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NIGERIA: In Search of a Plastic Surgeon in Abuja

If human beings have the luxury of choosing the kind of ailment to suffer from, Nigerians will be advised not to choose any ailment that will require the attention of a plastic surgeon, because even the country's most equipped medical facility do not have one.

It is difficult to believe that the federal government seems to have only one consultant in plastic surgery on its payroll in the entire Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and getting the lone-professional’s attention, especially in emergency situations is a matter of special grace.

Getting attended to at the National Hospital, Abuja, further defines how decrepit the nation’s services have fallen. Everything seems tough and frustrating. At several points, the staff are not available, but they post a rough notice for those requiring their services, urging them to “Please call or flash” their numbers.

Penultimate Thursday, somebody called THISDAY office in Abuja, to say that their colleague, Samson Oliver, popularly known as ‘Police’ was involved in an auto crash.

‘Police’ is a circulation officer in the office. He is a resourceful fellow who helps out in other office routines. His pleasant demeanor prompted a rapid response, as many staff trooped to the Maitama General hospital, in Abuja, where he had been hospitalised.

After first-aid treatment was administered, doctors informed Oliver’s colleagues that the hospital lacked the capacity to administer proper treatment on the bleeding victim as he had lost so much skin through burns, adding that treating him would require the urgent attention of a plastic surgeon. Oliver was then referred to the National Hospital.

But it was the wrong place to go. There was no such surgeon at the National Hospital. A nurse on duty at the emergency ward expressed readiness to admit the victim, but disclosed that Oliver was not likely to get instant medical help in the hospital since they had no plastic surgeon.

She told Police’s colleagues that he could be admitted and kept in the hospital, the wound will be dressed but proper medical help will not be administered on him. Meanwhile, Oliver was groaning and writhing in pain in the vehicle that was used to convey him, crying for help.

The nurse further advised that Oliver be taken to the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital in Gwagwalada, which had a plastic surgeon. To get there requires an hour’s drive from the National Hospital.

When Oliver and his colleagues arrived at the UATH at about 11 pm, it was like jumping from the frying pan to fire. The nurses were as indifferent as they were negligent. Their excuse: no bed space to admit any patient. Besides, no amount of pleas to get any form of medical attention meant anything to them. The neglect was total.

“The nurses on duty said there was no free space, they even refused to check the extent of the injuries ‘Police’ sustained, they treated us with a very poor attitude; the security personnel at the teaching hospital were even more sympathetic than medical staff,” said a colleague who went to Gwagwalada.

Seeing how desperate the case was, an aged patient at the emergency ward offered to trade his space in exchange for settling his medical bill of N1,700. “He called me and said, bring your brother to occupy my space, I will manage, but please you will assist me in paying for the drugs I need to buy. It is N1, 700, if this can happen in the FCT, the nation’s seat of power, I wonder what the situation will be in my village.”

But as odd as the arrangement was, the nurses who insisted that Oliver would not be accommodated in the hospital shut down the plan. One yelled at the patient, saying he had no right to offer his space to another patient, more so that there were other people waiting to get a space before Oliver’s arrival.

Here, there was a plastic surgeon but there was no bed space, and left with no option, Oliver and his colleagues headed back to the National Hospital, where there were free bed spaces but no plastic surgeon.

But they soon ran into a greater challenge. It was the night President Goodluck Jonathan was returning from his aborted trip to Southern Africa. As usual, vehicular movement, for security reasons, had been stopped for about 30 minutes before his plane landed. But Oliver was determined to live. He got back to the National Hospital at about 12 mid-night, Friday morning.  .
The spokesperson of the National Hospital, Dr. Adetayo Hasstrup when contacted, said it may not be necessary to have a resident plastic surgeon in the hospital as their services were rarely needed, but said there was a visiting consultant from the UATH Gwagwalada who comes on call to the hospital regularly.

“Don’t forget, these are rare areas, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons are rarely needed, they are not like obstetricians and gynaecologists, paediatricians, or orthopaedic surgeons,” he explained.

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