Many many years ago during a routine medical check, the doctor noticed an irregular murmur on my chest and referred me to another doctor.
The second doctor saw me and managed to diagnose it as one of my mitral valves
It’s never been a life threatening condition and can be easily corrected without the need for invasive surgery.
The doctor who saw me said at the time the best heart hospital in Nigeria was the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital [UNTH], Enugu.
After speaking to a couple of doctors, they all had various suggestions ranging from open heart surgery to all manner of things that frankly scared the life out of my dear mother.
We decided to give the UNTH, Enugu option a shot and headed out there from Kaduna.
On reaching Enugu, we got referred to Dr [now Professor] Martin Aghaji
Dr Aghaji at the time had a larger than life reputation being the only expert in the country on open heart surgery.
We were told, incorrectly, that he had the envious record of having performed the 1st open heart surgery in West Africa and by extension Nigeria.
He was, by a country mile, Nigeria’s premier heart surgeon.
This was at the height of the brain drain when Nigerian doctors were leaving the country in their thousands.
Dr Aghaji’s reputation had been further burnished by the fact that he had decided to remain at UNTH despite receiving mouth watering financial offers from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
I will never forget the day he first examined me…my mum was trembling with fear waiting for his verdict…fearing that I’d have to undergo surgery to correct the prolapsed valve.
He removed his stethoscope from his ears when he had finished, looked my mum square in the eyes and said ‘Madam, dont let anyone lie to you, dont let anybody touch this boy with a knife….he will be fine’.
The relief was too much for the woman to bear of course and she started to cry.
Dr Aghaji wrote out a prescription for 2 drugs and asked us to come down to Enugu every 6 months for a routine check up.
He promised that when we returned in 6 months time by God’s grace, the ECG
machine would have been installed in the brand new Nnamdi Azikiwe building being constructed inside the medical school.
We went back there 6 months later and verily verily, the ward had been 90%+ completed and was already in use.
Impressive building it was…working lifts, clean spacious wards all well lit.
Crucially the ECG machine had also been installed and was working fine.
These days you can buy an ECG machine on eBay but in those days it was a very big deal and the one in Enugu was the only one in Nigeria.
I stripped and was examined with the nurse pointing out exactly what the mitral valve prolapse was all about on the large screen….basically one valve being slower than the other….as serious as the matter at hand was, we were in awe of the technology in front of us.
She said based on what Dr Aghaji observed 6 months earlier, the medication appeared to be working and the correction was already taking place.
We went back to Enugu 6 months after the ECG examination and, you guessed it, the ECG machine had packed up. Apparently NEPA’s habit of turning the lights off and on at random intervals had messed with the machine and it had refused to work anymore.
Of course no one there had an idea how to take apart the machine never mind fix it.
It had apparently been donated to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Building by some wealthy bloke who had since sauntered off.
The first open heart surgery in Nigeria was performed in 1974.
Today you cannot have keyhole surgery done anywhere in the country.
What this means is that a condition as common as Appendicitis can only be treated by cutting up a person for a full surgery…..in Nigeria.
From being a pioneer of ground breaking heart surgery in 1974, today we import chalk as paracetamol and someone can market a teething drug for kids that ends up killing over 30 children.
I cannot count the number of horror stories I have heard in the last couple of months alone about the shambolic state of healthcare in Nigeria.
These days I always ask myself the question; what is that one thing that will frustrate Nigerians enough to take their destiny into their own hands and say enough?
What will eventually break something in the Nigerian spirit that will make people get up and say they have had enough?
There has been plenty of talk aboout the legendary Nigerian spirit….the one that is indomitable and can never be broken no matter the adversity it faces.
But is this necesarily a good thing?
Is this a good thing for Nigerians to keep just fighting and morphing like a hydra headed monster?
Would it hurt to stop and just say enough?
A Nigerian looks at the problem of healthcare and thinks to himself ‘If I make more money I wont have to worry about healthcare in Nigeria….I would go abroad if the situation ever arises’
That’s how we ‘solve’ our problems in Nigeria….we dont produce nothing but hey, we can import whatever we need.
I cannot think of how many times someone I know has been flown abroad for medical treatment and the person gets told if only the treatment had been done within 24 hours, the results or recovery could have been different.
Or how someone with cancer was being treated for pneumonia for 8 months in a Nigerian hospital.
Or another person who was ‘quoted’ N4m for a heart transplant she couldnt afford.
Or how about a situation where the person cannot afford to go abroad for treatment that is not available in Nigeria?
The funny thing is that healthcare is by no means cheap in Nigeria….it costs a fortune to have a doctor see you in a ‘decent’ private hospital in Nigeria.
There is no independent way in which hospitals are assesed and rated….so a hospital is ‘good’ based on word of mouth….someone you trust told you it’s a good hospital so it must be good.
But if you speak to even educated Nigerians, the first thing you hear is how people are getting million naira jobs back home or how ‘people are making money in Nigeria o’….or how you can find all the latest cars in the world on the pothole filled roads of Nigeria.
Our value system is now so warped that the only measure of success we recognise the monetary one…..nothing else would do.
I recently heard the story of a lady who was trying to hire a house help to look after her kids.
She ‘interviewed’ 3 different girls in a row and all of them tested positive for HIV [these days you’d be mad to hire a househelp without conducting a full medical check on the person…especially if the help is going to be around your kids].
How is this not a social time bomb ticking away under us?
It’s all well and good for people to make massive amounts of money in a society with decaying infrastructure and a failure of leadership…that is afterall a characteristic of failed states.
But at some point we are going to have to be honest and stop feeding bullsh*t to ourselves about us being the giant of Africa or a great nation with many many good people.
We now go to India to seek medical treatment for all manner of ailments…..it is not inconceivable that we would be going to Ghana in the near future.
In 1990, I was treated by a brilliant doctor who knew his cardiopulmonary bypass from his open heart surgery….and I didnt even have to leave the country.
In less than 2 years, there was no sign of any heart problems whatsoever and nearly 20 years later, nothing has happened to ever make us doubt that we were given excellent treatment.
Today in Nigeria, we are diagnosing cancer as pneumonia.