His name is Ahmed Rabiu. I found out when I asked his mom before paying the admission fee at A.B.U Medical Centre (Sick Bay). I was told to quickly get some medicine off campus since his mom is not a staff and NHIS does not recognise them. As I hurriedly get into my car, a hospital attendant ran after me “madam come back, the doctor said you should not bother buying the medicine again”. My heart skipped a beat. So the child died afterall? The 5 year old that actually looks more like a 2 year old gave up after all the car speeding and prayers that I did on my way here? He was still alive when his mom, a woman I hardly knew, came rushing into my house begging for help to save her son’s life. As I walked sadly back into the emergency ward, I recall the first day a thin and sad faced woman said “Salam, please I need any job you can offer me. I am hungry and have five children to feed. I am hardworking, just give me any job to do” Although, in the last five years, I noticed an increase in similar pleas from women coming from A.B.U environs begging for help, often with little babies strapped to their weak backs. But this women’s plea was different. There was something final about her words. I quietly asked her what manual job she can do. She listed them and added that she can also plait hair. Good! I thought to myself. My daughter hated the weekly hair plaiting visit to maman Kubura. I am also getting really lazy to plait these days, so I offered her a once a week hair plaiting job. She never missed coming! Infact, she comes sometimes just to see how the hair is doing before the next date. This is just one woman among thousands of hungry women who have been dehumanised by a society that has almost lost its soul. While others trade their pride to beg and even sell their bodies to survive, Maikitso (hair plaiter) makes do with the little she gets plaiting here and washing there. My steps involuntarily slowed down as I got closer to the ward. I am not ready to pick a baby’s corpse, I kept repeating to myself. As I walked in, the doctor saw the terror on my face and quietly said “madam the baby is alive but we can’t treat him here. He has severe malaria and he is anemic. He needs blood transfusion and we don’t do that here. So quickly take him to Shika. I will write a referral for you” The relief I felt was indescribable. To my left was Maikitso crying uncontrollably. I tried to console her, but she cried louder and kept saying “the doctor mentioned Shika! I don’t want to go to Shika” While I was wondering why, the doctor smiled and said “don’t mind her, they think that Shika is a graveyard” This statement is really not new to me. I remember hearing it from different women. One woman in particular, would rather go to a roadside midwifery tent than go for delivery in Shika. Shika is the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH). It prides itself of having the best doctors and facilities yet often regarded by some people as a graveyard.
While Maikitso was still crying about Shika, I summoned courage and picked up Ahmed heading to Shika. I honestly didn’t care whether she comes along or not. All I know is that this little boy deserves the chance to live. As i drove, Maikitso kept pleading that I should save her son by not taking him to Shika. “Shika is a graveyard” she kept repeating.
I ignored her and kept driving. I personally have had two baby deliveries in Shika. The hospital is inadequate but it’s the best federal government hospital we have in northern Nigeria, apart from the National hospital in Abuja. I know some of the doctors and nurses can be inhuman sometimes but I have also encountered some hardworking and kind hearted doctors and nurses too. Yes, the wards are often dirty and smelly but it’s the best we have got.
Private hospitals are a no go area for the poor in Nigeria. Except of course when they make announcements for free treatments. This happens once in a hundred years or whenever our President comes back safely after medical treatments abroad.
Anyway, my first crime in Shika was rushing into the Paediatric ward. The doctor was furious! “Madam who asked you to come in? Can’t you see there is a long queue outside?” I apologized and reminded him that this is an emergency. This little baby has been fainting off and on for the past two hours. He looked at me straight in the eyes and said “So what? There are worse cases outside, come and see” As he moved to show me the worse cases, I quickly pleaded with him again. He calmed down and quietly ask Maikitso to drop little Ahmed on the examination bed. Of course I had seen the worse cases. I noticed them as I rushed in. Children with diseased ravaged bodies. Eyes shouting for help. While some cried, others were too weak to shed a tear. Their mothers were not better. Weak and helpless at the mercy of Shika.
Ahmed at this time could hardly breath. His eyes were opened, body almost lifeless. The doctor started examining him and that was when the terror started. A female doctor walked in, her face irritated. She looked around and angrily said “when did they bring this one? And why are you people examining him? Have you asked them if they have the money for the drugs and admission?” The obviously junior doctor timidly answered “no” and the lady doctor went into a terrible rage. I felt something break inside of me. I tried to talk but words failed me. “Who is the mother?” She shouted. Maikitso fearfully looked at me. I tried to find my voice again. I heard myself weakly explaining that I will pay the bill but she should please save the baby. After sizing me up and down with more irritation on her face she replied “save him with what? Have you even bought a card”?
Buying the hospital card took me 35 minutes. For those of you that know Shika, you will remember the long walk to baban Palour (paying centre), the long paying queues, the slow nonchalant receipt givers and the long walk back. I finally got the card, hoping that Ahmed’s treatment has commenced. No it hasn’t! Instead, I was confronted with more aggression. “Where are your payment receipts? Where is the father? Who will donate the blood?” Can’t you give him something first to calm his breathing? I asked. “No! We can’t give him anything. Just go and get blood”. The junior doctor handed me a paper and a nurse reluctantly explained the location of the blood donation centre. As I moved out the Junior doctor followed me. He first apologized for his superior’s behaviour then explained that many parents come to the hospital without money. They end up abandoning their children because of the cost of treatment. So they had to be cautious while admitting patients.
I nodded my understanding because I was too upset to respond. I got to the blood bank and the total cost of buying a pint of blood is 9200 naira. But it comes down to 4200 naira if you donate your own blood. My options were tight. Here I am, with no phone, no ATM cards, just the 5,000 naira cash that I happen to have on me. I have never donated blood in my life but there is always a first time for everything. I led down and it was done quicker than I expected. I was forced to remain in bed for some more minutes. All the while praying that Ahmed stays alive. Just at that point, the lights went off. Shika was in complete darkness. I didn’t know the implication until the blood collector spoke. “Madam you will have to go and come back tomorrow. No light to cross match the blood.” But it is an emergency I replied “yes but what can we do” Right then and there he brought out his phone and used the phone touch light to light my way out.
I felt the tears burning behind my eye sockets. I felt like screaming and lashing out. But I know that won’t help Ahmed. I need to compose myself. My husband doesn’t know where I am and as far as my children are concerned, mommy took Maikitso to sick Bay. I have no phone to call home. Same for Maikitso. Nobody knows where she is. So I decided to take her home. Let her inform her people. I will also go home. By the time we get back Ahmed would surely have had his blood transfusion. On our way home, Maikitso said she feels faint. She has not eaten anything since morning. I bought her bread and bottled water. She ate it hungrily while I drove. I went home first. Informed my family and got Maikitso something to eat before taking her home.
Alas! Maikitso has three other sick children at home. Not has sick as Ahmed but obviously needing immediate medical attention. Her husband was also nowhere to be found. It’s 7:30pm, raining cat and dog, with three other sick children and a missing husband.
At that point I started saying a silent prayer. I said “Dear God make this day a sorrow free one”. After about 1:30 minutes we drove back to Shika and found Ahmed on the same examination bed. Nobody had attended to him. Am not sure if he was dead or alive. In shock I asked the lady doctor why Ahmed was left without treatment. She simply said “they haven’t brought the blood and I can’t attend to a child whose mom was missing” I patiently explained our situation to her and why we had to leave. Plus we took permission from junior doctor who said we can go since the blood is not ready. After raging on for like 3 minutes, she asked me to go ask if the blood was ready. Shika is still in darkness so I needed a miracle at that point. “Madam no light! The blood is not ready. And why are you the one coming to ask for the blood? Are you the doctor?” asked the blood collector. No, i am the only human here, I was tempted to respond but kept quiet and walked back sadly to the Paediatric ward.
Ahmed was still struggling to breath. His mother is still shedding tears after 5 hours. Both senior and junior doctors were obviously tired of seeing our faces. I asked if they can at least give Ahmed something to relieve his pain. Maybe oxygen will help his breathing. Again i was met with irritation and aggression plus a resounding no. I got up slowly, gave Maikitso some money and told her I have to go home. The fear in her eyes broke my heart into a thousand pieces. But I can’t be here, I said to myself. As I moved away, pool of my tears gushed forth. I could not hold it back anymore. The rain fell. So did my tears. I cried and prayed to the Almighty. “Please don’t let me come across senior doctor for the rest of my life again or her likes. Protect me and my loved ones from the necessity of going to Shika. Give speedy recovery to all the sick in Shika. They are not only sick but they are also humiliated” AMEEN. I don’t know if Ahmed is dead or alive because I am afraid to go back to Shika. Hopefully Maikitso will come with a positive feedback soon. Meanwhile, dear God, restore Ahmed’s health because You are the Compasssionate, the Merciful.