HealthThe Stethoscope

ONLY THE DEAD KNOWS



A young man was rushed to the hospital. He had eaten some food given to him by his ‘Oga’. He was very sick, and his blood pressure was low. He died soon after as we were unable to rectify the situation. What was the cause of death? Probably poisoning, probably whatever. We don’t know! We will never know!

One of my patients was discharged on a Wednesday and died on Thursday. This was a woman that had recovered very well from major spine surgery. She had been ambulated and certified fit for discharge home. Apparently, she had eaten water yam and vegetable soup laced with turmeric. Anyway, the story was that some friend of the family felt that turmeric aids and speeds up healing…..so asked the family to prepare food with turmeric for her. Turmeric? What the hell is that?
Well, she had the sweet water yam with vegetables, laced with turmeric: and died soon after. The hospital blames the family, the family blames the hospital. We don’t know why she died! We will never know!

A man came back to Nigeria following many years of living in the USA. The flight was over 10 hours. He slumped and died soon as he arrived in the village. Rumour has it that he was killed by his family members who had used ‘juju’ to recall him home. The likely cause is a blood clot in the legs which went to his heart and stopped the blood flow to the heart. We have long known this and the association of pulmonary embolism with long distance travel. The villagers do not know this. We don’t know if juju exists! We will never know!

Only the dead knows

There are so many deaths in Nigeria that go uninvestigated. Many deaths for which we do not have a real cause of death. Because no one bothers to order or carry out an autopsy in the majority. We have very few trained pathologists and a non-existent coroners service. The coroner should be informed about every hospital death and there should be a registry of deaths for Nigeria. But it is meaningless, if we cannot comfortably state the real cause of death!

Muslims will like to bury their dead within 24 hours as a religious rite but, this gives little time for diligent investigation of the cause of death. It has on occasion caused significant conflict between medical practitioners and relatives. Of course, religion trumps all in Nigeria. Especially, when a non-existent coroner’s service relies on the family to pick up the bill for the autopsy.
In situations such as the first scenario, why would a murderer allow autopsy to confirm that the deceased was poisoned! We don’t really know the cause of many deaths in hospitals, but we should! We should not bury the cause of deaths with the deceased.


Genetics

We should know because some diseases run in families and such investigations will assist in preventing similar deaths in other members of the family. This is particularly important and makes it essential for all to embrace high quality autopsy studies.
The government should investigate this issue and take its responsibility to protect all citizens serious. We need to know what our people are dying from. So, we can protect the living. We need to know!

Dr Biodun Ogungbo, MBBS, FRCS, FRCSEd, MSc, a Contributor to Newspackng, is a neurosurgeon with Brain and Surgery Consortium at 8 Buchanan Crescent, Off Aminu Kano Street, Wuse 2, Abuja.
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