagnosed with appendicitis. The stories kept coming; the rate at which it happens was so alarming to me. That couldn’t have been the doctor’s plan, I believed he just diagnosed me off guess work. He could have ordered a blood and urine test at least, then we could conclude if my body was fighting off an infection but he didn’t. I’d like to think of my case as a miracle. I could have been butchered to get out an appendix that wasn’t inflamed, while putting myself at more risks but I was one in God knows how many that was saved from that fate. 

The health system is the country is really ‘effed’ up! People don’t even die from getting sick, they die from going to the hospital and getting misdiagnosed. They die from going to the hospital and not being treated in a timely manner. They die from going to the hospital and coming back home with an infection they didn’t take there. They die from going to a hospital that’s ill equipped to handle their case. They die from going to a hospital whose staff haven’t been trained in more advanced ways to deal with cases. You’re at more risk by going to a hospital than staying in your house and self-medicating. It’s an ugly reality, it’s Nigeria’s reality! Think about it … why would our president have an ear infection and have to be flown to England for treatment? As big as Nigeria is, there isn’t ONE hospital that could handle his case?

This reality pisses me off and more than anything, I wish to do something about it. With two personal experiences in a month, something’s terribly wrong! Now where do we start with a solution? To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out. What can I do in my own little way? It’s something I’ve been thinking about and I’m yet to come up with an answer. This is what plagues me at the moment. As I’m coming to the end of my service year, I have seen first hand that Nigeria is sick and it needs help. As I go on with my career, I’ll be thinking of my beloved country and how I’ll be back to help. It’ll take a while, but I know I’m here to be part of the solution.


Guess I learned a hard lesson! 

4 thoughts on “My Experience with a Death & an Illness

  1. I’m so sad to hear about your uncle. This piece is so many things, but the bright side is that you, me and so many others are inspired to do something about the many illnesses that affect this nation. It will be well.


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