Death and Private Hospitals
Nobody has ever told me the full details how my father really died; all I got was a death certificate. The certificate simply stated that he had cardiac arrest due to complications after surgery. All we know is that it was a surgical procedure he did not need to have and in a private hospital where he shouldn’t have been. It was also a surgical procedure he did everything to hide from us his children. In Nigeria, people still die from needless elective surgery for Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
The first time I knew he had the BPH problem was just weeks before, I spoke to him that day and he assured me that he would listen to his doctors at the public teaching hospital he had helped to build from scratch and where he retired. He even told me that one of my classmates in secondary school was his physician and I was happy because I knew the chap well. He had the highest matriculation examination scores in our class and he is a stickler for excellence.
What I did not know was that my father would go against medical advice from these younger doctors to heed the advice of another older consultant (and his former colleague) who was only interested in the money. He did the surgery in a private hospital without the knowledge of his doctors at the teaching hospital.
My youngest sister saw him on the night of his surgery; he was well dressed and walking around. He was not in any pain or showing outward signs of it. He had been diagnosed as diabetic when he turned 60 and he was also hypertensive.
When I heard that he had the BPH problem, I thought it was one other thing we had to deal with until I learned that a local surgeon had attempted to remove cataracts from one of his eyes in a private hospital and he lost the eye in the process. I had not known about this incident until the last day I spoke to him. I was deeply afraid he would go the private route again and I spoke to my brother about it.
My father died in a private hospital without an intensive care unit that decided to do very delicate surgery on a 69 year old hypertensive diabetic. They did not care about him or his family, they were only interested in the money.
Faith and Lack of Faith
I had done surgery to replace a detached retina in France a few months before my father died and from what I saw at the French hospital, I knew that no Nigerian facility could do such delicate surgery successfully. My mother also had eye problems but she fixed it in the United States where she lives. She had always told my father not to do any further surgery in Nigeria. My father had a lot of faith in Nigerian healthcare and it was that faith that killed him.
I lost my faith totally in Nigerian healthcare when I discovered to my consternation in 2008 that NO lithotripsy equipment (to break kidney stones) was available in a country of over 150 million people. Since 2008 it has not become better, it is now even worse. I had a freak accident recently at Radisson Blu hotel in Lagos. I slipped in the shower and a bathroom door that was supposed to have been made of temperred glass became weaponized. I was almost amputated and I had to undergo emergency surgery at a very expensive private hospital in Lagos. It was another eye opening experience.
First, the surgeon was happy that there was no major vascular damage, I asked him the next day why he was so relieved? He made me realize that some basic things to repair major blood vessels like grafts and stents were not even available locally. It made me now understand why there were so many amputations after motorbike accidents at Nigerian orthopedic hospitals. Motorbikes unfortunately happen to be the most prevalent form of transportation.
Secondly, a very expensive hotel in heart of the central business district in Lagos not only did not have basic emergency facilities like a stretcher and first aid kits, they also did not have immediate access to ambulances or external emergency facilities. It is important to note that one of the license conditions for GSM companies was free and unhindered access to emergency services. Apparently the services are either non-existent or comatose. I arrived in Nigeria only about an hour before the accident.
The episode made me realize that staying away from Nigeria really does not reduce the risk of your exposure to poor healthcare. Bad things can happen anytime and anywhere, I survived only because I knew that there was a hospital close to the hotel and also because I could afford to pay them. A total stranger may not have survived.
Bad healthcare in Nigeria is a risk to everyone in contact with the country and not just those who live in there permanently.
Time and Loss
My father died not just because of poor healthcare in Nigeria, he died because of greedy doctors and even greedier politicians. My father died because a surgeon felt the quick cash he would make from surgery under sub-optimal conditions on a hypertensive diabetic as more important than my father’s life. My father died because someone optimized the financial returns he would make over the lives of others. My father died because of greed and apathy, my father was killed by negligence and corruption.
The next person to die could be your father; it could even be you. The same people who profit from the misery of others obviously have no value for their own lives as they still live within the chaos and misery they have created.
My father died 3 years ago so that we will learn and move far away from that mess but my recent experience has shown me that even if you are in Nigeria for just one hour, you can still die because of the greed of others. It is just a matter of time before the system gets to you one way or another.
I tried to call my father a day before he did the surgery that led to his death, I was in Nairobi and forgot that I was two hours ahead and it was still 5 am in Nigeria. It still haunts me till this day that maybe if I had spoken to him he would have changed his mind. I could have tried calling him again later but I didn’t. I traveled that evening to Johannesburg only to wake up the next day to learn that he was gone. It happens so quickly.
Today, I am not interested in solving all the healthcare problems in Nigeria or Africa. Today I just want to remember my father.
Michael Nosa Asemota I
02/03/1942 — 25/05/2011