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Albert Ekop… sweet reminiscences of surgery specialist

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Dr. Albert Ekop and his wife Martina

Doctor Albert Ekop, the proprietor of Ekop Specialists Clinic in Akwa Ibom State, clocks 84 this week and will, also, be marking the golden wedding anniversary with his lovely wife, Martina. In 1967, he volunteered service in the 3rd Marine Commando division of the Nigerian Army serving as an army doctor till the end of the war in January 1970. He opted thereafter for civilian life much against the advice of the then Director of Army Medical Service, Major General Henry Adefope (retd), who wanted him to regularise his enrolment in the Nigerian Army.

Dr. Ekop is a Fellow of the West African College of Surgeons (FWACS), Fellow of the Medical College of Surgeons (FMCS) (Nig) and Fellow of the International College of Surgeons (FICS).

He seizes the opportunity of his double celebration to take a panoramic view of medical practice, family life and other topical issues with emphasis on why many Nigerians still go abroad for medical treatment, why doctors of today go on strikes not minding the ethics of the profession, what couples need do to have successful and peaceful matrimonial home among others.

The surgery specialist clarifies the misconception about the popularity of terminal diseases such as kidney failure, cancer, diabetes among young people.

“I don’t think the highlighted ailments are new, but perhaps what we can talk about was lack of awareness then. Now, because of development in the health care delivery system world wide, people are now becoming aware of what they have and are going to caregivers, healthcare delivery personnel and that is how their conditions come to public domain. In the past, people were having those illnesses and quietly passing on, without the public knowing about it.

“Let me share my experience when I was young.  I went to farm with my step mother, we were told that a man was rolling on the floor and crying in pains.  Out of curiosity, I followed them to go and see the man. The problem was that he was unable to pass urine and he was in pains. That was long time ago before I even left primary school to go to higher School and university.  In fact, it was at the university that I knew what his problem was.

“He had enlarged prostate and there was this bladder outlet obstruction, there, he was dying slowly. In those days, person with such illness would have passed on without anybody knowing what the problem is.  But today, there is a lot of awareness and that is why it appears as if is increasing.”

As a renowned surgeon, he describes the culture of seeking medical treatment abroad which is common among the elite as a reflection of ‘colonial mentality’. “People still believe today that, the health delivery outside Nigeria is better than the one in Nigeria. I have the belief and I am convinced that, in terms of knowledge and skill, the medical people are not lagging behind in this country.  What may be our problem is that some of the equipment needed for adequate treatment and diagnosis may not be available here, but the knowledge is there.”

Even the availability of sophisticated equipment for diagnosis and treatment in some specialist hospitals including, for instance, the Ibom Multi-Specialist hospital, has not reduced the passion of the ‘big men’ going overseas for treatment.

According to Ekop, “Those people who are heading for India and Western Germany for treatment, have not explored the facilities here. They have not told us they have gone to Ibom Multi Specialist Hospital and the facilities available there were not sufficient to take care of their problem, but it is that mentality which drives them that, it is better outside than inside.”

His admonition is for those ‘big men’ to look inward as he shares a personal experience. “There was a Polish engineer working in Calabar when I was working at St. Margret Hospital as Chief Consultant surgeon; he had accident in which he ruptured his liver and he was lying down dying slowly. They did not invite me to his case which is normal, but curiosity made me to look at it and I had no doubt in my mind what his problem was. I told him what was bothering him and he asked for the answer. I told him surgery if he must survive. It wasn’t my case and we were not doing liver rapture, so, I talked with the surgeon who was handling the case and he gave the go ahead. We took him in, did the necessary thing, and successfully, the man lived. When he recovered fully, he went back to his country.

So, the fear of the unknown is what is making our people to go for treatment abroad.”

He recounts his experiences as Chief Medical Director at St. Lukes Hospital, Anua with nostalgia. “Anua is a long standing hospital and has made name in the area of maternity care. During my first stay in Anua, it was during the Nigerian Civil war and there were lots of surgical cases which the exigency of the time did not allow them to have the needed relief.  I went in there as a military person, having joined the war as a field officer then posted to Anua to take charge of the military people; and military was mainly surgical cases, trauma and so on.

“But also, you had a lot of civilians with surgical problems too; this forced us to work extra time. Indeed, that was where I met my wife. It was at the theatre when she came as a student nurse for theatre experience, I met her and thought in my mind, this would be my wife and as God would have it, she became my wife. We were working very hard because we wanted to satisfy the military and the civilian population.”

But 50 years in marriage, how has the journey been?
“As I said, when I was posted to St. Lukes Hospital Anua, in early 1968 around April/May, she was posted as a student Nurse into the theatre for experience and I looked at her legs and said these were the kind of legs I would love. I made efforts, talked to her, she looked at the position, Doctor – Nurse Relationship and said, it was not possible.

After many attempts asking her hands in marriage, towards July-August of same year, one day, she gave her nod and the ball was now in my court to do the necessary things. I must give kudos to the Rev. Sisters who were working with me because they really encourage her to marry me.”

In between these 50 years, has it been any period he regretted the union?
“In the 50 years? Yes. That time I was working in Calabar. We had a dog in the house; this dog was a good guard dog.  So, on one Saturday morning,  I was not on duty, some of her relations, brought a patient from her village to come and see me, because of this, I couldn’t do other things I had planned for myself, took the individual to hospital, admitted her and carried on treatment.

“When I came back home, I was expecting her to say how did it go, thank you very much. Instead, she, said, ‘I have been talking to you about this dog, it has cause problem now because the dog bite one of her relations.’  I think the human in me took over me and I slapped her, it was because of her I left home and I wasn’t there to take care of the dog. That was the only occasion, I have never had any occasion to even beat her again. I have looked back at those 50 years, and to be honest with you, I have no regret whatsoever.”

Martina cuts in, “There has been no regret. One has to be determined. You need prayers, patience, sacrifice and forgiveness to manage marriages. The problem we have now is lack of patience and comparing your own marriage with others. No two marriages are same, not even your sister’s or mother’s own, but you have to design and be prepared to build your own home not comparing.  Another thing is selfishness; don’t ever think you suffer more than the other person. We have discussed with somebody to write a book, and the title will be ‘My Marriage is Not Better than Your Own, but I will succeed’.

“Personally, it is the determination of the couple. Never allow others to manage your marriage! It’s not every problem you have in the home that you discuss with others, not even your mother. A lot of things that happened in marriages nowadays is because of bad advice.”

But why do doctors, these days, go on indefinite strike even when there is outbreak of killer diseases?
“You see, these new boys who go in for medical training these days don’t seem to have the orientation that the ancient doctors had. What the ancient doctors had been taught was patient first, then any other thing after and in fact, the expatriate who came and trained the doctors here in Nigeria impacted that into you. They would tell you, you are here because of the patient, if the patient is not here, there will be no need for you, so first attention and priority shall be to the patient.

You did not have any impediment in treating because, as a doctor you are not part of money collecting agency. Your work was to take care of the patient, see what is wrong with him or her and treat the patient, regardless or what the fee will be.  It is when you had finished, a certain officer, called fee collector will now come and interview the patient, find out what was done with the patient and bill him or her.

“So, the fact that, the patient didn’t put down money is not a factor in the treatment of this patient. But in these days, what I seem to see is that, that orientation is no longer there; whether in the medical school they impact what is happening now, is what I don’t know, but they place a lot of emphasis on money.  If government should go back and remove the fee collecting duty from the doctors and nurses and let them concentrate on the care, I think, if we could bring that back, it will be better.”

How does Dr. Ekop rate healthcare delivery services in Akwa Ibom state?
“Healthcare is a difficult task for any government. I will rate the efforts of Akwa Ibom State government high, in the area of health care. They have provided the facilities, they have built and renovated hospitals, they have provided the equipment, they are in fact engaging and training the medical personnel.  I think this is what it takes to revamp the process.


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