A reporter from THE VENT REPUBLIC, Tony Ademiluyi went undercover to the famous Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Lagos popularly known as ‘Yaba Left’ to talk to some outpatients and investigate the goings on with regards to how they are treated there. The identities of the patients are concealed because of the stigma that they face from the larger society.
Here is the report:
It is Thursday morning and I enter the front gate of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos.
I posed as an outpatient coming for a visit to the psychiatrist.
I get there as early as 7 am so as to be among the early birds. To my amazement, there is a crowd of people old, middle-aged and young waiting to see the doctor.
The hall is so crowded that there is nowhere to even stand. I rest beside the door to the entrance and observe with eagle eyes.
I notice that majority of the patients appear sane and one would never know of their health challenge if seen outside the precinct of the hospital. This got me curious as I had the impression that everyone in Yaba Left was a street vagrant who roamed about half clad. I stumbled on a young man who couldn’t have been more than 30 reading a newspaper and making negative remarks about the state of Nigeria. Our eyes met and he smiled. The smile was disarming and I extended my right hand for a handshake. He responded by gripping it firmly like the CEO of a blue chip company will do to the shareholders after the latter must have collected their dividends.
‘My name is Charles Obi’ he said.
‘I am Tope Williams’ I responded.
‘I have been here since 6 am and I come from Ikorodu’. I left my house by 3.30 am and these useless people have still not attended to us. I don’t know the excuse that I will tell my boss if I come late to work today. I have lost my job twice because I reported late after my appointment and I can’t afford to lose this one. What will I tell my newly married wife who is expecting out first child?’
‘I am so sorry. Are things really bad here? I replied looking a bit astounded that a patient could fend for himself and a family. I had the impression that all patients were helpless and dependent on others.
‘Are you kidding me? Don’t you know how things work here? You must be new to this place.’
‘Yes I am.’ I responded.
‘Where do you usually go for your appointment?’ he fired back.
‘I go to the one at Uselu in Edo State. I just relocated to Lagos a few weeks ago and this is my first time here.’ I stammered.
‘Oh I see!’
‘Attention Everybody! A loud voice boomed from afar.
There was silence.
‘Good Morning All! As usual you pay five hundred naira for your doctor’s appointment with your small card. You pay attention for when your name on your file will be called so that you will see the doctor. There are very few doctors on duty today and we have to make things fast and easy for us all so that we can go home early. If you don’t have a complaint there will be no need to see the doctor. We will just get your prescription and you can upstairs to buy your drugs. If you have a complaint then you will see the doctor. Any questions? No!’
Charles Obi went to pay for his appointment. It was not his appointment day and so he had to pay a fine of 200 naira.
He then went on to say: ‘I don’t understand why the administrative members of staff will still be carrying files in the 21st century. Can’t they computerize everything? The curse of leadership permeates everywhere from top to bottom!’
‘I am so sorry. I thought that things will be different in Lagos being the centre for excellence.’
‘It is an ironic cliché; nothing works in this joke of a mega city.’
‘How expensive are your drugs?’
‘Haaaaa! I spend about fifteen thousand naira a month on them. I buy ephilim, respidal, tegritol, modecate injection and ataine. How about you? Which drugs do you take?’
‘I have forgotten the names of them I stuttered like a child learning a new language.’
‘That is bad! You should always know the names of your drugs. The drugs are so expensive because of our terrible leadership. HIV patients are lucky because their drugs are free in most cases but psychiatric patients bear the brunt as the drugs are quite dear. We have to take them for the rest of our lives and appointment days are not on weekends making it extremely difficult for employees like me to make it for our appointments as we dare not tell our employers of our peculiar health challenge as a result of the discrimination. I have relapsed once in my former place of work and it was most embarrassing.’
‘I thought patients could be weaned off the drugs after sometime. I countered.’
‘It happens in rare cases but hardly in Nigeria. Even if it were to happen in Nigeria. You need to be seeing only one doctor as well as a psychotherapist and psychologist. In Yaba Left, we see different doctors on our appointment days and we hardly see the psychologists or psychotherapists. I have never seen one in my twenty-five years of being a patient. The side effects of the drugs are terrible. They make me excessively hungry which has contributed to my massive weight gain as well as sleepy during the day. My boss nearly fired me when he caught me sleeping on duty and my heavily pregnant wife had to come to the office to beg on my behalf before he changed his mind”.
‘Wow! My mind went blank for some seconds.’
He continued: ‘Mental illness is like any other illness like diabetes, hypertension etc that may not have a cure but can be managed. Why then do we suffer so much? I remember when I wanted to visit the American Embassy; the online form asked if you had a mental illness. Why?’
‘Yes!’ he responded.
His file was fished out and he was asked if he had a complaint to which he responded in the affirmative.
I followed him to another hall where a long queue of patients waited to see just about five doctors.
We sat beside each other in an open hall on the field and he rambled on: ‘There are not up to two thousand psychiatrists in the country for about twenty million patients. Many of them have fled abroad for greener pasture ……’
He halted abruptly as his name was being called by the doctor.
I saw a tall, well shaped fair damsel and I unconsciously followed her back into the hall where the patients paid for their drugs in Ecobank. There was a long queue to pay for drugs and she sat beside me.
‘Hello!’ she said with a winsome British accent.
‘Hi’ I responded!
‘Please I need a favour. My drugs costs twenty thousand naira and I begged my doctor to reduce it because of the astronomical cost but he refused insisting that I may relapse which I don’t want to as the cost of it is something I cannot bear. My fiancée dumped me because I once relapsed and I lost my job recently as a result of it. Can you please spare me anything you have?’
‘Life can be so cruel! How can such a beauty be afflicted with such a malady! Do they allow transfers here as I don’t have cash on me.’ I said.
‘Not at all! The bank only allows payment in cash and I didn’t come with my atm card.’
I left the hall and withdrew ten thousand naira for her. She almost worshipped me as a god. She disappeared and I forgot to ask her for her name.
I turned back and saw Charles. I have finally bought my drugs. Please follow me downstairs where I will take my monthly injection.
There was a crowd downstairs and the garrulous Charles engaged me in banter.
‘I made friends with a doctor who gives me a sick leave report anytime its appointment day. One must beat the system as we must survive.’
I broke into a wry smile as ‘Man must wack’ as they say in Nigeria.
‘How was it? I asked when he came out.’
‘Painful as usual but I am used to it. There has been a bill before the corrupt and inept National Assembly to provide for a better deal for patients. It is called the Orphan Bill as it has been lying fallow for more than a decade now. I doubt if it will ever get passed. It is supposed to protect us from discrimination especially from employers. Under normal circumstances, I am supposed to have an HMO for this and not pay out of pocket. Mental illness is not always due to drug abuse. Sometimes it could just happen to somebody maybe due to grief, depression or emotional challenges. There is need to stop the ignorant stereotyping!’
‘Miracles do happen I replied.’
‘Tragically, it may not happen in my life time!’
We exchanged phone numbers and I promised to keep in touch with him.
What a day! What an education! My visit was an eye opener and I vowed to be a voice for the voiceless patients and use my media skills to champion their cause as they deserved to live normal lives free from discrimination and neglect.
I will use my media clout to rally round activists and influencers to get the indolent National Assembly to pass the Mental Health Bill so that the discrimination against the patients will stop. Also, I will also start a campaign to get the government to also provide them with free drugs so as to reduce the economic burden on them.
I foresee in no distant future that the ailment will be talked about in loud voices without the stigma attached to it. It all starts with a campaign and I am more than ready to take up the gauntlet!
END OF REPORT
THE VENT REPUBLIC, an equal opportunities employer and a firm believer in the non discrimination of persons on whatever basis shows unreserved empathy with the patients on their plight and makes a strident call on the National Assembly to make laws to protect these patients.
They deserve love and not hate and abuse as in some cases it happened to them due to no fault of theirs and it can happen to anyone.
The National Assembly should live up to its onerous responsibilities in making legislations that will make life more pleasant for them as we believe that they can effectively contribute their quota towards nation building.
Members of the Society should also treat these patients with love and not make them feel less human as every mortal on earth has a challenge. The change should start with each individual and in no time will it permeate to the larger society where we can all live together as one big happy family!
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