How My Father Died In A Lagos Public Hospital Due To Negligence, By Ekene Som Mekwunye

By Ekene Som Mekwunye,

I didn’t know how bad our public healthcare system was until after very painful experiences at two Lagos government hospitals recently. It still feels like a nightmare, and I wished someone would pinch me out of this trance and trauma caused by my three-day horrible experience and how I watched my father, 68, die on the hallways of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.

I love my dad. He is my first hero. He was responsible for my little success in life. My father, like most fathers, was not perfect. I love his perfect imperfections because I learnt from his mistakes too. Recently my dad’s health deteriorated.  He was having shortness of breath. One of my mother’s friends informed her that there was a respiratory specialist at The Lagos State Teaching Hospital (LASUTH). The friend urged us to seek treatment for dad’s severe breathing challenges. I had taken him to the General Hospital, Ikorodu for treatment. But with new information to explore, I rushed him to LASUTH, from Ikorodu General Hospital. Earlier, we spent one night at Ikorodu General Hospital. That was the longest and unfortunate night of my life. As we drove towards LASUTH, dad decided on stopping by the house before going to the hospital. We didn’t know he wanted to see our home for the last time and perhaps, bid us goodbye.

We arrived at the ‘MEDICAL EMERGENCY’ ward of the hospital. Immediately, I observed the matrons were next to God there. They moved at their own pace. Patients or their families dared not challenge them. You had to be extra nice if you wanted to be listened to. I doubt if any of them understood the meaning of the word ‘emergency.’ My dad was barely breathing at this time. I just wanted him to be attended to. About two hours after we arrived, my father was placed on admission and given a bed. Hours after admission, a consultant conducting routine ward rounds came to examine him. A doctor from the Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) department also came and checked on him.  Dad gasped for breath. He wheezed as he gasped. You could hear him from a distance. The doctor agreed that dad needed to have a tracheotomy procedure on my so as to ease the presure on his lungs. The consultant was instructed to perform series of tests to determine an appropriate treatment procedure. Confusion, everywhere! Different doctors, different diagnosis.  Meanwhile, the ENT doctor ordered for a CT Scan from a certain diagnostic lab outside the hospital. The lab was located in Oshodi close to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. There were labs closer where we could have it done, but the doctor insisted we go to the Oshodi lab for the scan. We obliged. But when we got to the lab, it was closed, they closed on  Sunday! We returned to the hospital to find dad placed on oxygen. He was in severe pain.

Monday morning, we requested to take dad back to the CT Scan office for the scan to be performed. We needed a hospital Ambulance to take him there. Only in Nigerian hospitals do doctors make reservations for Ambulance. It is shocking, inhumane and unbelievable that a doctor had to request, in writing for the patient to be transported in an Ambulance to an emergency treatment. And this was the EMERGENCY Unit of a university Teaching Hospital. I was informed that hospital policy states that no patient on admission could leave the hospital without the hospital ambulance taking the patient. My dad needed to have his CT Scan outside the hospital. So. we booked for an Ambulance at 7 am.

I had seen different state governors, including Lagos State, launched ambulances as part of their grassroots healthcare; so I was certain we would get one urgently. The first reality hit me when I heard they didn’t have enough Ambulance to service the hospital; it might take longer before the ambulance could get to us. We had to wait for our turn because there were other patients that also needed the service. Shortage of Ambulance in Government Hospitals? I was stunned! Nigerian hospitals, 2016, inside the ER, patients line up to get Ambulance services: Patients queue like waiting for BRT at Oshodi or any crowded bus stop. Only one ambulance service was available. One of the patients reserved Ambulance two days earlier. The hospital refused patients families and or patients to source outside Ambulance assistance, even at their own cost. Even though LASUTH didn’t have an ambulance to take a patient in pain, from the emergency ward to very important tests that is needed for a procedure, we were not allowed to rent outside ambulance to take my father to his CT Scan lab. I couldn’t believe this experience as I watched my dad in pain. Medical staff told me there was nothing they could do till we had done all the tests. They also could not do anything about the policy as it came from above:  The diagnostic centres had ambulances and nurses, but they were not allowed to service patients. Hospital policy.! I had been on my feet all day.

After waiting for nearly eight hours, we got an Ambulance at about 3:30 pm. I had to make friends with the ambulance driver and begged him to come early the next day so that we could go for the CT scan then.  My dad could no longer starve. He had been without food the previous night. It had been almost 20 hours without food. By the time we got the Ambulance, dad had eaten, and the lab wouldn’t do the test. Even the blood samples could not be taken, as I couldn’t get the doctor on duty to come extract it from him. Another doctor showed up in the evening and could not collect the blood samples.  Blood works were performed earlier in the day. That was how the day passed by, and we achieved nothing but watched my dad slowly slipping into painful death. I had paid for all the tests and the procedure as well, yet could not get any service.

I arrived the hospital earlier the next morning of May 10 2016, not knowing it would be the longest day of my life. I begged a doctor to help take the blood samples so I could take them to the lab. I went to the ambulance office and stayed there till they got fuel for the ambulance. I had begged my dad not to take any water or food, as we wanted to make sure nothing would impede the procedure. As a 68-year-old man, I knew it was difficult for him, but we were ready. We finally made it to Oshodi, again,  for the CT scan. My dad had been on oxygen. I also pleaded with the workers at the blood labs to hurry so the results could be out on time.

After the CT Scan, we returned to the hospital for surgery. We were ready by 2 pm for the operation. The boss of the ENT department came to examine my dad that morning. He was upset that they waited that long to begin treatment after seeing him in so much pain. He asked why the medical team was asking for a scan first,  for such an emergency, when that was just the first in a series of treatment. I was desperate to save my dad. I wasn’t interested in the power shenanigans. All I wanted was to get it done and see my dad breath normally.  The head of the department was going to take part in the operation. After waiting for a while for the theatre to be ready, he left at about 5:30 pm and asked the other doctors to continue with surgery. The doctors had given us a list of materials they would need for the surgery, which we bought. Nothing was left out. You would hear that health care is free for the elderly and children in Lagos State hospitals. NOT TRUE. You pay for everything.

“The hospital theatre didn’t send for my dad until 8 pm. My dad had not eaten all day. I remembered him begging us to give him a little water that day. We kept pleading with him to hold on. I stood at the entrance of the theatre from 3 pm waiting for one of the nurses to wheel my dad into surgery. The doctors finally sent someone with a stretcher: to my dismay, a cleaner at the hospital!’ to take dad to the surgery room. It didn’t mean much to me then. The cleaner chatted with friends along the hallway,  as she wheeled dad, without a sense of urgency, to the surgery theatre. I wondered if it meant anything to him that he then picked a patient at the emergency ward who had been waiting all day.

The Emergency Medical Ward had two entrances. One entrance that linked other buildings in the hospital was locked. It took the guard a while to get it open. The guard that forced the door open came to pick a patient who had been on oxygen but without an oxygen tube. He was to be accompanied by a nurse from the emergency ward, but nurses were unavailable, as the patient was being put on the stretcher. I couldn’t believe such carelessness and inhumane treatments to patients at this hospital.

The cleaner dumped my dad by the side of the theatre door and then yelled in Yoruba: “I have brought the patient.” We were not allowed to go beyond the entrance, but we could see further. It took the matrons about three minutes to come out. I pleaded with them that he had just been brought out of oxygen and needed to be back on oxygen asap. They laughed at me, and one of them mockingly labeled me a ‘junior doctor’. The other matron then said we had to pay. I told her I already paid at the ENT ward. I pleaded that I didn’t have a problem with making another payment. I had my ATM card with me but needed my dad to be in surgery immediately. The matron looked disdainfully at my dad and said “oh! He even has beards. How do you expect us to operate on him with the beards?” He hadn’t shaved in few days. His health was deteriorating fast. And how were we supposed to know that? She then asked us to go look for shaving sticks that late in the night. My brother had to dash out in search of shaving sticks to buy. My dad was left by the side of the surgery room entrance. After my brother had returned with the shaving sticks, they started shaving him. The matrons further complained that the shaving sticks were not sharp. He had to purchase another set of shaving sticks while they ignored my dad. The nurse that accompanied us from the emergency ward was observing and wouldn’t make a case to get him on oxygen.

Later, dad was wheeled in for the operation. We really felt relieved. “Finally”, the family sighed and said to ourselves. After a few minutes, one of the doctors rushed to us and said they would not be able to go ahead with the operation anymore. We were all in shock and wondered what had happened. He said that his oxygen level had gone very low and that he was too weak to have the operation. At this point, we couldn’t believe what the doctors told us. My brother and I rushed into the theatre. They hurriedly wheeled him out without oxygen. One of the doctors then asked the matron in charge of the theatre for a mobile oxygen cylinder for him to use on his way back to the emergency ward. Her response was “which one did you bring when you were coming? Please excuse me”. They asked the cleaner to take my dad back to the emergency ward. One of the assistants almost broke my dad’s hand as he wheeled him out while talking and not concentrating, my dad’s hand had stuck to the door, and he didn’t realize it. I wished someone would wake me up from this nightmare, but it was my reality.

By the time we got back to the emergency ward, the door was locked, and we got upset as we were rushing to get him back on oxygen. We pleaded with the gateman to hurry up.  He started ranting before he went to get the key. By the time we got to where his bed was, dad had run out of oxygen. My father died. That was when the nurses and doctors started rushing to try to resuscitate him. They brought an oxygen mask and started administering CPR, but it was too late. My mother suddenly became a widow and my siblings, without a father. We lost our esteemed father who died like he was nothing. He meant the whole world to other people and us. He died due to the carelessness, negligence of the staffs of the General Hospital

It’s painful losing a husband and father, but what hurts more is the way we lost him. The hospital treated him like a piece of rubbish. My experience at LASUTH is unforgettable. I saw more people at the wards die in my three days than I had seen in my whole 38 years on earth. People died like it was in fashion. I would never forget a little boy who was constantly in pain as his parents watched helplessly. I would go to meet the nurses to please attend to him, and they would order me to mind my business. I arrived that Tuesday morning and learnt that the boy passed on. I later heard all he needed was a blood transfusion, and his parents couldn’t afford it. But our politicians are carting away billions. The nurses and matrons are constantly rude to patients and would even yell at them sometimes. I can’t remember the number of times I went to remind them that the drip on a patient was finished and needed to be changed. They were mainly good at chatting with themselves at a corner where they sat all the time. For crying out loud, this was an emergency ward with the bold inscription at the entrance ‘MEDICAL EMERGENCY’ but they hardly treated anything as such. This is a profession where five seconds could be a lot of time. If some people had five seconds, they could have been alive today. But they had no idea how important time is in saving lives. A lot of those deaths only happened because those people lived in Nigeria. Yea! That was their only crime. This is the reason the government officials in Nigeria send their kids to school abroad and travel outside the country to treat a headache. We need a real CHANGE.

During the three days I spent at the government hospital, I observed a lot of things. I could understand that some of their departments are understaffed, and they didn’t have some of the funding required. I understand that. But what does it take to show care? Just to care like they are supposed to. When you care for people, it shows in your actions. These people took an oath to save lives in their profession. But they enabled deaths and sufferings. The care of few doctors and nurses there were overshadowed by the sea of wickedness. And with time, some of them became frustrated, coerced by colleagues or forced to join in the neglect of care. The hospital had patient care monitor team which responsibility included preserving the dignity of the patient and making sure patient receives the needed care at the hospital. But the monitors were rude and nasty. They neglect patients’ call for assistance. Some of the patients would cry for help and assistance from their wards and hallways, but matrons and nurses sit and ignore these helpless people. They would gather in groups and chat, ignoring cries for care from patients.

My father’s name was Peter Ezekolie Mekwunye. But this is no longer about my dad. I already lost him. Sadly, I cannot bring him back. But thousands of dads and other people would be visiting these hospitals. Are we going to allow the same things to happen to them? It’s also not just about me fighting LASUTH. It occurs in all government hospitals. As a matter of fact, LASUTH has one of the ‘best’ services for a government hospital, and because the family did all we could, my dad got a lot more service than the average patient gets. So if this could still be happening, you can begin to imagine the decadence in our health sector and what it’s like in many government hospitals.

I miss my dad a lot. He was a fun loving person. He was fearless and always stood for the truth. He always wanted to help and had a heart of Gold. He was a footballer as a youth and loved to watch football till he lost his sight about 5 years ago. But he still loved to discuss it. We argued a lot about football. He was a Chelsea FC fan.  These past few days have been my worst. I smile at times, but there are buckets of tears behind those smiles. I can’t imagine what every 23rd of December would be like for my siblings and me as we have spent every one of them celebrating his birthday. I can’t fight for him anymore: but I can, for many others. We can’t continue losing people because a few others refused to do the job they are paid to do.

I miss my dad a lot. He was a fun loving person. He was fearless and always stood for the truth. He always wanted to help and had a heart of Gold. He was a footballer as a youth and loved to watch football till he lost his sight about 5 years ago. But he still loved to discuss it. We argued a lot about football. He was a Chelsea FC fan.  These past few days have been my worst. I smile at times, but there are buckets of tears behind those smiles. I can’t imagine what every 23rd of December would be like for my siblings and me as we have spent every one of them celebrating his birthday. I can’t fight for him anymore: but I can, for many others. We can’t continue losing people because a few others refused to do the job they are paid to do.

 One of Africa’s emerging cinematographers and movie makers, Ekene Som Mekwunye, captures in words, his experiences at two of Nigeria’s General Hospitals. In a most morbid tear-jerking tales, this Award winning movie director shares how his father, who had shortness of breath, was misdiagnosed, denied oxygen by hospital staffs and left to die at the hallways of  Lagos state Teaching Hospital. Ekene Som Mekwunye is a Filmmaker and Photographer. His short film titled ‘Oblivious’ won at Africa’s biggest film awards, The African Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA 2015) for the best short film. It has also been nominated for awards at the AFRIFF, Eko Film Festival. His film ‘The Encounter’: set during the Biafran war on an encounter with Gen. Ojukwu, also won best Jury selected film at the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in November 2015 and got a review on the Newsweek magazine in Europe. He has worked for Mnet (producer, 53Extra and Jara) and MTV (Project Coordinator, Shuga 3) in the past before starting Riverside Productions, which is responsible for creating shows like My Big Nigerian Wedding which is presently the biggest wedding show in Africa and has the rights to biggest Disk Jockey competition in the World, DMC world DJ championship. He has a degree in Insurance from the University of Lagos and also studied filmmaking at NYFA, Universal Studios in Los Angeles. He is presently enrolled in an Executive MBA program at the Lagos Business School.