Steths don’t lie, people do.
I glance at my stethoscope and sigh. The day is October 1st 2014 and I am sitting at an independence day program listening to one of the speakers tear to shreds the last atom of self-respect I have. I think of a thousand other places I’d rather be instead of right there lost in the crowd, sitting on the 8th row but still invisible to the one man who claims to know all about me. When did I become this villain, this hated persona whose pride in her work has been snatched away by ignorant speakers such as the man who stands before me? Men who have the crowd roaring in excitement, who know just what to say to get the mob agitated and ready to do his bidding and care less about who has to hang for the sake of a good speech! I zip up my bag hurriedly, I don’t want Mr Steths hearing such bull, it could break him…and a good Littman stethoscope costs about £150 these days.
Who gave this man the permission to perpetrate ignorance? If it was any other function, we definitely would have settled it outside (I am tougher than I look oh). I think of all the casualties of this long drawn out war between the people and doctors and sigh… (if Oliver Pope was real, this definitely would need fixing). I wish I could introduce the speaker to Mrs A, my dedicated co-worker who is now a widow responsible for three children after her husband died of HIV following a needle-stick injury while he was treating a patient. Mrs A has the virus too but you would never know as she goes about her duties cheerfully. Or maybe to Mr B, who shed tears when he was told he wouldn’t be paid this month. His rent is due and so are his children’s school fees and contrary to what this arrogant speaker is telling the crowd, Mr B has no savings to fall back on. He barely manages to keep his head above water in the sea of middle class men. And so many other doctors share his fate yet he scuttles to the emergency room when summoned to see a new patient, his problems momentarily forgotten. How does Mr B explain to his children who rarely get to see their father that all the effort he puts into his job night and day is not enough to ensure their school fees are paid on time? How does he explain to the world that the thought of buying a brand new car is merely a fantasy he couldn’t dare to entertain? Yet he is supposed to be a doctor, a senior registrar for that matter. The world doesn’t know about this but ask Mr Steths, he hears everything.
What this speaker doesn’t know is that beneath the white coat and brisk demeanor lies a broken man. An overworked, unappreciated member of society who is expected to serve at all costs regardless of his present circumstances no better than a mere slave. His dignity long forgotten, his legacy merely an embarrassment. His pleas for better work conditions shelved in the archives of greedy employees. Nobody remembers he looks death in the face each and everyday. Nobody remembers that he handles patients and diseases that could potentially cost him his life and that he walks boldly where others fear to tread (R.I.P Dr Adedavoh). We are not afraid to die and some of us have died, unsung heroes just to save a life. We wouldn’t mind Ebola and Hepatitis if it meant our children would be well taken care of if we passed on, we wouldn’t mind HIV and Lassa fever if it meant that we would be able to afford a home of our own or a car that wasn’t ‘tokunbo’. We wouldn’t mind the stench of a diabetic foot or Fournier’s gangrene if we had great working conditions. We wouldn’t mind the gore of a burst abdomen or the vigil beside a critically ill patient if we were appreciated by the people we give our lives for each and every day. But even without these perceived luxuries we work tirelessly everyday to ensure that the lives in our care do not waste away and instead of gratitude we are painted as greedy and wicked.
Free services are demanded of us by men and women who would not dream of letting the doctor’s child go to school for free or dream of giving him merchandise without money. Men and women who would not save the doctor the littlest expense, they would smile at him and say ‘Ah ah, you be doctor na, you get all of the money’. They grumble that the doctor would dare drop his stethoscope for even a day in the name of a strike but pray do tell me if there is another way to get the government to listen and yet another way to make them stay true to their promises. Like a slave who revolts after tireless beatings, doctors have revolted refusing to suffer in silence any longer. They prayed for a voice, one to fight their battles as they focused on saving lives and who better to do that than the very patients who they had managed but these patients so easily forget help rendered and join the mob to throw stones, forgetting that those who oppress the doctors are the same ones who oppress the masses, the same ones who always seek medical help abroad and cannot be even the least bit worried about the deplorable working conditions and quality of services in the health sector. My people shouldn’t we be joining forces to fight this menace rather than fighting each other? Don’t be deceived by false statistics, for every doctor that lives in luxury there are sixty others living in squalor. Maybe it’s time the doctor started trading by barter because the other option would be to provide his every need, to allow his children go to school for free, to make sure he didn’t have to worry about his rent or his family’s expenses so that he could focus solely on saving the lives brought before him. Let’s start with you mister car dealer who refuses to go to hospital, it’s not your right to have free consultation over the phone, it’s a favor and one good turn deserves another. How about a car at half price?
They say becoming a consultant is the peak of our career, I have seen pitiable consultants who could only be called successful within the four walls of a hospital where they wield their diminutive power over subordinates till the day closes and they drag their worn out shoes into their worn out car, praying that by some stroke of good fate it would start without pushing. Why would you even entrust your life or the life of your loved ones into the hands of a man who was depressed and disgruntled with his job? It is quite ridiculous to assume he would do his best for you when the society he lives in does not care about him, when the people he works for do not care about him. It’s hard to be a hero every blessed day, doctors don’t have the luxury of being human. And for many the future is bleak.
Ask my stethoscope, he has seen it all…He has heard the deceptive words of the medical elders as they sold us out for personal gain, he shuddered at the closed door meetings, his presence forgotten as they made plans to trample upon their own for the good of their pockets.
Mr Steths ears burned when he was roughly pushed aside by the grey haired man who eagerly advised the president on the best course of action against his own kind in exchange for a place among the ruling council. Let’s not even get started about the time he heard the management warn the doctors to not treat any patient for free as they would have the cost deducted from their salaries along with a fine. Mr Management was snoring in his house the day the woman who couldn’t afford the money for the surgery died in the waiting room. No one saw the unshed tears glistening in the doctor’s eyes, his hands tied. He pressed his empty wallet against his thigh, wishing he had the five thousand naira needed by the patient for the deposit. His colleague had been fired a week before for daring to flaunt management’s orders. He needed the job but it was costing him his soul. Ask Mr Steths about all the times doctors have had to count out precious Naira to assist a patient who desperately needed a drug or test. The deed promptly forgotten as the patient ventures back into the world, the doctor’s kindness buried along with painful hospital memories not even resurfacing during testimony time at church. Perhaps these patients see it as their right, perhaps they believe we are an elite group of cyborgs created to serve…I wonder…
This uncouth speaker talks about us knowing what we signed up for when we decided to become doctors. What ten year old knows the truth about being a doctor in Nigeria? What sixteen year old filling her JAMB form can recognize the sorrow behind the doctor’s smile? What twenty-three year old graduating from medical school knows the dissatisfaction surrounding the practice of medicine? The old doctors are tired of fighting, their eyes cast down in defeat. The younger doctors are becoming hustlers. After all you are nothing in this country without money. Dignity doesn’t put food on the table or pay the bills. Yet we serve, for whatever reason, whether it is to earn a salary or out of human compassion or for the sake of the passion we feel for the medical profession, we serve. WE SERVE.
My steths doesn’t lie, he doesn’t need a PR agent to make him look good, he believes in the greater good of humanity but people lie…
I could be lying right now like many others before me but then again I just might be speaking the truth and perhaps I have been able to give you a little insight amidst the jumble of words. So the next time you sit down judging a doctor, think of him as a person, not necessarily a good person but a person nonetheless who doesn’t care about where you have been or what you have done, who doesn’t care about the extra hours or the unending sacrifices but is only interested in helping you the best way he can even if he has a long list of unmet needs hanging over his head. It is his job description isn’t it? He isn’t the enemy, he isn’t the oppressor. He is human just like you.
Love your doctor, it’s healthy!
A heartfelt thank you gives us the sort of high that makes unpaid bills float away…Ask Mr Steths, he has been around far longer than I have and could teach you a thing or two!
Have a great day Chutzpah fam,