You recently lost your younger brother to Lassa fever, believed to have been contracted from one of his patients, was it always his dream to become a doctor?
Yes, that was always his dream. He died at the age of 34. Because he wanted to become a doctor, he wasted almost five years after his secondary education. He had to go to many universities, seeking admission.
When he got the required examination score, he went to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State and was rejected because he was not an indigene of Kaduna. From there he went to University of Jos, Plateau State and they also rejected him. He continued to seek university admission until I told him to apply to the Benue State University, Makurdi. I told him that if he applied to the state university, we could assist him and that was what happened. I was able to render necessary assistance and he was given admission.
How did you feel when he graduated from the college of medicine?
I was very happy; the entire family was extremely happy when he graduated. He was determined to succeed so his death is very painful.
What were some of the sacrifices he made to become a doctor?
Dr. Philip Dzuana was a promising young man. Sometimes when he came to me and I asked him why I never saw him with girlfriends, he would say he didn’t have time for girlfriends and that he was pursuing his educational career. He died without a girlfriend. No girlfriend cried for him because he didn’t have any.
How did you hear about his death?
He died in my hands. It happened on a Wednesday morning. He was staying with one of his colleagues. I was called around 5am and told that he was sick so I went to get him. I took him to Bishop Murray Hospital, Makurdi. They admitted him there but later that night, they transferred him to the Benue University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi. They ran some tests and started treatment immediately.
We slept in the hospital that night and his treatment continued the following day. When they suspected that it was Lassa fever, they put him in a separate ward. After spending two days in the hospital, they referred us to a specialist hospital in Edo State. They gave us a referral to Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital. We left on Sunday morning for the hospital in an ambulance belonging to the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, in company with a nurse and a driver.
When we got there, their doctors and nurses started running up and down to give him treatment. In fact, those doctors never gave up when they discovered that he was also a doctor. They said I would not be able to sleep with him as it was Lassa fever but I insisted that he was my brother and that anywhere they put him, I must be there with him. So, we slept in the Lassa ward together.
Two days later, after I bathed him, a male nurse came to give him drugs. Shortly after, he started convulsing. The nurse started running away. They felt it was death sentence to be there with him. So I asked the nurse why he was running away. In fact, I shouted at the nurse. I held my brother tightly. Assuming I was not there, what would have happened? It could have been a worse death. This was someone they said one could not touch or get close to; I slept in the isolated Lassa ward with him till morning and bathed him. So when I shouted at the nurse and asked him to assist me, do you know my boy came back to life, thinking that he was the one I was shouting at? Later, he started convulsing again and his breathing became heavy. The doctors said he had to go for another dialysis.
They conducted first one (dialysis), second one and third one. After the dialysis, his breathing was still heavy and he was moved to another ward. At that point, they prevented me from joining him but I could see him through the glass. They tied his legs and hands to the bed. I felt they didn’t want him to continue to struggle. I kept watching him and after some time, he never struggled again. Later, a doctor came to tell me that my younger brother could not make it.
If you believe in God, you can overcome every situation. So, I quickly pulled myself together and went straight to the ward to see his corpse. There was nothing I could do again. So, I called people in the village to tell them to put necessary things on the ground for his burial. As a matter of fact, the hospital management did their best because they made effort to ensure he survived. But I have noticed that when health workers see patients in such a condition, they are always afraid. But it could make the situation precarious as the patient is left with nobody around them. He died around 5am that Wednesday.
He was put in a body bag and I drove straight to my village in the Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of the state where the corpse was buried that same day in the presence of some doctors from the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi.
Do you think it is good for health workers to be running away from patients?
It is unfortunate that people do that because it means they don’t believe in God. If you believe in God, you will not be too afraid of things like that. If you don’t have a father, how do you exist? If you don’t have God, you will continue to run but I have God and that is my own power. They discouraged me from going near him. They explained that there were people who brought their loved ones to the hospital and contracted the disease in the process, and that the patients were treated and they survived, but those who brought them didn’t survive it.
It was a sad experience to see a medical worker who ought to care for my brother running away from him. Even when he was convulsing, the nurse ran away to the extent that he stumbled because he saw death coming. They (medical personnel) don’t need to run away; they should have faith in God because they are offering a service and it is only God that can protect them.
What was the first thing that came to your mind your mind immediately your kid brother gave up the ghost?
It was terrible. Like I said, God has power to make you feel as if nothing happened.
How difficult has this period been for you and your parents?
In fact, it is a very difficult situation for the whole family. But for me, who witnessed everything till he died, it was a terrible and unimaginable experience. Before he died, I was the one running errands, buying medications and so on. It was hell. I believe no family will pray for that kind of situation; no one expected it.
What are the fond memories you have of him?
He was a very nice person; he never bothered me. After he got university admission, he came and told me about school fees he had to pay. I said okay. In fact, he never bothered me, just like others. I have trained three of them up to university level. They were not bothered about social life. What my brother wanted was to qualify for his medical profession, which he did. He was very determined and courageous. You know that studying medicine takes up to six years in some universities but at the Benue State University, they spent 10 years.
During his time in the university, there was no scholarship for them and he did not receive any assistance from the state government.
He loved me so much; he was always waiting to hear what I would say. He was a nice child.
Did you ever think his job could put him in danger?
I know the hazards associated with their job. I am an herbalist and everyone in the family, including the late Dr Dzuana knew this. It is sad that he fell ill this time, he thought it was just fever and as a medical doctor, he and his colleagues were treating it until it went out of hand. That was when he came to the hospital.
Would you have preferred if he was never a doctor than to die in the process of helping others to survive?
No, I wouldn’t have preferred him not to be a doctor. When it is your time, you will go. It is good to do a job that allows you to help people and there are so many ways of doing God’s work. Medicine is one of the ways by which you can do God’s work.
Did he know initially that it was Lassa fever?
I don’t know because we didn’t discuss it before he died but I believe his colleagues must have mentioned it to him when they were treating him. I don’t think he knew he had contracted Lassa fever.
Do you think his case was well managed when he became a patient?
His case was well managed because his colleagues never gave up. At the teaching hospital in Makurdi where he was, the medical director came there to see him and said we should not pay a kobo. His colleagues took care of other things. If it had to do with treatment, they would have done it.
And when we went to Edo, we had a rebate of N100,000. That is to tell you how they cooperated. Those hospitals managed things very well. At Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, he was unable to make it because we brought him there late.
What advice do you have for doctors treating similar ailments?
Some countries take care of their citizens but it is not so in some others because of corruption and lack of provision of adequate facilities for the protection of medical personnel. There is no place without professional hazards even in developed countries but the difference is that developed countries provide personal protective equipment for doctors.
So you leave a doctor unprotected when you know that they can be infected by a contagious disease. Sometimes, young doctors are not very experienced in protecting themselves against deadly diseases. They are eager to help and have a lot of energy. My kid brother contracted it from a patient.
Assuming he was still alive, would you have liked him to be treating COVID-19 patients?
Why not? He was a doctor; I would gladly allow him to help society. The mistake I made was that when COVID-19 pandemic came, I should have called him to come for medicine which would take out any bad thing in his system. I thought about calling him but it slipped my memory. Assuming my brother took that medicine, nothing would have happened to him by the grace of God.
Government should provide adequate protective equipment for doctors and pay them good salaries and allowances and not owe them. Sometimes, doctors complain about being owed salaries and not being paid well. But these are people who on a daily basis risk their lives to save others.
Source: Sunday PUNCH