I have had serious emotional pains in my few years on Earth: Rejection from family and friends (due to choice of a different belief system), devastating academic failures, dramatic heartbreaks (from love-relationships), death of my father and my friends (and, of my best friend), and so on. My mother’s death is the most traumatic! Last week was my worst week ever–and May 12, the blackest of days! (Writing being a way to express my self), I pray writing this article will make me feel better!
With no intention of playing the blame-game, some facts that were, all the while, staring at me right in the face, became especially glaring, last week.
#1: THE NIGERIAN HEALTH SYSTEM IS SICK AND DYING!
If money could save my mother, it would have. There was enough to get her all the health that money could buy, at least, in most countries. But, unfortunately, the “health” the Nigerian health system can provide is not very much! We followed due process. I couldn’t be my mother’s primary doctor, especially with such major illnesses she had–and I wasn’t. We started from the lowest cadre of the health system all the way up the ladder to tertiary institutions like Teaching Hospitals. We met poor medical care and practice at every junction! I have been in the health system. I see the lack of facilities, bad health practices, insufficient staffs, and poor managerial skills. I merely complained, and advocated for better health systems, but, now, I have been touched–painfully touched in my most sensitive part! I feel the pains that several hundreds of thousands of Nigerians go through everyday. My mother was referred, as an emergency patient, to the biggest hospital in a particular Nigerian state. She had to wait for more than 5 hours in that critical condition only to be told eventually that there weren’t enough beds for her to be attended to and admitted! I called my siblings and advised she be taken elsewhere, peradventure she could still be helped. When I see how patients, especially emergency patients, are treated in Canada and other developed countries, I wish my mother wasn’t in Nigeria!
#2: SOME DOCTORS AND NURSES SHOULDN’T BE PRACTICING!
One of the first lectures we had in the clinical aspect of medical school is on the required behaviour of a medical personnel. We were taught how and why to be empathic, sympathetic, selfless, sacrificing, giving, and unconditionally caring. It is the heart and soul of the medical practice. Without these, we would be like the roadside mechanics trying to fix a broken engine–since machines don’t have feelings and needs! But, here, we are talking about genuine humans–with feelings and needs–who have families and friends. And several doctors and nurses are nonchalant! But why?! My mother called me, weeping uncontrollably, complaining bitterly about the inhuman treatment she received from the doctors and nurses. She regretted visiting the hospitals, saying she would prefer dying with dignity! It’s a shame. I traveled several hours to see her, and met my mother in severe heart failure, yet the unwise health workers were filling her, endlessly, with IV fluids and drips. She was bloated, swollen, from head to toe. She couldn’t breathe. The damage was irreversible. It would be better to, at least, have good medical skills and lack the interpersonal (and social) skills; but to be deficient both in the medical skills and the relational skills (as with these staffs in this health institutions) makes them dangerous and unfit to practice medicine!
#3: MEDICAL SCIENCE IS STILL HANDICAP AND HELPLESS IN SOME WAYS!
Over several centuries, medical science have improved, demystifying mysterious diseases, and bringing in amazing solutions. We heal many diseases. I know the magic I display everyday in my consulting room, and the miracles I perform every Tuesday in my operating theater. There are many smiles and good news, but, also, some bad news. There are many unanswered questions. In medical science, there are many things we don’t fully understand. We are handicapped and unable to help in several cases. We call some of these cases “terminal diseases”; and help the patient die in better and less painful way. And, in some other serious medical conditions, all you could do is supportive and symptomatic treatment, and hope the patient pulls through and recovers. There is no full assurance. My mother had severe autonomic complications of Diabetes, and other not-too-good conditions that brings medical science to its limits. I hate being unable to help! I hate being helpless! I can’t wait to see all these hopeless conditions taken care of and smiles brought to people’s faces. May knowledge increase; and may it cover the Earth like the waters cover the sea!
#4: HEALTH AND HEALING SHOULD GO BEYOND “THE PHYSICAL”
For many doctors and nurses, medical practice is wholly mechanical–you look for what is wrong in the body, and fix it. The patient’s emotional needs, hurts, fears, and hopes are neglected. But, health is a complex phenomenon affected by thoughts, feelings, beliefs, decisions, relationships, and environment. To be very effective as a health worker, the patient’s mental, emotional, social, and, even spiritual life must be considered alongside the physical. I felt making sure doctors were taking care of my mother was all I had to do and all she needed. I was very wrong. She was missing me–and I never knew! When I eventually took permission off work to see her, I got to realize how strongly other aspects of our life can affect our physical health. On seeing me (and my other siblings who have, all the while, been away from home), her face lit up! It was like life flooded her veins! Strength entered her. She could talk, eat, and sleep again; at least, for several days. I will be slow to attribute this significant (but short-lived) improvement to any drug. It is the strength that joy gives–the joy of a mother seeing her children after a long time, and for the last time!
#5: A MOTHER’S LOVE IS THE MOST RELIABLE KIND OF LOVE!
In a world where love-relationships hardly work, and love fails soon after the marriage ceremony; where friends envy your progress and attack your plans; where pastors and religious leaders use you for their own personal gain…in a world where love is selfish and what’s-in-for-me-ish, a mother’s love, for most people, is a breath of fresh air! Unfortunately, this is a lesson I had to learn when it was quite too late. I hear people talk about the mother’s love and how strong, rich, self-sacrificing, and reliable it is. All these years, I see my mother reaching out to me, getting involved in my affairs, taking my problems “personal”, trying to catch my attention so I could receive more of her care and love. But, I thought, this is good but there’s something better “out there”. All the love I received elsewhere, unfortunately, have come and gone! My mum loved me till her last breath! When I last saw her, I thought she would be concerned about her health and healing alone; but no, she was focused on me–on what I would eat and sleep that night after a tiring journey! This is what the English people call “selflessness” and religious people call “love”! My heart melted, when after her death, we found a death-note that she wrote! It is not about inheritance, property, or possessions. It wasn’t in sad tone; it is a love note! In it, she gives her last pieces of advice, expressing her love for each of us, and saying goodbye! Had I known, I would have drank more from such a rare, irreplaceable, pure well of love.
I am missing you mum. Rest in peace.
[Sorry, readers, yet again, for the relatively long silence and absence. I had rites to perform.]