She was brilliant- a teenager who had just been ushered into adulthood, when she was struck with a fate ailment.
A blister had formed inside her skull (“Nantwie mpompo”, as we call it in the local parlance), and this would eventually drift her into her early grave, on her birthdate.
The pain that grew from the boil in her skull was so critical that she cried every day, till she had no strength in her to continue. She had only resorted to groaning and sobbing with long chain of tears gushing down her youthful eyes.
She had been my heartbeat. The young woman I strove hard in life to take good care of.
Up to date, no one in my family had discovered the root cause of the predicament.
But, we are certain that some inaction of the nurses we met at the hospital were a primary cause of her death. In the early days of the sickness, she had gathered some energy to tell us how she felt inside.
This incident happened in June 2012. I remember seeing her cry until it was clear she could no longer hold the pain and asked for pain killers, but it was only helpful for a short while. She was really in pain!
For a whole week, she had not taken any great amount of food because her throat hurt anytime she tried to swallow anything, and her head had swollen so huge that it left her beautiful face deformed.
Due to this, the hair on her head was shoven to allow for the application of an orthodox medicine my mother had prepared to be smeared on, to slow down the pain she bore inside.
My parents were confused and wished they could take away the pain upon themselves, just to make her rest for at least a day, but that was not possible.
Elizabeth Afia Nyamekye, my little sister, had fallen ill and died in less than two weeks after she had been back home from admission at the government hospital at Bawjiase, a town close to Kasoa in the Central Region.
We had first visited the health facility in the first week when she complained of headache, only to be given pain killers and told there was no doctor to attend to her, so we could report to the facility the following week to have a recheck.
My family and I had no option than to take her home and resort to herbal medicine to alleviate the problem.
We eventually went back to the facility when the situation was not improving, to see if luck would shine on us to meet an authority for diagnosis and help bring an end to the seemingly unbearable pain she was feeling.
After being in the queue for almost thirty minutes on our second visit, it got to our turn.
A young nurse who had refused to respond to our greetings, did a physical examination on my sister, paying less attention to what my mother was telling her and concluded that malaria was the cause of the girl’s sickness.
This did not go well with my family and we argued with her. She argued back and asked if we were the ones to teach her how to do her job!
She later ushered us into a ward, gave my sister an injection and placed a drip on her, but as far as her description was concerned, this tumor developing in her head was not the work of any mosquito in Ghana.
We spent quite a handsome amount of money on the numerous drugs she was prescribed every time this nurse attended to us, before leaving on the second day.
The poor girls’ temperature dropped and we were informed to go home and given a list of drugs to buy on our way.
Looking deep into the nurse’s behavior, one could see she was using a “try and error method” to prescribe the drugs, and the other few nurses on duty who could equally help were all busy and none of them turned to us as we tried approaching them.
At home, my little sister showed signs that all was lost, but we still held to our fate by giving her the drugs and praying with her till the last minute.
Early the following day, alas she could not bear the pain any longer. She told my mother to fetch her some water. I remember she closed her eyes, prayed and drunk it. She went to sleep and never woke up again.
We believe the nurse’s inexperience and wrongly administered drugs contributed to her sudden demise. This is the sad end to the story of how I lost the only woman whose vision was to be a lawyer in my family.
As the years have gone by, it seems to me as negligence of most health workers had been casting a doubt over the few ones who are striving to put the vocation on the map.
In another twist, on Monday, June 13, 2018, Ghana was greeted with a similar issue when one Obiri Yeboah (I share the same surname) took to social media to announce the death of his seventy-year- old father, Mr. Anthony Opoku-Acheampong.
The man had died after it was reported that there were no beds available for his treatment from seven major hospitals in Accra his family had taken him to.
I was mistakenly called at 8:05am same day severally from journalists at Starr FM and GHOne TV, who had mistaken me for this young man and apparently consoling me for my loss. They told me they wanted to be my voice by granting me a LIVE interview to speak to the issue on air.
After I had made myself known to Ibrahim Alhassan the journalist, he admitted it was a mistake calling my number. He therefore apologised and hanged up only to be called thirty minutes’ later by two other women from the same media house.
There I realised there had been a breach of communication among them and even after I had sent them a private message on their Facebook page, they have still not replied.
Truth be told, our health sector now stinks with the personnel who have sworn to protect lives, rather treating us with disdain. I went ahead to interview a dozen of young nurses at various hospitals in the country.
A trained nurse, who is a staff at a health facility in Accra, agreed to speak on anonymity about some health officials’ bad attitudes towards prospective patients, the service and the ministry at large.
He told me some of the senior staff diverted funds, equipment and gifts acquired from some benevolent societies to establish their private facilities.
According to him, others do connive with certain banks to establish their branches at their health centers, and also established some diagnostic facilities like scan centers, clinics and drug stores close to the main facilities. He added that the health experts often directed patients there, rather than telling them to patronize that of the main centers’, so as to milk monies from them.
He disclosed that many of the negative characters portrayed by some nurses in the health sector today did not reflect what they are taught in school.
“Of course, our lecturers are doing very well to make sure all those who pass out as qualified nurses have the best of knowledge and characters to serve the people, but there are still some bad nuts amongst us,” he said.
He told me that just like my job as a journalist, nursing is a call and most people do not attain or wait for that call, but rather ventured into the profession to receive benefits and the status that comes with it.
He was even quick to mention that the high level of unemployment rate in the country and low salary structure in most professions amounted to this development, as he had heard and even seen many of his colleagues divert from their fields of study into nursing.
This reminded me of my days in the secondary school when we read a short play by De Graft Johnson called “Sons and Daughters”. In this play, the writer talks about parents imposing jobs or courses on their wards because of the prestige and benefits these professions come with, without guiding the kids to make their own choices.
In the end, this move may cause grave effects on families and the society, if these children do not gain things for which they aspire in life.
The interviewee further disclosed to me that many of these behaviors were being copied or perpetuated by the senior staff in the health facilities. He indicated that when these authorities tell you to tell the patients that there were no drugs or beds available or charge them on certain services, you the junior nurse have to only comply. I was quick to ask him if he believed these acts could end.
He stared at the bare floor in front of us as if he were fetching the answer from there and told me he was not too sure, because “the problem is with us as a people and there is a need to change our ways.”
My friend added that some attitudes of his colleagues were also as a result of the upbringing of the individual. “Those with the call on their lives and the passion to serve always do the right thing, right from the training schools not because it is the right thing to do,” he admitted.
This is the reality on the ground. When one’s fault is exposed, we are hastily critiquing them whereas in our closets, we are found in a similar act and contributing immensely to the retardation we see in our lives as a nation. We are the cause of our own problems and there is a need for us to wake up from this attitude.
Indeed, we have found the enemy (in the Ghanaian health sector), and it is us!