It was supposed to be a medical trip, we were scheduled to see a doctor to assess health challenges of a 15-year-old, who suddenly began to have seizures early this year, complicating his previous challenges, which had been largely managed and addressed, but which the seizures were reversing.
This journey, my first to Dubai the dreamland of the United Arab Emirates, deepened my understanding of the dysfunction of the people in the society I grew up in.
On this particular medical trip, My son Ahmed and I had visitation to the hospital of course. But there was much more than that. My deepened understand swirled around several other aspects of the trip: Airline and hotel booking, the food, the taxi, shopping-at least at the minimum and fortunate as we were, there was also sightseeing. I was told to not leave Dubai without “seeing Dubai”.
These were the value chains of one single hospital visit. Interestingly, it appeared to me that everyone along the chain understood the interconnectedness of the chain. Everyone I met tried to strengthen their respective part and then linked one up to the next chain in a manner that appeared seamless. Nonetheless, I guessed that a lot of hard work, coordination and supervision were going on behind the scenes.
I probably would have had the MRI requested for by the doctor in Nigeria done, if I had received the type of service I got in Dubai.
Without a doubt, sometimes it is about how much one is willing to part with but not this time. I was willing to pay premium but still did not get service.
A Brain specialist I took my son to, to help resolve issues around the seizures he was experiencing, requested an MRI and recommended very highly one of the supposed “A” class hospitals in Abuja. He told me, that hospital just installed the latest MRI machine.
I rushed to that hospital briskly, my son in tow.
At the Radiology Department, I was billed and asked when I would want the MRI done. I told them I was ready right away. It was late evening, around 4pm on August 1, 2019. The attendant however, said we should come in the following morning. He should be fasting, his last meal should be 8 hours before the MRI because he would be sedated. That did not go down well with me and I told her, I would not want my son sedated. She told me they could not do it without sedation and the child must be sedated. I was confused and devasted. I stood for some seconds or minutes, I was not sure. Then she asked me to think about it and return when I was ready. I left the hospital feeling very low. Outside at the park, I met another parent of a child with special needs (we belong to the same network where we share ideas). she told me her child was hospitalized there, we discussed our children during which I told her about the MRI and the plan to sedate him. Together we discussed the pros and cons of sedating my child and we both believed we needed other opinion. For me, sedation was completely out of it.
Then a chance meeting with Hon. Busayo Oluwole Oke, my former boss, in Bauchi state on September 19, 2019, led to conversations about my son and he graciously agreed to fly him to the Saudi German Hospital in Dubai where he would get care and a second opinion.
At the hospital in Dubai, after consultation, the doctor who attended to my son again said the boy will need an MRI to image his brain. I again told him in no uncertain terms that I would not want my son to be sedated. I went to the Radiology Department to book his MRI and I was told there that he would be sedated. Again, I told them I did not want my son to be sedated.
This time, I was asked why, I gave them the reasons, I was taken immediately to the consultant anaesthesiologist. When I stepped into his office, he called my son by his name, engaged him in a short but very interesting conversation about his favourite cartoon, his favourite sports, then he came back to ask me why I did not want my son sedated. I told him we had in the past had medical procedures where he was sedated. On those two occasions, he did not wake up until after 4 days. On those occasions, he was younger and I could carry him. Now I do not know how I would handle a semi-conscious 15-year-old.
The man took me through what could possibly happen, he took time to counsel me, he assured me that if he did not regain full consciousness as I feared, then he would not be let out of the hospital until he does and this would be at no cost to me. Having been counselled, I signed consent forms, paid the fees and I got him ready for the MRI. Please figure out the difference in the way we were handled.
The MRI itself was quite eventful. It took nearly 30 minutes, 10 personnel, allowing me into the room, to be able to get him sedated. At some point, they were to abort the process and cancel to reschedule; I dropped a couple of tears and we tried for the last time, then it worked. With him asleep, they strapped several things on him, on his toe, his legs some were stuck to his chest, something covered his nose- the process began while I waited at the ante-room, I looked up to God, my heart literally in my mouth “God, we have done what can possibly be done, please help us.”
When they stretchered him out then took him to the observation room, I was asked to come in with him after I was given protective wears. I was the only person allowed to come into the observation room, as there were other patients there but they were unaccompanied.
After about an hour, the nurse asked me if he was awake, I nodded in the negative and she asked me to talk to him. I called his name, he answered me, he asked me where he was and why he was in that room, he asked if he was unconscious and if his MRI had been done—he was awake and alert.
Before we left, they kept asking me if he was ok, if I thought he was fine and I answered now in the affirmative. Even then, I did not leave the hospital until after another two hours. I stayed back in the lobby, which looked more like the lobby of a five-star hotel and not a hospital.
The Radiologist I saw in the hospital in Nigeria was probably as educated if not more educated than the one I saw in Dubai. I sighed, reminiscing. We need a new orientation if we must move Nigeria forward.
Before I forget, at the start of the process that led to our journey to Dubai, I had gone to the website of the SGH where I placed my inquiry and request for medical care, stating my child’s condition. I got an email within 24hours and a WhatsApp chat immediately by an official who said he was from MediGence and his duty included helping me get my hospital appointment and any other thing I would require.
From the moment of the first contact, he would send me email, then send same message to my WhatsApp, or call my attention to the email if I did not respond. He did not know that through that conversation, I was on transit from Asaba in Delta state to Abuja, so internet access was fluctuating. Through his WhatsApp messages, I was able to stay abreast, book the appointment and scheduled meetings, in addition to a very rewarding conversation.
On the Nigeria side, Honourable Wole has a resourceful and committed team. All went very well in booking my flight, until I needed a DPNA code, which would help to make travel easy for my child. Then they handed me over to the travel agent himself.
The agent asked me if I wanted a wheel chair, I said I did not need a wheel chair but I will be requiring special services for my son both at the airport and through the duration of the flight. He said he would get back to me. He never did and he even stopped reading my WhatsApp messages. I made frantic calls, when he finally had time to pick my call, he casually told me he does not know what the code is about and no one he asked seemed to know. “So why did you not get back to me”, I asked? If he had, I would have guided him on what he should request for, because as parents of children with special needs, we are abreast of international developments and we guide those who support our children. He told me to get to the airport early to see if there is anything that could be done to support us.
At the airport, I spoke with the airline officials at the counter, they filled several things on their sheets. That was all the special care we got. I worked extra hard to help my child get through airport protocols.
The team from MediGence however, were with us through the journey from takeoff, to our flight change in Cairo, until we got to Dubai. They had a car waiting to pick us at the airport. Even during our hospital stay, as I visited the hospital, MediGence was still in touch, asking if the appointment was going on well or if we had any problems. They were interested in reviews, they wanted my comments on how they fared.
They sent me several messages asking me if I had any problem and if all was going well. Yes, I had a problem. I paid much higher than they told me I was going to pay. That put a sever strain on our budget, so severe that our benefactor Honorable Oluwole Oke had to send in addition funds, my family and loved ones also had to send in money. It was traumatic for me and I have told them to not let any other person go through such a trauma. Not everyone coming to Dubai is rich. Some of us are beneficiaries of goodwill, and we would not want to stretch that good will. Since I returned from Dubai, they still have asked about my child and about my trip.
Unknown to them, some of us are on medical trip so we gave very little attention to the warm welcome at the airport, where they were handing out free sim cards, a voucher for tourism where they say they will give free gifts – I am still pained that I missed out on some freebies.
The speed with which we went through immigration was commendable. The Nigerian Immigration Service at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport were also professional, courteous and tolerant of my son. He was a handful, asking questions and challenging everyone. When only one immigration officer out of the dozens we encountered asked “madam anything for us to drink water?”, I concluded that government’s anti-corruption drive was indeed, succeeding!
After our hospital processes, it was time to see Dubai. Everyone I met encouraged us to make an effort to see Dubai. They told me how to get around on a cheap budget. A lady taxi driver, a Nigerian was my guide. She took us to iconic places.
As a journalist, I am not oblivious of the fault lines even in this city where things seem to be working seamlessly. I learnt of the migration issues and arbitrary deportation on mere suspicion. There was also the lingering pay-cut palava in Dubai, owing to the slash in the pay of migrants workers.
These issues notwithstanding, every person I saw on duty was indeed on duty and doing their work-to satisfy the visitors.
Someday, my fellow countrymen and women will understand that philosophy. Nigeria’s infrastructure will definitely get better as we continue to hold government to task but Nigerians must play their part by guarding such infrastructure jealously.
The night out was quite interesting as I took my child to the Burj Khalifa. We watched the dancing fountain and visited the Dubai mall.
I loved it here, my son loved it too and says he wants to come back here because of the electricity. He kept exclaiming: ‘Wow, there is light!” While on the metro, he kept pointing at the bright city lights that shone everywhere. “This boy is embarrassing my country”, I thought to myself.
“I must go home before they blind me with all these bright lights. I love my country and I am used to the dim lights.”
Honestly the reflection was too much for my eyes. By the way, I hear the UAE has begun Energy Plan 2050.
Thankfully, Nigeria has begun its own Energy Plan 2030. That is just good enough a move for us for now.