When the Eastern Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) cut power supply to a particular private hospital in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, Blessing Ofia-Inyinya Nwodo, was undergoing surgery to remove a lump in her breast. The surgeon on duty ran out to tell her aunt to call Ifeanyi so he could put on the generator.
There was no fuel to power the generator even though the surgery was already underway. It had to be completed with the flashlight of a phone. Nwodo who was awake during the entire incident, but was under the influence of local anaesthesia administered which had failed to put her to sleep came out of surgery thankful for the expertise of the doctor, but most importantly for her life. She would not confront the doctor about the incident and was hardly surprised by it. To her, living in Nigeria has created numbness to incidents like this one which would normally spark outrage in other climes.
She said, “My thought was that let me get out of this place where they have just finished cutting my body open under a phone light.” Aisha was not so lucky. The mother of one had her womb stitched to her skin during the closing of the incision after the caesarean section she had. This grave mistake caused her several bouts of severe stomach aches for seven years before it was recognised in a later scan and corrected. When Aisha tried to have another child after the correction it did not end well, she died from complications which were borne from the shoddy job initially done by the physician on her body and now only her family tells her story.
Ruth Ilo understood the repercussions of negligence at an early age of 16. She was in her second year in a senior secondary school in Benue State where she resided with her family when she was diagnosed with appendicitis and was rushed to Juditha Hospital in Makurdi to have surgery performed to remove the pouch that threatened to end her life. The problem started for her when the wound from the surgery refused to heal, but continued deteriorating.
“The problem started when I realised this wound was supposed to have healed, but it did not. Instead, it was bringing out pus and the pain was so bad that I could not bend over or down again. I could not go to the toilet. So, I started complaining again and my parents were like’ what is it?’ They were tired,” she said. Before she was diagnosed with having appendicitis, she was experiencing incessant stomach aches, but after two scans and according to the laboratory technologists, nothing could be found and so she continued to experience pains that made her parents uneasy. Six weeks after the surgery and the wound refusing to heal, she went in for another scan where she was asked to return to the hospital where she was stitched. She said that “when the scan result came back, they spotted an object there, but were not sure what it was. They knew that something was there.
By this time, the face of the operation was swelling. I was asked to go back to the hospital immediately. I was operated on again. There was a pair of scissors in there and even a thread was still in there. I was afraid I could have died from the doctor’s mistake.” Ilo’s mother was furious and wanted to involve the police, but the management of the hospital begged for forgiveness and fired the erring doctor. It was a hush settlement, the type of situation that is not foreign in Nigeria. Dr. Omefe Ebele, a pediatrician explained that sometimes due to the no referral policy of some private hospitals, the doctor who is not trained in a particular field might have to render services he or she is not best suited for. “Medical negligence in the private sector mainly stems from the organisation of the sector; for example, you have a small hospital that has a doctor, a general practitioner and a paediatric patient comes in. He has an idea of what is wrong, but he is not exactly a specialist in that field. Because the hospital has a no referral policy, he has to do what he thinks is best for the patient. It might be considered medical negligence, but in the real sense, it is not his fault that it happened.
The system at that point caused the negligence,” he said. But sometimes, it is not only in private hospitals. Due to the law that prevents abortion in Nigeria except the mother’s life is in danger, many have been driven to quacks that have no medical qualifications to carry out a dilation and curettage (D&C), a procedure to remove tissues from inside the woman’s uterus. Sara Gbadejo, a restaurant attendant in Abuja, said when she found out she was pregnant, she asked close friends for a referral to someone who might help her perform an abortion. Through the referral, she met a man named Dr. Messiah, who did a hurried job on her. “He said he could only perform a D and C and would not prescribe drugs for me, because it was drugs I was hoping to get from him. The man said he had done it and I was no longer pregnant. Because I still felt very ill, I went for a scan about three weeks later and I found out I was still pregnant,” Gbadejo said.
“When I called him to tell him about the result, he accused me of lying. He said I should bring the scan result to him. I did not bother to raise a fuss as abortion is still illegal in this country,” Gbadebo added. She did not report him and nor ask for a refund of her money, but silently went to another quack to help her abort the pregnancy. In Nigeria, cases of medical negligence abound. Naturally, medical practitioners are revered for their skillful preservation and maintenance of life. A doctor or nurse would be the last person expected to endanger the life of a patient. While it may not be intentional, medical negligence can be said to happen when a medical practitioner fails to exercise his duty with the degree of care expected of his experience and status in the process of attending to a patient.
The scope of medical negligence is divided into nine parts including the failure of the practitioner to attend to a patient promptly, incompetently assessing a patient, making an incorrect diagnosis, proffering wrong advice or not proffering advice at all when needed, ignoring the consent of the patient before proceeding with a surgical procedure, making a mistake in treatment, failure to refer or transfer a patient to a place where he will be better taken care of in good time, failure to do anything that ought to reasonably be done under any circumstance for the good of the patient and the failure to see a patient as often as his medical condition warrants.
Nwodo insists that what happened to her was a case of negligence, given the epileptic power supply Nigerians and Nigerian hospitals have suffered for a long time now. She said, “I think that it is an example of medical negligence. The doctor knew he was about to perform surgery. He should have confirmed from Ifeanyi,the guy in- charge of the generator, if there was fuel in the generator before he began since he is aware of the unreliability of PHCN.” What made her case starker was the fact that it was a private establishment.