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Why won’t the doctors let us live? 

By Wole Oyebade
01 October 2020   |   3:00 am
To know how to grow old is the masterwork of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living – Henri Amiel. It is wisdom to see government as too big and important to be left to politicians – Chester Bowles. I remember a story once told of a mama’s…

To know how to grow old is the masterwork of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living – Henri Amiel.

It is wisdom to see government as too big and important to be left to politicians – Chester Bowles.

I remember a story once told of a mama’s ‘trauma’ in the hands of her doctors. Not getting the necessary care was not her complaint, but having too much of it. They would not let her die! She had stayed too long than she wanted; no thanks to the sophisticated medical practice and her doctors that kept reviving her and prolonging her life unnecessarily. Her seeing another day was a medical triumph. It was to her anguish and absurdity.

At 96 years, she has seen it all, including the downsides of longevity. She attended the burial of her husband about 30 years ago. In-between, she had buried older and younger siblings too, three daughters-in-law, friends, and lifetime associates. The longer she lived the more the bad news from those she loved. O pe l’aiye, oju re o ni ri’bi; okan l’o fi owo mu. No one has the good fortunes of long-life and no evil days at the same time. But when the sorrow gets overwhelming, then old age loses all meaning.
Mama is an independent mind that knows what she wants. She had it all figured out. She enjoys her independence and never wants to be a burden on anyone. For the first two of the last three decades, she achieved those goals – lived alone, did all her house chores, and lived within the means of her savings, pension, and interests on investment earlier made by the couple. She spent most of the time watching TV, cooking, playing games, talking to neighbours, travelling to see children, grandchildren and parties of great-grandchildren no matter how far away. She attended church gatherings, though boring and drab, and political ward meetings too. She didn’t understand what her party’s ideology was if it has one, or the thought process of its so-called leaders. She kept at them all at least to amuse herself. At 86, she was beginning to lose interest in all pastimes. At 89, her health failed for the first time. On her 90th birthday, she complained of getting too old, despite her sound mental and physical health.
Things started to change and quickly too. She started needing help, which warrants her staying closer to children and grandchildren. She wished to just die in her sleep but kept waking up after every sleep. At 91 she fell critically ill. While being taken to the hospital, she was convinced that the end had come finally. She blessed children, grandchildren, and bided neighbours hearty goodbyes. She was utterly disappointed when she recovered from antibiotics a few days later. She returned home healthy but unhappy and cranky. After a while, she started getting frail, using a walking cane, in and out of ill health. She was fainting due to paroxysms of atrial fibrillation. She got well after a few minutes of rest. But each time she returned to the hospital, she was sicker than before. The desire to die became intense, but the doctors got more vigorous to see her through the recovery. She became more depressed.
At 93, she was persuaded to stay on for another year, at least, to be a part of the confirmation ceremony of her youngest granddaughter. The event came, and she travelled four hours in each direction. She enjoyed every part of the rite. Days after, she had a stroke. She became more disoriented, unable to cook her meals, and unable to move around the house without support. With the arrival of a resident caregiver, she complained bitterly of becoming a burden. She wept. More severe stroke episode came weeks later. Though she could identify everyone that came by, she couldn’t make a speech. She was diagnosed with anorexia, fever, and pneumonia. Her children and grandchildren felt it was her time to go. They instructed the caregiver and doctors to let her be. Days later, the medics said they couldn’t just be laidback and not do anything, especially when she could be saved. Antibiotics and other fluids were intravenously pumped into her. She recovered again but would not be the same again. She left the hospital to resume at a nursing home for the geriatrics.
She could identify everyone that visited her, call them by name, and engage in small conversations. She has been stable for a few years now, but a part of her mind has been destroyed. In a semi-vegetative state, she cannot cook her food, no longer play games, cannot change clothes, cannot walk, move from room to room, or from a chair to bed without support. The erstwhile grieving and despair about meaningless longevity have left her too. She could no longer complain about death, life, anguish, being too old, and becoming both a physical and financial burden. Everything she despised is happening to her. Mama’s son, himself a physician, could feel her agony at every visit. And in his account, as told by Alvan R. Feinstein, he could only wonder why the problem was created, when her preservation was useful to no one, neither desired by her nor those who loved her the most. He could only ask in frustration: “Why didn’t the doctors let her die in peace and serenity?”
I don’t have an answer; maybe you can help. What I know is that doctors have a duty to save lives. But that did not account for the quality of life afterward, which is just as imperative as the lives saved. But sadly, not too many of us can have such complaints today or have positive criticisms of how sophisticated our medical services have become. In reality, our chief complaint is not having the luxury of care to make life longer. So, our question is: “why won’t the doctors let us live?”
The number of Nigerians that had died due to medical negligence in the course of COVID-19 brings that question to relevance. There are fears that many more could have died of coronavirus anxiety than from the virus feasting on lungs. There were bleeding victims of road accidents, women in labour, and critically sick that could have been saved but were not because our doctors were wary of getting infected and requesting COVID-19 tests certificate before they attend to emergencies! Such fears are legitimate, but that the problem existed was on account of a failed medical system. Even more, died from doctors’ industrial actions. The fatalities will not be accounted for. Rather than save them, their medical system, the country they live in, and trust have failed them when it mattered the most. Our hearts are with their families. The deceased wanted to live but were made to die.
It is clear that the problem here is not how sophisticated medical practitioners have become to stall our untimely exits to yonder. It is how badly the system has been mismanaged to help us live well and to old age. To all those officials and public officeholders pretending there is nothing wrong with the system; they are sowing the wind, may they all reap the whirlwind in the fullness of time. Unfortunately, the docile public is not holding anyone accountable today. Someday when the public fully wakes up to responsible citizenship and learns never to abandon government to politicians, then more of us will fall into the category of Mama, who wanted to die but her doctors would not let her. Ire o!

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