Aremu: Needy, Abandoned And Emasculated

Vanguard (Lagos)
February 4, 2003
Posted to the web February 4, 2003

ON a bed in a far corner of Ward B2 at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, is 24-year-old Aremu Femi Rufus, an inmate of the ward for the past 12 months. Femi, as he is fondly called, lies very still on the bed. He looks lost, forlorn and disoriented as he reminisces in a world of his own. But he quickly cheers up on realizing that he has visitors who are interested in his case.

Femi's story is as unusual as it is pathetic. No thanks to a freak accident at his place of work about a year ago, he is today a man without a vital part of his anatomy - his male organ. Femi is never at pain to relate to whoever cares to know how he lost his organ even though it has been well discussed all over the health institution. Despite his sad condition, his greatest belief is that he is lucky to be alive.

Before he was admitted February 18, 2002, Femi was a healthy and energetic staff of Mabel Link hotel in Owode Yewa, along Idiroko, Ogun State. The previous day, he had reported as usual for the day's work On the fateful day, there had been a power cut in the neighborhood, and in his capacity as supervisor and general handy man, the onus fell on him to switch on the diesel-powered generating plant on the premises.

Dutifully, he had gone to put on the generator, only to discover it was low on fuel. As was the practice, he set about refilling the tank from a stand-by jerry can, but committed a grave error for which he paid dearly. In his haste, Femi, the only son in his family, failed to switch off the machine before re-fueling, and as fate would have it, the fiery liquid exploded in the process - engulfing him in the resultant inferno. Although he suffered minor burns to the abdominal region and thighs, his groin region bore the brunt of the explosion and in the process he had his male organ amputated.

But that singular event was just the beginning of Femi's problems. Although people rallied round to save him from certain death as a result of the gruesome incident, the best the hotel could do was to rush him to LUTH, deposit some money, and wash its hands off him thenceforth.

"I am the only son of my parents," he began as he tells his story, tracing the time of the tragic incident. "We were three in my family before my father died. My mother divorced my father before he died, so my sisters and I are left alone to fend for ourselves. I picked a job with this hotel as a manager some time ago, and to the best of my knowledge, my boss and I have always had a cordial relationship before the accident.

"What happened still surprises me. When I tried to refill diesel in the hotel's generator it just blew up. I didn't do anything more than that. I was only trying to pour the diesel into the working generator when it blew, tore my long gown into shreds and cut off my private part. I was brought to LUTH the next day 18th February, 2002." To worsen his plight, Femi's own family members stopped visiting him after a short while of his sojourn in the hospital. Worse still, at the moment he is severely cash-strapped to the extent that he cannot pay for the vital fifth surgery required to restore his manhood. He has been discharged, but cannot go home since he is indebted to LUTH to the tune of several thousands of naira.

So, abandoned by family and employer in the last one year after undergoing four series of operations, he faces an uncertain future. "I cannot go for the fifth operation because I have no money to continue. Right now, my bill is running up to N200,000. I need at least N2 million for the surgery and at least another N20,000 and two pints of blood. My only sister has stopped visiting and my company has long abandoned me. The hospital cannot continue the treatment because of fund though they have been feeding me," he notes amidst tears.

Asked how much his company has contributed to his upkeep so far, Femi could only confirm that the hotel only paid the initial deposit of N20,000 and also bought him some drugs. "My greatest problem now is that I don't know if my manhood would be active again. The chances of being able to have children of my own may have been totally ruined," he manages to utter as he sobs even harder.

Since his discharge administratively, Mrs Christiana Akinmejiwa, Assistant Nursing Officer in Charge of Femi's Ward, says it has been purely on humanitarian ground as the hospital has not stopped feeding him. "We are feeding him and he is still lying on our bed. We are giving him all necessary attention except for drugs because he is owing and the pharmacy has stopped attending to him because of his financial distress. But any left over from good Samaritans, we use them for him."

Akinmejiwa is however unsure how long the ward is prepared to tolerate Femi's presence since he is only occupying a bed that is supposed to generate money for the hospital. "I wouldn't know for now," she confesses. "But occasionally, management looks into cases of indigent patients and discharges them on humanitarian grounds. His own case is being considered. In fact, in late December , the attention of the management task force was drawn to his case. Specifically the CMD promised to look into his case and possibly get the employer to explain why they abandoned their staff here. It is possible that he might be fully discharged.

We 'll support him until treatment is completed - Olagunju

Ayo Olagunju Public Relations Officer, LUTH, speaks on the role of the hospital management towards alleviation of the plight Femi Rufus and of indigent/abandoned patients in the hospital generally. Excerpts:

QUESTION: What is LUTH policy like in situations like this?

ANSWER: When you talk about policy in this kind of situation, we have what we callrf social responsibility. I am sure you've seen the patient attest to his condition. You have seen the patient whose family brought here and abandoned him. I think if you are treating somebody the only time you claim happiness is when the treatment is completed. In this particular case now, that somebody is still needs maybe one or two surgeries. It would be our joy as an hospital to see that this is done and the guy is perfectly taken care of. He has been discharged administratively, but by and large, you still find that he has nowhere to go to. He would prefer a situation where people can come to his aid to raise the necessary fund to complete the surgery so that he could probably treated before leaving the hospital.

Specifically what are the measures in place to checkmate such incidences of abandonment?

It is very difficult to determine when exactly somebody will come to the hospital and abandon a patient. The process is like this. When somebody is brought in as as accident or emergency case, the hospital policy is that for the first 24 hours whatever you are, cleaner or head of state, we have a duty and responsibility to treat you and resuscitate you before even asking for any money. This policy is still on. It is after you are resuscitated, we will now tell you there is going to be financial implication of your staying here. With the obvious indication, all people abandoned in LUTH are not at the accident and emergency section. The accident and emergency centre is just like a kind of stop - over. Somebody is brought in for his condition to be stabilized. Once his condition is stabilized, they are moved to the wards for further treatment. If you bring a patient to the hospital now, after maybe the first 24 or 48 hours and you are told how much the admission deposit will cost, and you pay, LUTH will not say the patient should not go to the ward because its primary duty is to save life. It is when they get to the wards that they start bringing this problem. There are a couple of reasons, like when one comes in through accident and emergency centre we will not know what the situation will be. There is no way somebody that is bringing the patient for example will know whether he has spinal cord injury and that the person may be confined to a wheel - chair for life. It is when the patient finally get to the ward that we now realise that the patient has spinal cord injury and will be confined to wheel chair for life. Then the relations withdraw gradually.

You may find somebody whose expectation is that my relation is sick, let me take him to the hospital within the next one week or so the patient would be out of the hospital. if the person had planned for one week budget he might run away. You find other situation where the patient is their acquaintance or even their co- tenant who bring them to the hospital under distress and they are contributing money to look after such patient, at a point in time things might not become easy. We have a thousand and one reasons why people abandon their people in the hospital. Practically there is no way you can know who exactly is going to abandon his patient or when exactly the patient is going to be abandoned.

What measure do you think is the best to resolve this case, since the patient has been long abandoned for lack of fund?

To the best of my own knowledge, he has not been abandoned because he told me that somebody visited him last week, If he has been abandoned, somebody will not still be coming to check him.

But I spoke to him earlier, he (Femi) told him that his sister has stopped coming to check him..?.

I know but to the best of my knowledge, he is an orphan, it is not an abandonment rather it is lack of financial ability to meet up with his expenses. This is my own summary of the thing. You know the patient is financially handicapped.

What is LUTH doing to help people who are abandoned because they are financially handicapped?

I have said it before and I am saying it again, that , of course the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) if it is properly run the way it is being done elsewhere in other countries where it is run successfully, I know that, it will go a long way to alleviate the suffering of our people. Secondly, you find a situation where there is a specific fund for specific areas like now, we have Friends of the Needy Fund. Something of that nature. If there is a kind of large sum of money that can be put in a kind of interest generating account so that from time to time at least that could look after patient who are truly indigent.

With his condition now, will the hospital be ready to discharge him, if he so wished?

I think you will agree with me that we have done a lot for him. I am still confirming it to you that I believe strongly that based on your publication, people will come to his aid and as soon as they do, the Hospital is still willing and we are still going to support him more to make sure that his treatment is completed, because it wouldn't be our joy to abandon him mid way.

From available information, he requires about N1.5 million for surgery and it is clear that he has no money to pay, will LUTH continue to accommodate him without him completing the treatment?

Let me tell you categorically that we've done it in the past for people we don't know and we'll still continue to do it. When we identify a truly indigent patient, the management board reviews the case, treat them and allow people who genuinely cannot pay to go. The issue of N1.5 million you just mentioned is coming to me as a surprise, I believe and I am convinced, it has been done by few credible media organisations in the past, if the plight of Mr. Femi Rufus is brought to Nigerians, I am convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that people would help him as a continuation of our own support for him, whatever, we can do, we are still going to support him to make sure that the treatment is completed.

Assuming he is ultimately unable to settle his bill, in what ways will LUTH assist him and for how long does the hospital intend to hold him?

When he is perfectly okay, depending on whatever the medical team recommendation is since the guy is not wheelchair-bound. As you know what has happened to him affected his private part. Had it been we have somebody that has been amputated or on the wheel chair and life goes even if it is rehabilitation he needs or whatever, life goes on when he is properly treated. I do know that with medicine something positive would be done about his private part that was affected.

Around 19th December, 2002 he was owing the hospital about N154.000. As from December till now, the bill would be higher than that. I don't know any hospital in Nigeria today whether government or private where you will be receiving treatment and at the same time owing that kind of amount and you're still in the hospital environment and they're still making arrangement to see what could be done to resolve the problem. Basically, we've been looking after the patient from the time we saved the situation till now.

How about LUTH's Friends of the Needy's Fund. Can't he benefit from that?

The Friends of the Needy's Funds was established last year specifically to cater for the truly indigent patients at LUTH, the idea behind it, is that we found a situation where a single patient is owing the hospital N200,000, N600,000 and above, some running into millions of naira as part of our social responsibility we write - off some or all of the bill, but under a situation where subvention is lingering because health sector is not only the sector in the country, we have education and others so it is unreasonably for us to say all funds would be diverted to health sector. We now have to find a way of catering for these indigent patients. Because they are our brothers and sisters. We must not allow them to die because they are not as privileged as we are. What we did last year was that people came out to donate generously to the fund. Even after the launch, there was a case of a particular man who donated half a million naira and wrote a letter on the day of launch, he came, took pictures of some of these patients and noted their debts. He gave a specific instruction that the sum should be used to off-set their bills and we complied.

This is exactly what the Friends of the Needy's is all about, but you find out because of request coming in on almost daily basis it is like you have N100 in your account in the bank unless you have a system whereby you replenish stock if you go there, yesterday you withdraw N10.00, next week N15.00 and upper week N50.00 before you know it, unless you put something there, the account will be in the red. All what we are saying now is that the amount that is in the fund is not something we can now divert lets say to one person, if you have about 60 patients who are coming with request, instead of just taking care of only yourself or myself, we will now say lets share N50.000, N20.00,N100.00 based on their needs and things like that.

The Friends of the Needy's Fund, I can say the money there now is very inadequate, I am using this opportunity to appeal to corporate body, philanthropists, individual bodies, I know Nigerians are very kind and generous people when it comes to saving the life of brothers and sisters and no amount is really too small or too big because you never might be too sure who may be needing this money at any particular point in time. So that explains the reason why the Friend of the Needy's Fund has not been able to exclusively cater for him. I was even asking him because normally, before you can benefit from the fund you must make some kind of request.

There hasn't been any request from the patients.You know by December he was owing about N154.000, I am telling you authoritatively, that there is no way LUTH can retrieve that money from the patient at the end of the day. We might find ourselves in a situation where we have to write off the major part of that money or the whole bill as part of LUTH own social responsibility to the society.

So how are you coping with the running of the hospital since you say the hospital writes off bills incurred by indigent patients?

Let me specifically mention a particular case, there was a time of kerosine explosion, the number of patients at that time was more than we ever had at any particular point in time before. We had never witnessed that kind of patient load from one incident of adulterated kerosine. By the time they came with varying degrees of burns ranging between 35 and 75 per cent burns, the amount of money required by each was colossal. It was so big there was no way the hospital could have afforded it all alone. Luckily as God would have it, the press really came to our aid and this story was taken to town. The press created awareness and we found a situation where people, companies, individuals and organizations came with donations of drugs and materials. All these were documented. Whatever we are doing to assist patients is humanitarian and again, this boils down to the fact that this is not a charity organisation. Things are getting costlier by the day and we have to pay our telephone, electricity, water and telephone bills. All these run into millions of naira monthly from whatever we get from government for which there are specific directives on what they are to be utilized for.

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