By IFEANYI ODIGWE
For non-doctors, the alarming news of the last few days has been that Lagos state government (LSG) sacked 788 doctors from state hospitals.
Firstly, how did we go from a winnable position (LSG not adhering to a signed agreement) to this lopsided loss in the court of public opinion? I thought we were supposed to be the smart ones. Surely we didn’t spend all those years just learning anatomy, at least I remember playstation, beer and some lessons in street smart.
We live in a tribal society: ethnic tribes, religious tribes and in this case professional tribe, so I understand why non-doctors would find the fact that doctors should ever have a reason to go on strike repulsive and why doctors would find the lack of understanding from the general populace unbelievable.
Like all polarized debates, people are leaning towards their gut instincts, which is hardly objective, but emotionally driven. The doctors association needs to get off the emotional debate because trust me statements such as “oh, I work too hard and earn so little” is never going to come out tops against sentiments like “my dad died yesterday because doctors were on strike.” Looking at it in this manner, it becomes easier to understand why we are losing what Dr. Filani calls the “PR war” and why we are likely to lose future ones.
As a doctor, I know first hand what it is like to treat patients without light, giving injection drugs in the dark, putting myself at the risk of needlestick injuries far from the watching eyes of the public. I do it because, like the public, I care about your dad not dying even though I know you would never ask if a needle pricked me last night.
I remember a particular incidence. We had an emergency, an unconscious pregnant woman with a blood pressure 280/220mmhg (severe hypertension) who was almost at term. She was unbooked and my call was almost over but I was available. Her husband had just 200 Naira on him. We had to operate on her within the next hour with no blood, no money and no drugs. But guess what? We did! That was the first time I had a needle stick injury because NEPA/PHCN was at their norm. Minutes later the air was filled with the cry of a pretty baby girl in the arms of a doting grandmother and father. In the background were the moans of a slowly rousing mother and then there was me with a pensive look on my face while awaiting the results of my HIV test. I was okay.
Even though, I had worked overtime and had to be up to make work in the morning which was now 2 hours away, there was no complain, no feeling of accomplishment because in my “tribe” I was not unique. It is the story of 788 and thousands of other people I share a proud profession with. I got a gracious thank you from the family, a thankful smile from the now recuperating mother and a smiling appreciation from my parents when I narrated it to them.
So to the “court of public opinion” we don’t just measure remunerations in cash only, we do in kind as well. I am sure I am a thousand “thank you” richer and a million “smiles” wealthier because of the job I do. Now all we are asking is that the LASG should match our generosity with trustworthiness and our patience with understanding.
Doctors need to make strike about more than just a salary because frankly that is the way it seems. We let government at all level off too easy with their lip service to befitting hospitals. Hopefully the next battle after this should be about medical equipment, services and training and every other thing but salary because we lose when we fail to educate the public about true state (Hint: Afghanistan) of health care in our hospitals.
Lastly, I have always felt that studying medicine was too cheap in Nigeria. If we are to raise standards we need to start in the medical colleges and not in the hospitals years later. Besides, the million-dollar question is, if the government trains us, shouldn’t they dictate our salaries? The answer is yes and that is why we demand that the LSG should pay the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) as dictated and signed by the government. The LSG should focus on saving our dads, rather than planting about 788 trees around Lagos in the name of beautification, after all, last I checked Lagos state was not the “Centre of trees”.
Ifeanyi Odigwe- firstname.lastname@example.org