By Oghene Omonisa
The holiday season has just ended and with it the numerous jollifications and fun-filled activities that have come to characterise the end-of-year festivities. However, in the midst of that festive atmosphere, not everyone shared in the joy. Some were in pains in hospitals, suffering from one debilitating illness or the other and their misery shared by friends and family.
What was it like for such people? Saturday Vanguard spent a day at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos (NOHIL) to capture the melancholic atmosphere. An earlier call to the hospital’s PRO had indicated official discouragement of such a visit, and investigations had also revealed that workers and patients had been instructed not to speak to the press because when they did so in the past, the stories were allegedly twisted and the hospital was painted in a bad light. However, Saturday Vanguard was bent on capturing the other side of the festive season.
No doubt, Igbobi, as the hospital has simply come to be known, symbolises this irony as the hospital is widely reputed for its proficiency in orthopaedics, a branch of medical science mostly associated with pains, agonies and sadness as losing of limbs by amputation is a common feature.
Visit to Igbobi
Visitation time at Igbobi is 4:30 – 6:00pm. But this reporter was there much earlier when he visited a few days to Christmas. The main building – the white two-story MBA House – named after its donor, Sir Mobolaji Bank-Anthony, the late philanthropist, houses most wards, for accident victims and intensive care. Alert but courteous uniformed security-men from a private security firm idled around the entrances to the ground floor wards, and by the staircases leading upstairs. Walking leisurely along the verandah,
this reporter curiously stared inside the wards through the louvred windows. Inside was calm and serene, with some patients asleep and others awake. Some had their bandaged arm or leg suspended, while a few doctors and nurses shuffled around with their professional calm steps and reassuring manners. And on the wall by each entrance was posted a notice: “Bringing food to patients in the ward is not allowed – Management.”
At the visitors’ lounge, relations were there waiting, some discussing in pretended conviviality, others just reclining on the seats, staring anywhere but the empty TV stand. One or two were solemnly reading the Holy Bible. Gloom pervaded the lounge clearly because nobody would be happy to have a relation in pains, or even with fate unknown, in the midst of festivities.
Chatting up a male visitor, the reporter learned visiting relations are invited into the wards when they are needed, perhaps by the patients or by a doctor or nurse. He also learned the other wards are spread across the sprawling premises, and that there are two theatres: the main theatre and the one at the emergency unit.
Losing limbs to amputation
This reporter met a woman whose younger brother was involved in a car accident a few days before, and was operated on the previous day. After familiarising himself with her, she gradually started talking in a low and sad voice, letting out her pent-up pains. Her brother suffered a shattered fibula (calf bone) and doctors had to operate immediately hence his leg might be disfigured and he might end up limping, or the leg amputated outright. Now, tears came to her eyes as if she was visualising his brother with a missing leg. Softly, she dabbed the eyes with a white handkerchief. “The doctors have assured us the operation was successful and he would walk normal again. But the bill is outrageous.”
He asked about the cost. There was no hesitation as she said, “Over half a million.”She added that deposit was not allowed. “You’ve to pay in full before operation. You are not allowed to bring in food. Everything is included in the bill.” Then she revealed that both her parents are retired civil servants, penniless back in Ondo State. She caters for the brother, her youngest sibling and an OND holder, doing his IT, and who also lives with her. Her two other siblings are thriving to survive back home, and they have not been much of assistance.
She is an administrative officer in a construction company. No wealthy relation; only she and her husband, a technician with a maritime company raised the money, borrowing from friends and colleagues. Evidence of the strains could be seen on her drawn face. How about her children, especially their concern for their uncle’s condition in the season of love and festivities? She has four kids who are still kindergarten and primary school pupils, and she admitted they were more keen on Christmas and New Year celebrations. Their father would take them out for the season.
So, when was the brother expected to be discharged? February, she said and added she would be visiting daily to be with him. Even on Christmas and New Year Days? For her, those days would be like any other day since the accident, she said. She hardly ate and had no time for make-up. She only wanted to see her kid brother on his feet again, and walking like before.
The reporter wished her brother got well soon and walked normal again. He still needed to wander around, he told her. He requested if he could meet the brother after seeing the person he was there to visit. She obliged and agreed to exchange phone numbers in case they missed themselves.
The reporter made his way to the corridor and passed by the entrance to the ward, where there were mild movements of workers manoeuvring trolley beds into position by the beds and transferring patients onto the beds or moving them to the trolley beds and wheeling them to the theatre. And close to the end of the corridor was a lonely woman sitting on one of the two benches on each side of the corridor. The reporter joined her and sat on the other side, facing her. On noticing the reporter, the woman, who had tears in her bloodshot eyes, lowered her head, apparently to conceal her agony. Attempting to chat her up, the reporter met a brickwall as she neither responded to his comforting comments nor raised her head.
One of the nurses walking past paused and asked what the reporter was doing there. He responded that he was visiting a friend. “Then, oga, let that woman be”, she returned. “She just saw a relation whose leg was amputated.” And she walked past. All attempts to try and make the agonising woman to raise her head proved abortive. The reporter reluctantly rose. He would have given anything to talk to the woman whose relation just had his leg amputated.
Health is wealth
A stroll round the emergency unit revealed an extension housing its theatre, with some relations waiting on a bench in the corridor. The wheeling of trolley beds continued here. There are also windows close by for payments, with relations making payments. Payment vouchers clutched in hands was a common sight around here. There are even ATM cubicles within, for easy access to cash – cash for health! While many were shopping for Christmas and New Year outside for themselves and loved ones, these Nigerians were here paying for the survival of their loved ones. Health is wealth, the old saying goes. The reporter succeeded in taking some shots unnoticed.
Theatre of tears
The main theatre does not have a lounge. Again, relations with gloomy looks, waited on a single bench outside the entrance door, with some standing as the bench could not take them all. Their anxiety was unmistakable. The trolley bed traffic continued here. The best bet to capture the mood would be when a patient would be wheeled out of the theatre. And the reporter joined others in waiting – standing. It was a long wait. Eventually a trolley bed was wheeled out. Under a green sheet was a young girl with dull and drowsy eyes.
A woman suddenly gasped and instantly rose up and dashed after the trolley bed. The reporter wanted to trail her but was instantly held back by the cries of woman and boy, mother and child, clearly. Another trolley bed had been wheeled out. It was a youngster and he was singing in Igbo language, eyes dreamy – delirium. One did not need to understand the language to tell its soulfulness. The woman was screaming incoherently in Igbo and the boy sobbing. A man, obviously husband and father to them, made an effort to calm them down, pulling them to himself and whispering “It’s okay. He’s alright”, with tears gathering in his own eyes.
With the earpiece of his phone in place, pretending to be listening to music, this reporter had snapped away as secretly as possible. Baffled by why both trolley beds were wheeled out almost at the same time, the reporter, like a concerned relation, inquired from one of the workers, who informed him that the theatre comprises of three sections. So, more than one operation could be going on at a time.
However, a man, obviously a relation waiting for a patient inside the theatre, excused this reporter and asked why he was taking pictures. Knowing when cornered, the reporter said they were for his use. The man said most sorrowing relations are not happy having their pictures taken. Disappearing from that vicinity before his cover would be blown was not a difficult decision for this reporter.
Happy to be discharged
Wandering around continued. Towards the back gate of the hospital, the reporter joined a young female patient limping home in crutches, apparently just discharged, with an escort, another young female, holding her bag. The patient was about 25. “Wow! Isn’t that wonderful?” the reporter cheerfully smiled at her. “You were discharged today. I wish my sister will be discharged today.” And she smiled back a “Thank you.” She agreed to pose for a photograph, full of smiles.
And she was willing to talk too, responding to friendly questions in a friendly manner as the reporter limped with her to get a taxi. She was referred to Igbobi from a private hospital, after a road accident in September, in which she suffered pelvic fracture and hip dislocation. She had an operation and spent about three months here. So, how did it feel to return home for Christmas, be with her family again, and enter the New Year at home? “Ho, great,” she said. She conceded her present condition would not allow her go to the many places she normally went to celebrate the festivities but not remaining here for Christmas and New Year called for celebration on its own.
Hope the bill did not affect the family Christmas budget? She paused here: “You ask too many questions. Are you a blogger?” She got an affirmative response, but not the name of the blog. She said she did not mind her picture on the blog, but she would not give her name unless she knew the name of the blog. “Vanguard is not a blog”, she fired at the reporter in laughter. “It’s a newspaper. You’re a reporter.” She said she also did not mind her picture in Vanguard, but she was not giving her name. The reporter wished her a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year as she boarded the taxi. Some leaving in pains but happily to be with their family for the festivities, others staying behind in pains and unhappy, for the season!
Destiny’s fight to walk again
The reporter returned to the MBA lounge. Interestingly, chatting up the male visitor who had given him the information about the other wards, the theatres and the emergency unit, this reporter was confident he could confide in him. He revealed his identity and asked if the man would agree to an interview. Fortunately, the man did, but no picture and his name would not be mentioned.
54-year-old Rev. Iye Akpata (not his real name) never envisaged his first son spending Christmas and New Year Day at Igbobi. Diagnosed at two and a half years old of sickle-cell trait, a genetic abnormality affecting red blood cells, the man of God entrusted the son’s fate to God. Symptoms like dehydration or breathlessness would come and go. As Destiny (not his real name), now 23, grew older, the symptoms persisted. Vaccination and preventive antibiotics were administered. A few years ago, he was treated at the Comprehensive Health Centre, Ihima, Kogi State, where Rev. Akpata did not spend much as the doctors who attended to his son were his classmates at school. He only paid for X-ray and consultation fee. From there, young Destiny was referred to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Ilorin, Kwara State, where he was eventually referred to Igbobi in November 2013.
At Igbobi, his X-ray was studied and an operation was recommended. The head and neck of his right femur (thigh bone), which locks with the pelvis (hip bone), have had their cells eaten up, downward inside the femur. And whenever he walked, he felt piercing pains as the femur could no longer carry his weight, causing him to leap with his left leg. An operation would be required where the bad bone cells would be removed from the femur and replaced with iron, that would also form a new femur head and neck. Rev. Akpata was strong, both in his words and feelings as he recounted the troubles he had gone through since then.
When he brought Destiny for the operation from Kogi State in June 2014, doctors were on strike. With the strike called off by November of that year, Destiny, then an undergraduate at Kogi State Polytechnic, had examination, and the operation was deferred. When they finally came for the operation in November last year, another test had to be carried out and paid for, as the one before the doctors’ strike was said to have become invalid.
Finally, the operation would be carried out two days after, on Friday, December 18. The man of God, who had been putting up with a relation at Ogba, Ikeja, had been visiting every day since Destiny, who is now a graduate of public administration, and awaiting his NYSC service, was admitted the week before.
He said after the operation, and he was satisfied all was well, he would leave for Kogi and return after New Year Day. So, how was the bill like, the reporter asked. Over a million naira! The Reverend said, however, that while he was struggling to raise the money, the hospital management called to inform him that the Sickle Cell Foundation of Nigeria had contributed N260,000 to fund the operation as part of its efforts towards the treatment of the disease. So, he only paid the balance N765,000.
How have all these affected his family’s celebration of the festivities of Christmas and New Year? A father with three other children, all boys, he gave thanks to God for everything, but said no father, or mother or brother would be happy to have a loved one undergoing such a serious operation especially in such a festive season. The effects on them all could be imagined, he said.
He promised to take this reporter along during visitation time, to meet and interview his son, too; and informed him that about an hour before 4:30pm, visitors could enter some of those other wards and that some patients even come out for fresh air. The reporter still had some useful time before visitation period. Some workers were giving the wards Christmas look, decorating both the interiors and exteriors with ribbons, balloons and other decorative ornaments. Who said all was gloomy down here! Kudos to Igbobi Hospital.
Out from the groans of pains
Indeed, some patients were outside the male wards relaxing and even receiving visitors. This reporter approached one sitting alone on a plastic chair, his left leg in bandage and his crutches laying besides him; and he asked how the patient was feeling, and if he could join him, to which the patient accepted. He introduced himself as a reporter with Saturday Vanguard, which did not receive negative response. Kola Adeosun did not mind his picture taken. So, how long had Adeosun been on admission? Since last month, he said. Other questions followed. He is a resident of Lagos and suffered a broken leg from an okada accident, which needed to be operated on. He was feeling far better now,
no much pains, as he could not stand on his feet after the accident. No, he was not spending Christmas let alone New Year here. He would be discharged in days. The painful screams of a patient from the ward interrupted the conversation. He told the reporter the screams were from a man whose leg was amputated the day before. The nurses were dressing the wound. The reporter stretched to stare inside the ward. The screams were from behind thick green curtains just by the side of the entrance. The screams gradually reduced to soft sobs, as if the actual dressing job had been done. The conversation continued. No, he did not have any regrettable experience with any of the doctors or nurses or any other patient.
He normally attended his street carnival on the eve of Christmas and New Year, which he would still do, though sitting down. No Christmas shopping? What was there to shop for? he asked rhetorically. He could not even put on shoes. He would just put on any of his old clothes on those days. How did his girlfriend feel knowing he would not be up and doing in the festive season? No problem; she understood. Yes, she had been visiting, like many of his friends and relations. They all wanted him back home.
The reporter wished him quick recovery and compliments of the season. The next patient sitting outside another male ward, also on a plastic chair, was having two visitors. He had no bandage, but his crotchets stood on the wall by him. He appeared jovial and talked excitedly – a reporter’s delight. But there was a security-woman standing by. The next patient sitting outside his ward had his right bandaged leg resting on another chair, and his crotchet resting on the wall by him. He had a visitor but a security-man was also standing close by.
Dialogue with Destiny
Visitation time finally came. Destiny was all smiles to receive his father who had beverages he had bought for him. He looked very lean sitting on his bed. The father quietly introduced this reporter as a reporter friend with Vanguard Newspaper who wanted to speak to Destiny. After settling down, and in a voice apparently made soft by weakness, Destiny calmly told the reporter his physical weakness had been regulated by the drugs he took, making him able to rest, sit and stand up. The pain in the leg had also reduced since he got admitted. Yes, he missed home and wished to return as soon as possible. No, he was not scared going into the operating theatre. And no, he was not happy not spending Christmas and New Year with his family.
He had not had any regrettable experience with any of the doctors or nurses or any other patient. He even had a friend in the ward who had similar problem to his. The friend was operated the day before and had been moved to the other section of the ward close to the doctors’ cubicle from where they could regularly monitor patients who have had their operation. Destiny normally spent Christmas and New Year Day by going to church and visiting relations. He would miss those activities this season, he said with unmistakable nostalgia. The reporter caught the eyes of one of the doctors watching him with suspicious eyes from the cubicle. But a job had to be done!
Suspended bandaged legs and hands were a common feature inside the calm and serene ward, with visiting relations happy to see their ailing loved ones, some after the long wait at the lounge. They chatted in low tones as if there was an order not to speak loud. The movements of doctors and nurses going round to check on patients continued like before.
Trying to get as many patients as possible to recount their ordeals, the reporter informed the patient lying down next bed that his friend’s son was bothered spending Christmas and New Year in the hospital, and if the patient too was spending the holiday season in the hospital. The patient, who had been hearing their conversation, grunted an affirmative response. But the doctor with alert eyes was already by the reporter’s side, politely cautioning about making noise in the ward.
Women whose loved ones lose limbs
It was almost 5:30pm. This reporter did not want to miss that patient at the emergency ward. He had to take his leave. And there was that visit to the spinal cord ward, if time permitted. The reporter excused himself and dashed down to the emergency ward. But the woman was nowhere to be seen inside the ward. When he finally called her, she picked the call to say she had left. One could never tell with sorrowing women, especially the ones who visit Igbobi daily to see brothers who almost lost a leg to amputation.
The radio station the bus driver tuned to on the ride back to the office was rounding off the highlights of its major news headlines. One of them was that the Lagos State Christmas Fiesta billed from December 27 to January 1, 2016 was to hold simultaneously on five locations across the state: Agege, Badagry, Bar Beach, Epe and Ikorodu, and with one million Lagosians and 50 artistes being mobilised for the great event.
Celebrating Christmas, New Year on sickbeds
Then memories of the patient with shattered calf bone, the one who just had his leg amputated, the girl with dull and drowsy eyes, the youngster singing in delirium, young Destiny waiting to have his femur filled with iron, and of all the other patients who would spend Christmas and New Year Day at Igbobi in pains and anguish came to this reporter. They would never be a part of such festive events like the Lagos State Christmas Fiesta. But God is surely with them.