HealthThe Stethoscope

The trouble with Nigerian ‘doctors’

To have ears is not to listen, to listen is not to hear, to hear is not to understand, to understand is not to put to practice”

– Joe Igbokwe

The story
A patient showed up recently complaining of severe back and leg pains. He fell some time ago when he slipped in the bathroom and heard a loud noise in his back. He also felt a sharp pain radiate down the leg. Over the next few days the pain settled with bed rest.

Months later the same pain returned in the same area when he was trying to lift a suitcase into the back of his truck. He heard a noise from his lower back and felt the same sharp pain in the leg. This time the pain did not get better with bed rest.

First problem
Someone suggested that it was ‘bad blood’ in his leg and he should get the ‘Mallam’ to come and withdraw the bad blood from his leg. He did and he has a whole array of scars and scarifications to show for it. They drew bad blood from his back, his thighs and the leg. Still, the pain persisted.

Second problem
He went to his local hospital and complained to the ‘doctor’. After examining him, the doctor wondered if he had stepped on some poison or juju. That he could not see what the problem was and that it was likely to be spiritual.

The doctor apparently advised him to visit a spiritualist for help and to appease the gods. Off he went back to his village and consulted widely. He ended up spending his life savings and undergoing countless rituals to get to the bottom of the problem.

Third problem
Months passed without solution and he gave up, resigned to fate and waited for death. But, not until another ‘doctor’ asked him to church. The doctor-pastor offered to pray for him. That was the beginning of another round of expenses: buying anointing oils, candles and white cloth for massive prayer sessions in the middle of the night. All in a bid to cast out the evil spirits and the demons holding his leg to ransom.

‘Medical Consultants’: Awa niyen. Nothing dey happen. IMG.farabale.

Nigerians and doctors
The average Nigerian has about 10 ‘doctors’. The local chemist, market woman, pastor, the taxi driver, a church member, the colleague at work, a friend, a neighbor, the driver or employer etc etc are all doctors who offer countless opinions and advice and even at times medical treatment for a whole lot of conditions.

So long as you deem it fit to lay your health problems at the doorstep of others, they are willing to proffer a myriad of solutions.
Yet, many are simply unqualified to offer advice that is the purview of skilled health practitioners.

Unfortunately, the recession and poverty that pervades our nation means many take this cheap road to health at huge costs and at times to the detriment of their health.

Cheap is not always cheap in Nigeria.
Visiting the chemists or local drugstores for cheap healthcare has been the bane of many and continues to be the death of some. Trying to avoid paying consultation fees for expert advice and treatment is often not the best plan of action and can cost more in the long run.

However, as in this case, even some doctors can cause trouble for patients with bad advice. The simple advice of course, is ‘at first, do no harm’. If you don’t know, refer to someone who does.

Our solution
This man fell and injured his back. He suffered a disc prolapse (the disc is the shock absorber in the spine) and this prolapsed disc was pressing on his nerve causing the pain shooting down the leg. An x-ray will not show this but an MRI scan will. An MRI scan is required in cases of severe back and leg pains. It will reveal the level of the problem and the root cause. It is the gold standard investigation in this type of case.

But, a doctor must request for the MRI scan or refer to the appropriate people who can order the scan and determine the cause of the pains. This simple line of management led to the diagnosis in this case and therefore an operation that resolved his leg pains completely.

The man could not believe he suffered so much, for so long, at such a huge cost with a problem that was physical rather than spiritual.

What we should do is increase access to better health for all. In that way, many of these other ‘doctors’ will face their day jobs and stop causing trouble.

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