I had been working through what seemed as endless nights and torrid days. I hardly slept but yet I kept wishing my days had at least three more hours than the usual twenty-four so I could stay awake that much longer to catch up on lost time. As though that wasn’t enough, this so called ‘apocalypse’ had to knock on the country’s doorstep. Before we had the chance to determine what was really going on and how we could stifle such a menacing threat, it had already killed one of our celebrated colleagues.
I was not even ready to pick my wife’s calls whenever I worked late. As though I didn’t have enough to worry about already without her telling me off for doing my job. I had no trust in the apparent healthy state of the next person. No one did. That was what the Ebola virus had caused. I did not breathe a single sigh of relief when our hospital was closed down because of the sudden spread caused by Patrick Sawyer. An ignorant guy who would rather put the lives of his loved ones and many others at risk all for selfish reasons.
Ebola had come to Nigeria, and ironically enough at the worst possible time. Doctors were on strike. Every morning as I woke up to the sound of my alarm after an appallingly short nap, I kept asking myself why this particular unit was still operating. Many of my colleagues had joined the strike and we were the traitors for turning our backs on our association. Amidst claims that we were being unethical, I couldn’t help but ask myself what ethics were being flayed.
“You are going today again?” she asked as I jerked up at 6:30am that Tuesday. I couldn’t afford more than a weak, defeated smile as I forced myself up and into the bathroom. She was already mumbling. It was bad enough that I only spent a few hours with her and the kids because of my increased workload, but they also had to endure my distancing myself from them. It was the right thing to do anyway. The last thing I would’ve ever wanted was to bring this evil infection home if I was ever unfortunate to contract it.
“I can’t abandon those patients. At least not until after my boss does.” I replied, half doubting how honest those words were. The healthcare system was crippled by the strike and to make it worse, we had to work on how to eradicate the Ebola threat.
I got into the car, muttered a little prayer (I hardly ever did) as was more than necessary in this current situation we found ourselves in. a couple of miles ahead and I found myself in the middle of the usual early morning traffic. I was going to be late today but I was prepared for the query. I had only managed three hours of sleep and that was only because I chose to wake an hour late. I gazed out of the windscreen thoughtlessly as my vehicle crawled alongside hundreds on the way to town.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” I heard the man bellow at the top of his voice from quite a distance as I scampered towards the scene almost tripping over thin air. Thankfully it was not the boss’s voice. I recovered and kept my cool, but still headed towards the screaming man as fast as possible. He seemed upset by something and he was taking his rage out on the poor nurses. Arriving at the scene, I could sense the man’s anger. He was breathing heavily and looking straight at Bukola as the poor nurse’s startled look turned into one of relief when I asked what the matter was.
“Good morning, doctor, we only tried to-”
“Only?” he quickly interrupted, his eyes now open as wide as I ever believed I would ever see a pair.
“Please I beg you, be calm sir” I said as turned to Bukola to ask “Bukky, where is Director?”
“He is not yet at work” she replied to my relief. Not only was I not going to get told off for coming in two hours late, but I was in charge for the little time pending his arrival. If at all he even planned to be in work that day.
“So what is the problem here then?” my chest must’ve enlarged a few inches surely as I was now the one with the highest authority around here.
“His daughter is in the emergency ward. We told him to exercise patience till a doctor decides what to do” she replied hesitantly as though she expected a slap across the face from the raging father for her statement.
“Sir please be calm, we will attend to her. As you can see we are a little stretched because of the strike and we have to first attend to the most life threatening –”
“WHAT? My girl’s situation is not life threatening enough? Is that what you learned in school, doctor boy?”
My lips curled shut. I was used to being yelled at by relatives of patients but this was not the ideal situation to receive any insults or to even throw any back at him. “We will help you sir, please just have a seat and be calm”
“You are a very stupid boy. You don’t know what is wrong with her. You have not asked. And you are telling me of a strike. Are doctors supposed to be on strike?” This was the last straw I decided to give him a piece of my mind for doctors nationwide.
“Look sir, I respect your age and I expect you to respect my occupation. How many lecturers did you scream at during the half-year ASUU strike? Are lecturers supposed to be on strike? Are Civil servants supposed to go on strike? We are all in the same boat this is neither your fault nor mine. I am not even supposed to be here today. Our primary objective is to save lives. That is why some of us are here even though we shouldn’t be” I said, looking round at the hospital.
He let out a tiny smile and shook his head. “You are a fool” he said. “Is my daughter supposed to be here? Her mates are in class and she keeps vomiting blood. Would you be praising doctors for striking if it was your daughter in there? You claim to save lives. How many lives have you saved for free? If I was too poor to pay for her treatment would you even glance at me? Bloody hypocrite in white” he said as he gave my lab coat a look of disdain.
Unflinchingly I looked straight into his eyes hoping to match the anger in them. Funny enough what I saw was not anger but disappointment. I couldn’t figure if he was disappointed at me of at the so called ‘system’. Either way, his emotions were all justified.
I was truly a fool. I supported the strike because we were being short-changed. All this while I had been feeling as upright as a tree in my moral high seat. But how many people did I truly help? Saving lives should not come with a price. Yet before even before the strike we had so many patients rotting away in the wards simply because they could afford the treatment.
I have always advocated for respect for doctors because we deserve it, possibly more than most occupations. But the truth was that I didn’t deserve half the respect I felt was owed to me as a person or a doctor and that was simply because I had not learned about the true kind of respect. The kind of respect you didn’t have to be a doctor to acknowledge. That was the respect for human dignity.
“Give the man some coffee and bring a protective suit to me. I will be in the Emergency ward” I said, hoping it wasn’t too late to earn this particular man’s respect.