Published On: Thu, May 2nd, 2019

Much ado about ‘Medical Tourism’ (I)

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THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu

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We had just ended a terribly mournful week with the third-day Fidda’u prayer for my wife’s just-departed cousin, Isyaku S. Turke who was run over by a trailer as he drove along Zaria-Kano road. It was such a tragic loss for both family and the community. Isyaku was, in our little downtown Limawa area of Minna, a byword for youthful excellence, both in character and in learning. At his graveside the community was unanimous that even by the nearest guess of its memory it had known no other youth that was, as Shakespeare would say, “the theme of honor’s tongue”, or one among the groove of his peers ‘the straightest plant’. My wife had been the most obsessed, in the family, with her cousin’s excellent reputation as the spotless, unblemished one. She had in fact sometimes flaunted it with what I thought was a bit of righteous arrogance. And it was the reason that just as her dotting father had chosen to raise this son of his step brother conferring on him the primogenital right of a first-born, she too had elevated him above mere filial consanguinity. He was known to be such sibling alter ego and soul mate of hers that even his biological parents admitted she was the more deserving of condolence over his loss than they who begot him. Such was the relationship between my wife and her cousin that when, a day after the third day prayer, she took terribly ill and had to be hospitalized under emergency condition, virtually every superstitious voice in and outside the family said that she was metaphysically reacting to the sudden death of her beloved cousin. They said that Isyaku’s death was the mysterious pathogen to her sudden dis-eased physiological condition. If I was given to such irrational nonsense, rather than be in a hospital, we probably would’ve been on ‘medical tourism’ to some far-flung forested location, squatting before some cowries-tossing, divining witchdoctor, seeking solution to a medical condition that science has long provided remedy for.
By the way although it did not take a ‘specialist hospital’ to diagnose the presence of ‘stones’ in what doctors said was my wife’s now deteriorating gall bladder, the irony was that it was a ‘specialist hospital’, namely IBB’s, that turned down our emergency referral from a smaller, non-specialist Area hospital which, at least, had managed to diagnose the condition, even though it could not go further than that. For ‘three days and three nights’ my wife was under the worst imaginable abdominal pain and her body had in fact abused virtually all of the best known pain relievers that doctors could administer. She had writhed and wriggled in excruciating pangs and at some point I was alarmed she had started invoking the heavens to rather take her life. No caring husband can bear to see his loving wife in this helpless situation. My wife was crying so miserably I now saw why Shakespeare wrote the famous lines: “no philosopher can endure the toothache patiently”. What she needed urgently doctors said, was a surgery to remove what turned out much later to be eleven tiger nut-size ‘stones’ from a damaged ‘gallbladder’ that lies beneath the liver and around which thousands of supper sensitive nerves connect which conduct pain to the brain at the faintest of touches. It was the reason my wife could hardly eat all these three days because the littlest intestinal weight created by the ingestion of food was just enough to trigger a twenty four hour bout of pangs. And so after our rejection by the ‘IBB Specialist Hospital’ on grounds of incapacity, or as they said because of the lack of a ‘General Surgeon’ I was pleasantly surprised that we were now referred -not to Abuja, Kano or Lagos- but to the State’s General Hospital in the same Minna. The hope, ironically, was that the State’s General Hospital just might have a ‘General Surgeon’ even though its big-for-nothing ‘Specialist Hospital’ shamelessly hadn’t.
Soon I got the hang of it all; namely that it takes virtually just a single ‘General Surgeon’ for a hospital to be capacitated to handle the removal of gallbladder stones, and that conversely even a hundred ordinary surgeons in a hospital will not be sufficient therefore to capacitate a hospital for that special operation. And so one cannot but wonder how many ‘gallbladder stone’ patients may have lost their lives from operations conducted by ordinary surgeons who are not sufficiently trained to open up such delicate, nerves-complicated, liver-threatening pancreatic zone in the human body. Hell, you wonder how many such patients may have had their lives wasted even by stark, lone-ranging non-surgeons whose only license to tear and suture peoples’ stomachs is that they own private hospitals and have the complement of a few nurses. But before we go into the crimes that doctors commit, maybe we should ask: who is a ‘Surgeon General’ –different from an ordinary surgeon? I have heard the phrase ‘Surgeon General’ since I was in college. He is the chief spokesperson on public health for the United States Government. At least his anti-smoking voice one still recalls either on the back of cigarette packs or in audio-visual ads which once gave advertizing an ethical face: ‘The Surgeon General warns that cigarette smoking is dangerous to health’. And later the anti-smoking ad even got a lot more lurid. It said: ‘The Surgeon General warns that cigarette smokers are liable to die young’. This much I had always known about the ‘Surgeon General’. But about the ‘General Surgeon’ I must confess I knew nothing. It had to take my wife’s recent medical condition to know that there is a ‘General Surgeon’ different from a ‘surgeon’.
A ‘General Surgeon’, unlike a ‘surgeon’, they say is ‘a physician who has been educated and trained in the diagnosis and pre-operative, operative and post-operative management of patients’. He is, in a nutshell, a specialist in the area of surgery whereas an ordinary surgeon is not. But neither ‘IBB Specialist Hospital’ nor the State’s General Hospital, nor even any privately-owned one in Minna had a ‘General Surgeon’. Further checks also revealed that not even the famed Federal Medical Center FMC in Bida, nor anywhere in the whole of Niger State for that matter, had one. We now had to choose between the ‘National Hospital’ in Abuja (which factually or fictionally they say, has a dispiriting reputation uniquely its own as a medical destination that critically ill patients go to and don’t return) or the ‘Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital’ in Gwagwalada where the few doctors who vouchsafed an opinion about, did not also inspire any redeeming hope for my wife’s medical salvation. In fact, from what I heard, I probably would’ve preferred the National Hospital in Abuja to the Specialist one in Gwagwalada. At last we were now left virtually with a Hobson’s Choice; namely to go to the ABU Teaching Hospital in Shika, Zaria whose only distinguishing credentials many doctors said is that it is better than both the National and the Specialist hospitals in the Federal Capital. And concerning the many big time private hospitals that now mushroom the Nigerian medical space, it was a tale either of cut throat charges or of poorly conducted operations (with all the attendant consequences) –or even both. It was at this point that the idea of seeking remedy outside the shores of Nigeria began to rear its obnoxious head in our permutation. And it was then I realize that I was about to commit the unwritten offence of ‘medical tourism’.

To be continued

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