Open heart surgery and Nigerians: My experience

By Amara Christa

I am among the unfortunate percentile that suffers from chronic heart disease (since I have been on medication for close to 20years). In early March 2019, the chest pains became regular and increasingly severe, after any strenuous activity or a spell of high stress. It was quickly evident that if I do not get immediate medical intervention, the probability of a serious heart attack is eminent. The search for relief started with the best possible (Nigerian) care in Abuja at the National Hospital. Sad to say that although many of our medical professionals are extremely qualified and highly capable, my five (5) or so visits, over the span of two months, were truly a lesson in antiquation and delay. The National Hospital’s consultant cardiologist is available only a couple of days a week, but every heart patient can only have one appointment per week. So, it took four appointments to receive the diagnosis of my severe and, at the time, alarming chest pain. I was given confirmation that my arteries were blocked up. I was subsequently, referred to the Turkish Nizamaye Hospital for second opinion that could lead to Angioplasty and Stenting or Open heart surgery if warranted, and indicated, by the angioplasty.

I immediately made an appointment at the Nizamaye Hospital for diagnostic confirmation and care. Only to be confronted with a list of charges for every procedure I might need, and asked to deposit at least 70% for the procedure; so that the hospital can make the necessary arrangements for the doctors to proceed with surgery. To say the least, I was flabbergasted. No effort was made to answer my questions and allay my fears. Do they have the ability to perform the open heart procedure? Are they only going to try doing the angioplasty and if the open heart is indicated, then close me back up and refer me to another hospital outside Nigeria? How many surgeries have they performed and what is their success rate? What type of after care and post-op regiments do they have in place for heart patients? Nothing was answered. The Triage/Consultation nurses and doctors have become like all Nigerian businesses – money first and service last.

They have already guessed that I will probably need two new artery stents to make me healthy again. Their total cost estimate came to about N3 million. They (graciously) gave me the option to pay within 5 days and get a 20% discount. For my heart!!

Mind you, no doctor has examined me yet; even though I have paid N20,000 registration. I was thus quickly convinced that they are a money making facility and NOT a hospital. I only visited once and never returned. Everyone who knew about my condition at the time was offering the same advice, “do not allow yourself to be operated on here in Nigeria.” The choice was actually crystal clear, that I must seek care outside Nigeria. National Hospital cannot do it, even though we have the doctors, because our infrastructure and the intensive care system cannot sustain an open heart patient – the process will kill you or the environment will kill you. And although the ‘imported’ hospitals like Nizamaye, have the infrastructure, their eyes may be fixed primarily on making money, and it seems to me that some of their doctors may be incompetent. With many questions about our health care system I now decided to suggest some of the reasons Nigeria has failed at caring for our health. Here goes – • Nigeria has virtually no middle class. Without a safe and secure middle class you just cannot have genuine political or social advancement. Good health care depends on political and social development. The extreme poor are busy surviving and the extreme wealthy are busy protecting their assets. A large, stable middle class is the key to a modern society. A modern society will demand and build a great health care system, and supported by the middle class. And by the way, please forget the fallacy of free healthcare, Good health is not free! We must all Pay. • Our education system is rote-based. It’s not as bad as in some other countries, but still, it does not encourage much creative expression. We do not build anything, we do not create anything and we do not innovate anything. In the world of great health care, you must build, create, and innovate. You must do research and develop technics. You must try the unknown and imagine the impossible. But our schools are not tooled for that. Our doctors are tired and exhausted of schooling by the time they graduate because of strikes and academic exploitation. Our population is  also tired of seeking new thinking. The number of people whose thinking or analysis would just stop at a fixed point is astounding. Religion and tribalism and other sentiments have overtaken our common sense. People are told something, they believe it outright, and that’s that. We are therefore, stuck in one spot. • People are reticent to challenge the status quo. Whether that is family customs, religious restrictions, or social mores, they will bend over backwards to accommodate and please others even if it means remaining stuck, sick, and unhappy. The politicians who destroy our commonwealth and leave us to die in penury are worshipped as gods when they bring a bag of garri, a pint of oil and a sachet of sugar! The government even makes us believe that we are good people so that we do not revolt against it by using a propaganda called “Great Nation, Good People.” We are not great about anything!! This reticence only confirms to the world that words of benighted and imprudent authority figures are rarely challenged. Change does not come through submissiveness! • Women are very present in Nigeria’s public life – politics, business, academics, pop culture, medicine, etc – but there still exist the pervasive attitude that allows only for a narrow range of acceptable behaviour from a woman. Yes, you’ll find that all over the world, to a varying degree, but it is always an impediment to progress and development. Women are great care givers, but today in Nigeria, most nurses are overworked and have become unbearably abusive to patients because there are so few of them. Our Nursing schools have died and the curriculum for Nursing has become bastardised. A new effort must be deployed to revive and solidify the care givers we have, if we intend to have a system capable and strong enough to sustain a heart patient in an intensive care environment. I knew from experience that the four (4) days I spent in the intensive care ward in Egypt, would have extended to weeks in Nigeria and my chance of survival would have been less than 50% after surgery – all due to poor care. It must change. • We must also acknowledge International impact. Nobody will help us build great hospitals when they can have us come to their own hospitals and pay them well for it. We must build our own hospitals. We must manufacture the beds and sew the linens and everything else in-between. That is what Egypt is doing, that is what India is doing, that is what Germany and the UK and the US have done. We must never say the government can build a great hospital. It is Nigerians who can build great hospitals. The government can only buy a great hospital, or pay for a great hospital. Covid-19 is telling us to do it NOW or DIE. Very simple choice really. My sense is that the current democratic era has seen a lot of forward movement quickly deteriorate into nothing, the chaos of these years, and rude of awakening of this Covid-19 pandemic will be exceedingly good for a renewal of dynamism, analysis and action. Our health care system must be the immediate beneficiary of this vigour, dynamism and focus, so that we can at least walk away with a good lesson learned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *