I’ve lived in this country for almost 13 years. One would think that things that are shocking to someone visiting for the first time would be less so for me as the years go by. One would think. I proved that theory wrong this past Saturday night/Sunday morning. But first let me preface this narrative by making very clear that I love the place God has me. That’s why I can talk like this.
It all started as a normal Saturday evening. Except that we headed for bed a little earlier than normal because we were to be up early on Sunday morning. We had planned to go to 2 of our village services, which necessitated a 6:45am start time. Just as we got into bed around 11, we got a phone call. A family from one of our churches had been visiting in Nigeria for the holidays and were on their way home. They had been driving after dark (not recommended) and had an accident about 75 miles from home. The location happened to be in a town where we have a church so we were able to call the pastor and ask him to go to the ‘hospital’ to be with the family. I use the term ‘hospital’ very loosely here, as it was a hospital in name only. Using multiple languages, we were tying to assess the situation, trying to figure out a way for us to NOT have to go and pick them up that night. Remember, driving after dark is not recommended. That’s what got them in this situation in the first place. Once the sun sets, dark is just that. Dark. There are no street lights to speak of. What you will find are animals in the road, people that you can’t see, bicycles traveling as well as vehicles with no lights. That’s what happened in this case. There was a big tanker truck parked in the road. IN the road. Not on the side. He just stopped. No lights, no warning that he was there. Alloy was driving along in his car and the next thing he knew they were smashed into the back of a tanker. He was wearing his seatbelt (unusual) but his wife Blessing was not. Hers was broken. She was holding Tim (2 year old) and David (4 year old) was sleeping in the back seat. She’s not sure if she blacked out or not, but she doesn’t remember anything until she was being moved to a vehicle that Alloy had flagged down for help. Her right leg was injured, and Tim was bleeding from his ears. Alloy was bruised a bit, but was ok. David was ok as well. They were helped to the ‘hospital’ leaving the car where it was, and we were called.
Since injuries didn’t seem too severe, we suggested that they spend the night at the pastors house, and as soon as it got light, we would come for them. But then both Neal & I started thinking about it. If it was us, we certainly wouldn’t want to spend the night after an accident in a village. And this hospital didn’t have so much as a pain killer. They didn’t even have water. So after enlisting Dad and Don to go to our village services the next morning, we were on our way. As I’ve made clear, we don’t normally travel out after dark. It took both pairs of eyes to watch the road. On our way we passed a herd of about 6 giraffe right on the side of the road. We didn’t even see them until we were passing them. We startled them and one started running right towards us. I’ll bet that’s not something you’d see on a Taco Bell run! Shortly after that, we saw a very bright and very long shooting star right in front of us. That was pretty cool. But back to road watching. The biggest concern is vehicles sitting in the road with no lights.
We arrived to the town and met our pastor and some church members who were waiting there with Alloy and his family. It was about 1am. I asked where Blessing was and they said she was trying to pee. I went inside to see her and see if I could help. She was her cheerful self but said that her leg was really hurting. So much so that it was impossible to stand or really even move herself. But she had a very full bladder and was feeling desperate. She was sitting/lying on a cot type thing that was made out of tiny woven chain. I don’t need to describe the process, but after quite some time and effort, she got some relief.
The room she was in had a sink – no running water in it so I guess it was just there for looks. The room itself was filthy. There was no doctor but there were what I assume to be 2 nurses. And though I’ve always been horrified by anything having to do with the public health care system here, one of those nurses was very sweet. I was surprised and impressed. She knew Blessing was wanting to wash up – she was bloody from external scratches and the glass from the windshield was all in her clothes. But they had nothing to use to help her clean up. So this sweet nurse went and got her personal perfume and let Blessing use it. The only thing they had there was IV drip. So that’s what they gave her. It was just water, as they had no pain meds. They did stick some cotton in Tim’s ears. He of course was a concern, but there was nothing to be done there but pray.
Neal went with Alloy to the car to get his load out of it and moved to our vehicle. While waiting for them we tried to keep Blessing pre-occupied with conversation. She herself said “If I talk, it doesn’t hurt. If I shut-up, it hurts.” So talk we did. And she continued to thank God for sparing them, then she began to witness to the nurses. (She speaks English, Hausa, Zarma & French) Next was the job of getting her into the car. What a painful process that was! Finally we were on our way. Ibrahim and I (he also came with us to help) were in the back with Alloy. I held David who slept. Tim insisted on sitting with his mom in the front seat. On our way back we saw 2 accidents on the road that had happened since we passed by just an hour before. God really was with us! We arrived at the national hospital around 3am. This is where the real horror began.
I’m not including pictures in this post for 2 reasons…one because I don’t have any, and 2, because they would be too graphic for many. We pulled up to what is considered the Emergency Room. Blessing was just hoping for some pain meds b/c of the pain in her leg. There were about 5 people sitting outside in white coats, so I figured they would help. After we stopped and Neal got out, someone finally got up and slowly walked to our vehicle. We explained what happened and he went and got a stretcher type thing and wheeled it up. Neal and the man started to lift Blessing out of the car and onto the stretcher. It wasn’t easy and they were struggling. I jumped up to the front seat to try and help….while the rest of the white coats sat and watched the whole thing. I so badly wanted to give them a piece of my mind, but with it being the middle of the night, I figured I better keep it – I’d probably need it later.
We all walked into ‘Emergency’ where there were about 8 beds spread around the room, all with people in various conditions lying in them. More white coats were sitting inside. Blessing was wheeled to a space and several of the white coats surrounded her while she explained what happened. Eventually they all lost interest and returned to their former positions. I did see someone look into Tim’s ears – I’m assuming it was a doctor because he wrote out a prescription. Someone else directed Alloy to an empty bed and pointed at it, indicating that he should get up on it. He made a face like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’. I was with him. The plastic mattress was filthy and smeared with dirt and body fluids of all different types. On the floor beside the bed was a puddle of dried blood. I’ll stand, thank you. If you could see through the filth, the room itself had potential. Most of the walls were tiled with white, cleanable tile. But clean they were not. Under the cobwebs there were layers of dirt. The parts of the walls that were painted (again, potential), were also smeared with who knows what. I’d rather not know. The floors were muddy, dirty, and bloody. I should say that in the hours we were there, there was a man (not wearing a white coat) that came through and mopped part of the floors. Also, to add to the ambiance, there were cats running everywhere. In the emergency room! All I could figure is that they were there to keep the mice away…?
Back to Blessing. She is still waiting on the bed she’s been brought in on. Someone came with a document that had been printed from a computer. There were 2 of them actually. They handed them to me and said that we had to go and pay them, then they would do xrays. So Neal took them and paid and brought back the receipts. Next was the trip to xray – for both Alloy and Blessing. They wanted to xray his chest to be sure nothing was wrong. We were glad about that. Blessing now had to be transferred to a wheelchair (they’ve still yet to give her anything for pain) so she could be pushed across the hospital campus to where the xray machine was. Neal and I both accompanied them. They took Blessing first and she did her best not to complain. They took 2 xrays and then xrayed Alloy. This procedure thankfully only took about 30 minutes. Back to her ‘bed’ we went. Findings: Alloy was fine. Blessing had a broken pelvis. No wonder she was in pain! Now is it time for some pain meds? Nope. More waiting. Not sure for who or what. We stood around. Ibrahim was hanging out with the little guys outside, and trying to get them to sleep in the truck. They hand us some more prescriptions and tell us that the pharmacy at the hospital has none of them so we’d have to go out and find them. Of course it’s the middle of the night. Well, it’s about 5am now. The city is filled with pharmacies, and even though it’s very early, there is a requirement that at least one pharmacy in the city be open at all times. We had to find which one that was. We drove around – and thankfully it didn’t take too long to find one. They had all but one of the items we were supposed to buy. The thing we couldn’t find was some type of gauze for wrapping. They wrote 15 cm, but all that was available was 10. Back to the hospital we go.
Meanwhile, they’ve decided that Blessing needs another xray so they repeat the same procedure – getting her out of bed again. There is absolutely no privacy here. The ‘beds’ are just scattered around the open room. You get a good look at everyone’s suffering. I guess in some ways this can be a positive thing, because seeing the situations some of the people were in makes your own not look so bad. What’s a broken pelvis anyway? While waiting for Blessing to return from xray number 2, we realize this isn’t going to end soon so we decided it was time to call in reinforcements. It’s around 6am and we’re running out of steam. Then Neal decided that he’ll take Alloy home with the boys so when our replacements come, we can go straight home. Then I’m told that we should get the 10cm gauze after all, so I quickly call Neal so he can again go to the pharmacy on his way back. Two pastors wives arrive before Neal gets back so I fill them in. By this point, most of the white coats are sleeping.
We got home just after 7am. As tired as I was, I was not going to sleep until I got a hot shower. A long one. Then sleep. We slept for several hours and it was wonderful. Grama took the kids to church followed by lunch. Grampa and Don went to the villages. Later both Tanika and Tobi went to the hospital to visit Blessing where she had finally been ‘admitted’. That evening, Neal and I went back to check on Blessing and were happy to see that many of the church members and family were coming and going. Still, no pain meds. I finally decided enough was enough and brought her some stuff that I had – some strong pain stuff that some docs from one of our medical teams left for us. Thankfully, according to Blessing, they helped tremendously and she was able to sleep.
The ‘surgery’ word was thrown around but that’s all. No one has talked to a doctor. No doctor has talked to Blessing or her husband. And what’s worse is that the ‘room’ she’s now in is even worse than the emergency room. It’s a small room crammed with 6 or 8 beds – all filled with people that have something broken. This room is also filthy and is also filled with cats. The patient is totally dependent on family and friends for care or food. Someone brought Blessing some clean clothes and in helping her change found that her dirty clothes were still full of glass from the windshield, inside and out. There is no such thing as a bathroom. They give you a dirty bucket to pee (or whatever) in, and when you do, it’s for all to see. And a bath? Forget it.
We hijacked the xrays to get a 2nd opinion from some American doctors and are still working on that. There has been no word as to surgery. If they plan to do it – when it will be. There are some patients that have been there for a month – just waiting. So, we are trying to figure out what we can do. The problem is, if you act demanding or even like you might know something, the doctors could turn on you- and adversely affect Blessing’s ‘care’. Which is also why in this post that I’ve tried to stay away from mentioning anything that would come up on a search of health care in this nation. I don’t want to get in trouble. But seriously, how hard would it be to keep a room clean. At least free of blood and visible dirt. There is plenty of bodies around, but it’s all beneath them. And worse than that is the lack of any kind of compassion – whatsoever. Save the 1 young nurse in the town the accident happened in, all I saw was people full of themselves because they were educated. They treated their patients like they were slabs of meat. Not exaggerating. I should add here, that there are quite a few private clinics available where conditions are MUCH better. Not up to the standards one would expect in the US, but comparatively speaking, they’re immaculate.
Speaking of standards in the US or other developed countries, I started wondering. We, coming from the West, have a certain expectation of our health care. A place like the one I described above would never make it. But how much of the world is like what I see here? And should what we’ve come to expect be considered a luxury? At the very least, we should consider ourselves privileged.
We’re researching right now what the cost of getting a private room for Blessing would be. Because no matter what treatment is done (we’re really hoping for traction, as surgery here of any kind is very risky), it looks to be quite an extended hospital stay. I go to bed at night thinking of her in that place…and well, it just doesn’t sit very well.
So, that’s why I’m shocked – even after 13 years. I’ve had some experiences in hospitals here, but nothing this thorough. And it wasn’t pretty.
P.S. We just got back from visiting Blessing. I was wrong. There are 9 beds crammed into a room. I also found out that the cats jump on the people in the night, and thieves come into the room and steal the patients properties. Nice. But I did take a picture, and as you can see, there is always something to smile about. Blessing is amazingly positive in spite of all of the above and more that I haven’t mentioned.