Incapacitated and sometimes in excruciating pain, investigation has revealed that the patients at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, sometimes have to grovel and beg to use the toilet, Ademola Olonilua reports.
Nurse! Nurse!,” 32-year-old Kazeem had screamed for the umpteenth time that night. But the reply he had always got was the groans and moans of other patients in his ward at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi Lagos.
Although the young man was going through tortuous pain after visiting the surgical theatre few hours earlier, he was more concerned about his bowel movement. He really needed the assistance of a nurse as he was on the brink of relieving himself right on his hospital bed.
Kazeem made another last minute effort to alert the nurse on duty of his plight but this time, his body waste forced its way out.
Reminiscing about the degrading and the dehumanising treatment he went through that night, Kazeem told our correspondent that he still felt ashamed just thinking about it.
He said, “This is not a prison. I am in a hospital and if I could help myself, I would not have called for help. But that is what life is like when you are a patient who needs to use the toilet here.
“Even though I was relieved that day, shame, pain and humiliation came over me. I slept in my own faeces for some hours before I was cleaned. No grown man should go through that.”
Defecation is an involuntary action that respects no one. If you really have to go to the toilet to empty your bowels, there is virtually no force in the world that can stop it.
But for patients of this Federal Government hospital, the choice is not theirs to make.
That choice belongs to the nurses at the hospital who, simply hate to be disturbed and believe that when a patient goes to the toilet should be their decision.
Kazeem like other patients who interacted with Saturday PUNCH spoke on the condition of anonymity or used pseudonyms so that they would not be victimised by the nurses because of this report.
Patients excrete at the mercy of nurses
On one of the several visits to the hospital and interactions Saturday PUNCHhad with the patients, it was revealed that although there was a heap of problems they faced, top on their list was the lackadaisical attitude of some of the hospital staff members towards the patients.
Kazeem further explained that patients did not have a choice but to adhere strictly to the rule.
He said, “The hospital has auxiliary workers that do some of the work, especially helping the patients to visit the toilet. There is what we call the ‘general time’ and every patient must adhere strictly to it. The auxiliary worker on duty would have served the bed pans, urine bottle and water in a bowl for bath at night before patients go to bed.
“By 5am, the auxiliary workers wake the patients up for personal cleaning. They must finish everything by 6am. The patients bathe themselves using a small towel on the bed, they relieve themselves at the same place as well as urinate all by themselves. The two nurses on duty only attend to people in critical conditions. Other general times when you can relieve yourself are 11am, 3pm, and 7pm. So if you want to use the toilet, you must wait till that time or you are on your own. You can’t just do it alone because you can’t move around due to your injury.
“Every patient has a small plastic bottle for urine and it must always be close to him. But while the patients are free to do that when the need arises, they can’t defecate anytime they want. It has a period. They must wait till the ‘general time’ when the ‘bed-pan’ will be served for use, except in critical situations.”
On one occasion when Kazeem decided to brave the pain and help himself, he said he almost fell with his crutches because there was no light in the toilet.
He said, “There was no bulb in the toilet of my ward for over three weeks that I stayed there. That night, I would have aggravated my injury by falling while trying to use the toilet with a lamp because everywhere was dark! The management failed to act, perhaps because no casualty had yet to be recorded.”
Another patient who gave his name simply as Duro was close to tears as he recounted some of his experiences in the hospital. He stated that he felt emotional about the situation because of the “emotional torture” he has endured as a patient at the hospital.
He explained that he became a patient at the hospital after he survived a fatal car crash that claimed the lives of 14 people. Duro who seemed to be in his mid-40s told Saturday PUNCH that he had to hold going to the toilet for as long as three days at times because of the way the patients were being treated by the staff of the hospital.
“There are times when you will want to ease yourself but it is according to the will of the nurses. There was a time the nurses came to ask if I was interested in using the toilet and I told them I was fine because I really did not feel the need to go at the time. Unfortunately, I ate the food they served me and that messed my system up, so I called the nurse that I wanted to defecate but she did not answer. I had to call another nurse who queried me as to why I refused to go when she offered to assist me earlier. I had to explain myself. It is not supposed to be so,” he said.
Fraud in patient rations
If the account of the patients is anything to go by, sharp practices in food preparation and quality of the nutrition the patients are getting in comparison to what they pay for feeding daily, is an issue that calls to question the control system of the hospital.
Some of the patients compared the food they are served with prisoners’ food despite the fact that they are all mandated to pay N1,000 per day for feeding.
Olaniyan was trying to buy fuel in his commercial bus during the fuel scarcity early in the year when some uniformed men stormed the petrol station. He said they descended on everyone in sight beating them with big sticks and belts. While he tried to rush for safety, he was hit by a trailer and it crushed his left leg. He has been in the hospital bedridden for about a month.
While speaking, he called the food on the hospital’s menu, “prisoners’ meal”.
“The kind of food we get here is the kind that makes you want to vomit. It is tasteless, bland and the soup is whitish; they serve us half-cooked rice and other watery food. In fact, the food alone is enough for you to use the toilet every second,” he said.
It was gathered that the ward often became rowdy because of the patients’ incessant protests over food, yet whenever the patients complain, they are asked to write to the management. It is also a taboo for anyone to bring in food from outside the hospital.
He said, “It is compulsory for us to buy meal ticket, which costs N1,000 for our daily meal. They do not bother to ask us what we want to eat despite the fact that we are ill and we are paying. In the morning, they could give us four slices of bread with stale stew and very watery tea.
“It is not everyone that would want bread, I would prefer to have pap in the morning but when I complain, they don’t even bother answering you. The nurse would just drop the food and if you don’t eat it, they would carry it away after some hours.
“In the afternoon, they bring Eba that is worth about N50 with soup that does not have pepper and when we complain, they tell you that if we have a problem, we should write a letter to the managing director.
“In the night, they would bring two wraps of Eko (hard pap), which is worth about N20 and moinmoin (bean pudding), which also lacks pepper.
“Sometimes they give us white porridge without pepper. They are supposed to come with their menu and ask what we are interested in eating based on what they have. If we refuse to eat the food, they would simply return it to their kitchen and if you ask your people to bring food for you from home, they would not allow them to give it to you; they have to pass it to us through the window.
“If they see us with the food, we are in trouble. If we refuse to buy the daily ticket, they tell us that before we are discharged, they are going to calculate the accumulation of the tickets we refused to collect and add to our bill. It is compulsory. If you use a month here, that is N30,000. They also do not give refunds. If they tell you that your treatment would cost N100,000 and you do not end up spending up to N50,000, instead of them to refund your remaining money, they will not. They tell you that you will have to keep coming back for treatment till you have exhausted the money.
“The food is so terrible that it will make you use the toilet every second. If you want to ease yourself, either to urinate or defecate, you have to wait for the time the nurses give you. When you call the nurse, they will not answer you. They will say that this is not the time to defecate. Imagine that. Some people cannot hold it and so they will have to defecate on the bed while others will hold it till the time the nurses allot. If you relieve yourself on your body, it can cause infection on the injury you already have. It is not everybody that can hold themselves. If you call the nurse, they will not answer you.
“In the morning, they serve breakfast around 7.30am; in the afternoon, they serve lunch around 1pm and dinner is served by 6:30pm. Their work is based on shifts; I think they change shifts every four hours. If you eat by 1pm and you feel like defecating around 2pm, since the nurse on duty probably closes by 3pm, she would simply tell you to wait till the next person on the afternoon duty resumes or wait till 4pm bath time.”
One of the patients, Stanley, was once caught by a matron trying to smuggle food into the ward.
He said, “The food here is like prison food and you cannot complain. If you do, they would pack it. If you do not eat the food, it is none of their business. It is not easy to buy food outside.
“Last month, some of us decided that we were not going to use their ticket so we made an arrangement with someone to help buy food from outside the premises. He passed the food to us through the window but the matron saw her when she came to the ward. She was furious and asked where we got the money to buy the food. We weren’t served our breakfast till about 1pm for a while after then and we still were not allowed to buy food outside.
“They seized our food because we did not submit our ticket for the daily meal. I have five children and spending money like that makes me feel as if I am crazy and do not have anything to do with money. How will I be eating N1,000 food per day when my children are at home and I am not working? This is my third month here,” he said.
Sharing the view of his fellow patients, he also bemoaned the fact that although the hospital is government owned, it is being run like a private organisation. Stanley said that everything is overpriced.
“We face a lot of things here especially when it comes to money issues. Everything is bad. If you have an operation, you would pay for all the equipment used in the theatre. I pay at least N200,000 for each surgery and I have done about three. The first one gulped about N300,000,” he said.
’If you don’t have money you will die here’
Another patient who did not want his name in print, corroborated Stanley’s claims. He said that he had become heavily indebted because the hospital treatment had gulped all his life savings.
“They treat people well here but the money is too much. If you don’t have money or a family to support you, then you cannot cope here and you will die. It is not meant to be so because this is a Federal Government establishment. I don’t have money and I have had to borrow from friends and family. Once they discharge me, I would still stay at home for about six months before I can begin to work and when I start, I would have to pay all my debts. I have spent close to N500,000 and I am in debt of about N450,000. I don’t know when I will pay all my debt. Power supply is not regular so at night the heat is very unbearable. They gave us mosquito nets but I had to remove it when I almost fainted because of the heat. The doctors are very good but everything is very expensive. They ask some people to leave if they can no longer pay for their bed space. They don’t care if your injury has healed properly or not. It would be nice if they can discharge someone who is about 80 per cent healed but that is not the case, they can discharge the person if he is 40 per cent healed because of money.
“Bed for a day is N1,500; nurses get N1,000 for treating our wounds; feeding costs N1,000. Per day, you spend approximately N3,500 and that is minus the drugs. Some people have used up to four months here. If the government can subsidise the cost of treatment here for us, we would be glad,” he said.
Tired and overwhelmed nurses
During one of Saturday PUNCH’s visits to the establishment, some of the nurses talked about how overworked they had been. They prayed that the hospital would hire more hands.
Kevin, a patient, told our correspondent that most nurses always complain that they are short-staffed. He said that not all the workers are wicked; most of them are just stressed and they pass the aggression to the patients.
“The way some of the nurses treat us is bad, a few of them are good but the rest are terrible. Few of them actually answer when you call them but others will simply ignore you.
“You cannot actually blame them; they are just over-worked and stressed. For instance, the few nurses we have are never enough for the number of patients. They easily get frustrated and usually transfer aggression to patients. Imagine two to three nurses to 20 patients. They are often seen lamenting, blaming the government for not recruiting.”