The story you are about to read points to the fact that, that “nice man” you call your husband or that “beautiful lady” you call your wife may just be a demon in the house. It all happened last Tuesday when I visited one of the outstanding health centres located in the sprawling city of Lagos. My mission was to undertake a routine medical checkup.
I arrived at the medical facility a few minutes after 9 a.m and within some fleeting minutes; the laboratory technician took my blood sample to enable him run some preliminary tests – cholesterol, PVC, haemoglobin, etc. Naturally, it takes some time to run the tests. The time frame is between an hour and two hours at the most. But this particular day, it dragged on and on as more and more people showed up at the facility. At about 1 pm, it was my turn to perform the last rituals – urine test, blood pressure measurement and weight measurement – before being ushered in to see the consultant, a familiar, dedicated doctor with whom I have had personal, intimate rapport for many years.
As soon as I sat down opposite him, the consultant started reviewing the result of the blood test and was sifting through the papers in the file as he compared the result with the previous ones. At a point, he ordered me to lie down on the examination couch where he examined me by pressing my stomach, ribs and all that, with his stethoscope glued to his ears. He asked me to breathe in and out or take a long breath, and all that. Just as he was doing this, shielded by the privacy screen, somebody walked in. The consultant told the person who was shouting “doctor, doctor,” to hold on and that he was busy attending to a patient. By the time he was through with me, he removed the surgical hand gloves, quickly washed his hands and went to his seat. I also disembarked from the couch, buttoned up my shirt, wore my shoes and went back to my seat. Behold, the man who had been waiting was another doctor. He had on him a white lab coat, the type worn by doctors while on duty. He appeared to be in a hurry as he was standing throughout his brief encounter with my consultant.
From the trend of their discussion, he may have dashed into the medical facility from another medical facility nearby to arrange for a surgery that was to take place the following day. I guess it was a sort of collaborative effort between the two doctors as I overheard them talk about the bill for the operation and what will accrue to each doctor and all that. As a person who is always thorough and very professional on his job, my consultant then asked the other doctor whether he had taken all necessary precautions, to which the other doctor replied in the affirmative. To further buttress his point, the other doctor told my consultant that as a rule, he is strict with his team when it comes to observing professional ethics and rules in carrying out their duties. Then my consultant asked him: “Supposing you are not there to enforce the rules?” The other doctor replied: “No, no, no, they know I am strict with it and so they will not, and I repeat, they dare not do anything without the necessary precautions.” And he quickly added: “But you know, to be on the safe side, we assume that everybody is positive, so we take the necessary precautions.”
It was then it occurred to me that they were actually talking about testing the patients for HIV before carrying out any surgery. Then the other doctor chipped in again: “But you know, some of these patients will refuse to be screened for HIV and that is why we assume that they are positive to be on a safe side.” He then gave two illustrations to emphasise his point. If I must confess, those illustrations shocked me to my bone marrow and literarily swept me off my feet.
First, the doctor said: “Let me tell you, there was a time, a woman, a housewife who had tested positive, told us not to disclose her status to her husband who was always driving her to the hospital. She simply told us to leave that to her and that she was voluntarily going to tell him at the appropriate time.” According to the doctor, “six months, then one year rolled-by and the woman never disclosed her status to her husband.” Again, the doctor said there was another case which was more frightening than that: “In this case,” he said, “an influential man tested positive for HIV. He was actually on antiretroviral drugs and he was always coming to the hospital with his wife. The worst part of it was that he warned us never to tell his wife. At a point, the wife, who was also nursing a renal-type problem, developed some complications arising from HIV infection which she obviously contracted from her husband.” The doctor said: “The wife invariably died from the complications.”
If you think that was bad enough, wait a minute, the worst was yet to come. According to the doctor, they were all surprised when few months after the woman died, this influential man, whom he continuously referred to as very, very nice, sent him (the doctor) an invitation card, inviting him to his “coronation and marriage” to another “brand new” lady. At this point, my consultant, who could no longer stomach the pathetic story, lost his cool and lashed out against the so-called influential man, who was said to be so nice, calling him unprintable names. The argument soon snowballed into the issue of confidentiality in medical practice, that is, doctor-patient relationship which prevents a doctor from disclosing the health status of his patient to anybody except with permission from the patient.
My consultant harped on the danger such poses to the health of the society as the man had even gone ahead to marry another “innocent” lady who might not know that her newfound husband is HIV positive. This is a man who had earlier nonchalantly dispatched his first wife to the great beyond through sheer dishonesty. Surprisingly, at every turn during the discussion, the other doctor had a defence, citing some legal nonsense and the fact that the man is so nice, to support his argument. When my consultant noticed that his doctor-friend could not be easily swayed, he simply said: “That man may be outwardly nice, but he is a demon inside.” That ended the discussion and the doctor took his leave.
Throughout the discussion, I kept mute because it was a discussion between two professional colleagues. Though I just sat there looking like a novice, my journalistic instinct soon took over. The questions that have been agitating my mind ever since are: How many of these type of cases are happening all over the place in Nigeria, in Africa and all over the world today? What can the World Health Organisation or our individual countries, do to stem this ugly development which may end up silently killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people if not properly checked? Why will a partner in a marriage test positive for HIV and decide to hide it from his or her spouse, knowing full well that the disease is contagious and could terminate his own life and that of his partner or any other person could easily be infected by the non-disclosure of his or her status? How many people have died and how many more will still die from this avoidable catastrophe caused simply by man’s dishonesty?
From this satanic and sad scenario, we seem to be in a world inhabited by animals going about with the deceitful features of human beings. With highly dishonest people around who will not disclose their HIV status to even their spouse, it is quite certain that the next pandemic with devastating consequences will not be Ebola but Demons in the House. May God help us!