A couple of months ago, I read an interesting book: “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It is an educative book, I must say. It revolves around how habits work, and how they can be changed.According to Duhigg, the book draws on hundreds of academic studies, interviews with more than three hundred scientists and executives, and research conducted at dozens of companies. After reading it, I do not doubt Duhigg’s claims.
There is an account in the book that has got me thinking ever since. It’s about a certain Eugene Pauly. Eugene Pauly, or “E.P.” as he is known in medical literature, lost his ability to create new memories after he suffered a viral infection that ate up the part of the brain that performs that function. He would go on to upend much of what is known about habits.
As the story goes, one day in 1993, Eugene started vomiting and writhing with stomach cramps. His dehydration was so severe that his wife rushed him to the hospital. His temperature quickly rose causing his sweat to become yellow. He became delirious, then violent, yelling and pushing at the nurses. After sedation, a physician inserted a long needle between two vertebra in the small of his back and extracted a few drops of cerebrospinal fluid.
The part that has got me thinking is this excerpt:
“The doctor performing the procedure sensed trouble immediately. The fluid surrounding the brain and spinal nerves is a barrier against infection and injury. In healthy individuals, it is clear and quick flowing, moving with an almost silky rush through a needle. The sample from Eugene’s spine was cloudy and dripped out sluggishly, as if filled with microscopic grit….He was suffering from viral encephalitis, a disease caused by a relatively harmless virus that produces cold sores, fever blisters, and mild infections on the skin. In rare cases, however, the virus can make its way into the brain, inflicting catastrophic damage as it chews through the delicate folds of tissue where our thoughts, dreams—and according to some, souls—reside.”
Eugene was treated with some antiviral drugs. He went into a coma for 10 days and was close to death. However, as the drug fought the disease, the virus disappeared. He was then managed back into health. Though he suffered from amnesia, he was still able to live a normal life. He died in 1998.
Now, I’m not a doctor and certainly do not intend to bore you with neurology, or the structure of the brain. This article is not even about habits. What has got me thinking is this, “if that incident had happened in Nigeria, what would have become of Eugene?”
The reason why that question gives me a lot of concern is because of the state of our healthcare system, which is in total decay. People lose their lives over simple treatable ailments in our hospitals! People still die of malaria, migraine, running stomach, dehydration, and even of tiredness! So I shudder at the thought of our hospitals handling “viral encephalitis,” whatever that means! I doubt the diagnosis would have come out right. Eugene would have been treated for something else, if treatment was given at all.
The diagnosis would have been that he’d gone mad. And the cause of the madness? Witchcraft! His never-do-well uncle in the village, or his witch grandmother or aunt, or that antagonist at his office would have shared the culpability in various measures. Then, the physician would take his wife aside and say to her, “I’ve seen cases like this before; it’s not ordinary. Contact your pastor, imam, or babalawo immediately. It’s spiritual!” And if the wife was not very schooled in such matters, the physician would recommend some spiritual experts.
In Nigeria, nobody dies an ordinary death. There is always a spiritual dimension. But before you conclude that Nigerians are too superstitious you have to consider the environment Nigerians find themselves. Most hospitals in Nigeria are death centres. They do not have what it takes to keep a healthy person alive, let alone a sick one. They lack equipment, and medical personnel are grossly inadequate, especially in rural areas. The big hospitals are mostly government-owned. The problem, however, is that some of the doctors also have private clinics. So their job in the government hospitals, for which they are paid, becomes that of customer acquisition for their clinics. They refer most of the patients to their private clinics, which are not better, but cost more. Of course, there are good doctors and hospitals, but then, they too are hampered by inadequate equipment. They do not have the tools to work with.
When you witness the conditions in most hospitals, you will lose all faith in the system to help you get better. While we hear of doctors and researchers battling to save “a life” abroad, in Nigerian hospitals, life is treated as common. It is out of desperation that most Nigerians have turned to the spiritual for help. They reason since they can’t get help from the medical establishments, why not try the spiritual side? Some pursue both at the same time, just to have backup.
But then, the reason Nigeria’s healthcare system is so poor is not due to lack of money; but rather, because of a lack of political will, and the looting of funds meant for that purpose over the years by politicians. These politicians do not use hospitals in Nigeria, so they don’t care how incapacitated the healthcare system is. They go for the best healthcare abroad.
For example, Nigeria’s President Buhari is currently in London for medical treatment. He’d spent 49 days in London earlier this year for the same purpose. Well, I believe the president should get the best medical attention he can get; my point is,most Nigerians are not afforded such basic necessities. When the late President Yar’Adua got sick, he was treated in the best medical facility in Saudi Arabia. When the former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan was sick, she was taken abroad for months. When Senator Godswill Akpabio, the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, was involved a minor auto accident, he was flown abroad. This was in spite of his claims that he’d built a world class hospital in Uyo, the state capital. It’s the same with all our politicians, whether presidents, governors, ministers, commissioners, or special assistants or advisers. It seems the coming-of-age rite of our politicians is getting medical treatment abroad. The slightest headache is treated abroad. Their lives are so precious they can’t risk using medical facilities in Nigeria.
However, such value is not placed on the lives of ordinary Nigerians who have no option but to use the ineffective healthcare system at home. They have to pray that they don’t get infected with another disease while treating the one that brought them there.
There is nothing that sums up better the value the Nigerian government places on Nigerian lives than the fact that meningitis, a disease with cure, has killed over eight hundred Nigerians (according to some reports) this year alone with no clear government action to stop it. Ironically, it is during the same period that the president has spent over 50 days in London for medical treatment.
However, the confounding part is that Nigerians fight themselves over these politicians! The same politicians who don’t care whether they live or die. They justify their proxy combats with ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. He is my brother! She attends my church! He prayed beside me in last Jumaat prayers! Fair enough. But the question is, how has that benefited you? How has it made life better in your community?
If you witness when Nigerian politicians meet (like they did recently in IBB’s daughter’s wedding), you will realize that claiming kinship with them is self-deceit. They do not portray any ethnic, religious or political difference. There is that camaraderie you can only find in cult groups or brotherhoods. Which shows that there are only two ethnic or religious groups in Nigeria: the political elite, and other Nigerians. So you see, that senator is not your kinsman or kinswoman; that governor does not share your religious beliefs. That’s why they live apart, shop apart, eat apart, and handle their medical treatments apart. They don’t care about you, your community, church, mosque, or shrine. They see you only as a means to their political ends, nothing more. That’s why they disappear only to reappear at the next election cycle.
Those who are truly from your ethnic and religious group are those you meet in the hospital, at the market, in traffic, or at that restaurant by the corner. Those are the ones who understand what you are going through. Those are your kinsmen and kinswomen, not those well groomed, manicured and potbelly politicians on TV. Having performing leaders benefits you more than having your so-called kinsman whose corruption and ineptitude ruins your life and means of livelihood.
Let’s be wise!
Image credit: Mike Asuquo