A day in British hospital

 Published in THE PUNCH on 28 January 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Mama Precious is a neighbour and village-square paediatrician in Lagos. Her major qualification is that she is an experienced housewife and mother. When my one-year-old son, Ebube, had some fever last November in Lagos, I heard that mama Precious’ diagnosis was that the baby was missing his father. Her prescription? “Go”, she advised my wife, “and wear your husband’s clothes. Cover your face a bit and tell the other children of yours to shout daddy, daddy! Once you do this, the baby will recover.”

Such is the level health care has degenerated in Nigeria. Due largely to poverty, many parents prefer self-medication or consulting prayer warriors to going to hospital. Some medical practitioners don’t help matters. They charge high fees even when they don’t conduct any serious test to find out what the problem is. They either give the child malaria drugs or some antibiotics.

In the UK, the situation is radically different. Under the British National Health Service scheme, once you come to study in the UK for six months or more, you are treated as a resident. That is, you can get most of the health care free of charge. You only need to register with a doctor known as a General Practitioner. Your spouse and children under 16 also have the same privilege. And there is no question of visiting a chemist and telling him to mix malaria or typhoid drugs for you. You must get doctor’s prescription.

Recently, I had cause to take my son to my GP for examination. He gauged the boy’s temperature and discovered that it was very high. Looking alarmed, the doctor immediately phoned the paediatrics department of the University Hospital of Wales, popularly called Heath Hospital, to book an urgent appointment for us. I became worried.

Nevertheless, we got to the hospital about 7pm. The nurses welcomed us with an infectious smile. The baby was crying. So, they brought some toasts and juice for him. They conducted some urine test, but found no disease. Hence, they took us to a place called Ocean ward for closer examination.

There, they gave us a standard room equipped with some medical gadgets. They said the baby’s temperature was so high that they would have to monitor it and then do some blood tests. This meant we would not go that night. My heart leapt. “Where will I get money to pay for this kind of service?” I mumbled to myself.

To escape, I told them that we never knew we would sleep in the hospital; that we didn’t come with a spare nappy for the baby; that we didn’t come with the baby’s food; and such other excuses. One of the nurses gladly took us to the place where they keep all sorts of baby items such as foods, nappies, and feeding bottles.

Then, she took us to the parents’ kitchen. There too, she showed us an electric kettle, a microwave and two refrigerators packed with many food items and drinks. She also showed us a telephone in case we need to contact somebody outside the hospital. “Feel free to use any of these things. They are all for you,” the nurse enthused. Not being a greedy man, I took some slices of bread and one pint of milk.

It was 11pm. A team of three doctors came to take some blood samples from the child. Their long search for veins with their syringe and the baby’s wail touched the filial spot in my heart. “Can’t you just give us some malaria syrup or antibiotics and let us go? That is how our doctor in Nigeria usually treats him.” I protested. “No! We can’t do that. Your approach in Nigeria is different from ours. In Nigeria, you can afford to do that. But here, people will sue you,” one of the doctors replied.

Tired, the physicians called a more experienced colleague who succeeded in getting the vein after some five minutes of trial. They collected up to 10ml of blood and left. At every interval of about 30 minutes, one of the nurses would come and gauge the baby’s temperature. All they gave him was some paracetamol syrup.

The following day, the doctors came back. On sighting them with their needle, the poor boy started crying as if to say, “They have come again o.” Truly, they came for another blood sample. They couldn’t find any trace of malaria parasite in the one they tested earlier and they needed to collect more for some other tests. They also did a heart X-ray of the baby, even as they requested his stool. But since we could not force the child to defecate, they wanted us to stay until the child was able to do that. It was then I told them that though I was very comfortable in the hospital, I would wish to go home.

About 8pm, we prepared to go. But the nurse couldn’t give us the paracetamol the doctor had prescribed because the man left with his notes. She suggested we stayed back until the following morning when he would have resumed. I thanked her; bid her goodbye and left, even as I continuously looked back to see if anybody would come after me for not paying my bill. Nobody did.

Meanwhile, Ebube has bounced back, putting everything within his reach into his mouth. Which is why his five-year old sister calls him dustbin mouth. Penultimate Friday, we were supposed to take him back to the hospital for check-up. Fearing that they may start looking for blood again for further tests, we refused to go. About 15 minutes after the appointed time, somebody phoned from the hospital and wondered why we couldn’t meet the appointment. I told the caller that we felt there was no need for that since the child had recovered.

“I know. But the haematologist has recommended that we conduct another test,” the female voice politely asserted. I expressed my fears about having to start looking for veins again. “I appreciate your concern,” the lady noted, “but I am sure it will be easier this time around. Should we give you another two weeks so that the child will recover fully?” Reluctantly, I agreed. She then rescheduled it for February 2 at 2pm, promising to send me a reminder that day. This is a society that values life.    

In my own society, everybody, as some commentators say, is a local government. You build you own house, drill your own borehole, construct the road to your house, and supply your own electricity. If your child falls sick, you are on your own. Whether he goes to school or not is none of our rulers’ business. All they are after is fighting over spoils of office. The masses can go to religious fraudsters for salvation. Who will rescue us from this seeming unending mess?           

1 Comment »

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