It all started with a little discomfort in my chest which then grew into an excruciating pain over a few days. I woke up one Wednesday morning and I couldn’t bear it any longer. The pain in my chest had spread to my left upper body making that part go numb, it even became painful to breathe! This made my whole being scream for oxygen while I trusted the Almighty to keep me alive.
I was up at 5 am to fix my children for school. I was able to whip up breakfast and prepare their school lunch bag. 7 am saw me driving my pain-ridden self to the clinic. I got to the clinic at a quarter to 8 am. I managed to walk up to the entrance, only to be given a tally number with 21 on it and was asked to wait.
In my painful state, I gently explained to the security guard at the door that it was an emergency and I needed to see a doctor as I couldn’t breathe properly. He politely answered that he was following instructions not to let a patient in until 8 am and I needed to go join the queue (with numbers 1 to 20) at the waiting cubicle beside the building. Sadly, I looked at my wristband that showed 7:48 am and decided to sit by the stairway.
My guy (security man) pleaded with me not to sit there and that I should go join the rest in the waiting cubicle. I pleaded with him in return, tears streaming down my face. I explained that I was in pain and wouldn’t be able to make it to the cubicle and back to the entrance. I promised not to get in his way. I guess we are all human because he looked at me, said OK, and told me he was sorry about the pain.
I sat there and watched the clock ticking, some people with express permits (e.g Clinic staff, visitors with food baskets) walked past me and the electronic door parted for them revealing the inside of the reception I longed to get into.
At 7:56 am, I informed the security guys that it would be a good time to start calling us in. My new friend said not until 8 am on the dot and I had to swallow my pain, sit and continue watching time tick by. By 8:05 am, a man in a black suit and tie walked up to us. By this time, everyone in the waiting cubicle had assembled right in front of the stairway waiting to be called. I was lucky number 21 and was called during the first batch.
Getting through the card desk and checking my vitals at the nursing station took another 10 minutes and I was told to see the doctor in Room 6. Between me being in pain, running out of breath, crying, and explaining my symptoms to the doctor who was staring at me “one kind” perhaps thinking I was overreacting. He was trying to downplay my symptoms to bad sleeping posture. He then said he was going to give me something for the pain. I asked him if he wouldn’t do a chest scan to check what was going on inside of me because my upper body was in turmoil. I felt like all my organs had dropped into my stomach.
He said he would rather have an X-ray and also invite a senior colleague of his to check me out. He stepped out and in a minute returned with another doctor who examined me and said they should place me on admission for observation and a series of tests would be carried out to determine what was causing the discomfort. I was immediately taken to the female ward, placed on admission, and treatment began.
Twenty-two hours down the line, a concrete diagnosis was yet to be made and I was still in this excruciating pain that I thought was about to take my life. The doctors and nurses kept coming in and going out of the room having managed conversations with me, needles jabbing into me from all angles, drips passing through my veins into my body. Still, I felt no comfort. Finally, a CT scan was done and a diagnosis was made. There was a decision to transfer me to a pulmonologist so I could get the proper treatment I needed. By 12:40 pm on Thursday, I met with the specialist and by 2:15 pm I was checked into Room 412 which would be my place of recovery for the next 7 days.
My experience with the Nigerian health care system has not always been something to write home about. Our lack of emergency response to serious life threatening situations and even situations that seem not too serious can be heartbreaking and have a negative impact on the mental state of the person in need of help. Oftentimes, this leads to avoidable fatal outcomes. A few healthcare centres have picked up the pace in their response to emergencies but a lot more needs to be done to address the nonchalant attitude expressed towards dire conditions that some people find themselves in.
Looking back, Room 412 wasn’t only full of pains, needles, and medication but it availed me a space to be alone with myself, time to reflect, sleep and rest, and a pseudo-vacation where I was pampered by great doctors and a lovely nurse, wonderful hospital staff, family, colleagues, and friends. I will surely miss my 7 days in room 412 and I will miss the nice people I met whilst recuperating.
I am dedicating this piece to doctors and nurses and all health workers in Nigeria doing their best to help the sick find healing and comfort.