Doctors Are Patients by Dr Uche Anyanwagu

It had been a very tumultuous night shift in the newly relocated ever-busy Children’s Emergency Room (CHER) of a Teaching Hospital, east of the Niger. On this fateful night, I was not feeling too well but I had no choice than to man the almost 100-bedded emergency room with a Registrar whose main occupation that night was to man the 6-spring bed in the doctors’ call room. 

As expected, it turned to be a very busy call for me, even as my “village people” were busier blowing white powder in the air and making incantations that I may know no peace. To compound the issues, I was very ill (may be, of malaria) and felt nauseous all through this longest night of my life. For almost each intravenous drug I administered to a child that night, I vomited. The smell of drugs was so nauseating. I lost count of the number of times I did. I was feverish. My joints ached while all my strength seemed sapped. 

I couldn’t dare to complain to my Registrar about my ill health because she “we not take it” (apologies to Elder Orubebe). She would have to let me know that she has arrived and that in this small space, she lords the land, sea and sky. 

I carried on with my job as each step became further hardened by each dust blown by my “village people”. Almost all cannulas tissued that night. About a quarter of the children competed with me in vomiting while their peers almost used the heat of their fever to cook up the one boiling me up. 

I’ve reflected on this singular action for years and reluctantly had to let go of the grudge I bore for that my senior colleague on that my dying day. This is because I’ve come to fully appreciate three things:

First, Doctors are HUMANS!

As a doctor, it seems I’ve metamorphosed into a super human who should neither be sick or be seen to be sick – the same reason I hardly tell my peers that’s I’m sick. Unlike Jesus thought of Lazarus, they would think the sickness must be unto death. 

So we tend to forget, that like those angels I stole their vomit that night, doctors are HUMANS. They feel our pain and share in them even when they hide it or do not to allow emotions to becloud their reasoning. 

I recall the emotional trauma I passed through attending to a 3-year old beautiful girl who reminded me every inch of my first niece (who shared a strong affectionate bond with me). I couldn’t stand that girl cry. I recall shedding tears severally while administering her drugs simply because she felt pain and cried. I guess the mother took note of this and asked but I told a lie that I have an eye problem.

When her fever refused to abate for days and the mum ran out of funds, she opted to self-discharge. What an emotional relief! I went on to offer her some free antibiotics samples I had then, for her daughter to complete her course of antibiotics. 

Doctors are HUMANS who ply the same roads we do and bargain for wares in that bend-down boutique along the rail track. 

Forget Nollywood which has never gotten right any single medical scene in any movie! Doctors have been vilified as inhumane in the same very movies where someone will be in coma for a month without a catheter and on top of it, with  cannulas wrongly placed and drips flowing southwards. What could be more inhuman? Tell me! ?

Doctors are HUMANS who make mistakes, who can be greedy and self-serving. These attributes ain’t inherent in them as doctors but as humans. 

Secondly, I learnt that Doctors are PATIENTS. 

They fall sick. They are the worst patients. I mean worst. They fear injections and tablets a million times more than you do. I, for one, hate hospitals. Please don’t ask me where I go everyday. I simply go to my office the same way a mechanic goes to his workshop. 

Doctors hardly finish their course of drugs. Jukwa ese! (Apologies to non-Igbos. I can’t help you. Mbok. Lol). Abeg! Don’t also ask me how many antibiotics courses I completed in my life, even recently when sinusitis hit me hard. 

Doctors die. I have seen so many of them die at different ages – old, middle-age and young; healthy, weak and sickly; active and inactive.

The third lesson is that Doctors are POOR. 

You cannot isolate them from this recession that has bitten a pound out of everyone’s flesh. Remember, they are your fathers, mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends, side-chicks, et al. 

We made them poor – yes! Because their job are seen as humanitarian services which are priceless, hence undeserving of any pay. Yet, they are fleeced at Wuse market once the trader realises they Doctors who, by default, ought to be rich.

So, in this new year, remember, that doctor that isn’t too ”generous” may have his money tucked in your different pockets for the services he offered you without payment, which you barely saw as an act of charity. 

Remember, that doctor isn’t better than other professionals who know and distinguish themselves in their duty. 

He is simply as (if not even less) important as Nda Letty, the popular “Food vendor” in Owerri (who recently passed on) or that dedicated “Yellow-Fever” man at FMC junction, Umuahia, waving his passion in a motorised dance step that amber and green traffic lights can never match. 

In life, titles and labels (that’s why I detest them) do not convert mediocrity to professionalism. Integrity, hard work and dedication do. 

Doctors are humans, patients and poor. Look beyond those white coats, surely you will see!

Dr Uche Anyanwagu has a PhD in Medicine, a profession he practices in London, United Kingdom. He is also a fine writer as you can see. You may follow him on Twitter via @ucheanyanwagu. This is the 5th in a series of essays on “Medical Myths – Tales by Doctors” written by him. 

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