Dr Bertha Chioma Ekeh is a consultant neurologist at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, (UUTH) Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. She has great passion for teaching. She is an intelligent academician who passed out of Federal Government Girls College, Owerri, Imo State, with six alphas and got admitted into the university with a score of 323 out of 400 to study Medicine and Surgery with special emphasis on Neurology. It was, therefore, not surprising when she was recently celebrated during the launch of her books on neurology on Amazon.com, the global e-bookshop and marketplace. Her works are distributed through academics, institutions and libraries all over the world. In this interview, she pulled the curtain to give us a peep into her world, where nerves helped to turn thoughts into actions. Excerpts:
Give us a snapshot of Bertha Ekeh before she became a consultant neurologist?
I love to introduce myself as a child of two teachers. My parents were teachers in the days when teachers were respected, disciplined, not wealthy, but were prepared to provide the basic necessities of life which include good education and discipline. Most people say they find me disciplined and principled. Therefore, I consider my background the reason I am who I am today. I personally don’t think I know what it means to like or dislike people, but I should rather know the difference between what is right or wrong. To me, whatever that is right is encouraged, applauded and rewarded. Whatever that is wrong is discouraged, punished and abhorred. So, that is my background, it is a background of discipline, putting your foot down on that which is right. It is not only about me, but my family; we are disciplined, focused and achievers. My teacher-parents were Mr Lawrence and Mrs Selina O. Ekeh from Umuovum Ulakwo, Owerri in Owerri North LGA, Imo State. Both are of blessed memories.
What attracted you to study Medicine and Surgery? Was it out of passion or personal choice?
It might surprise you to know that I didn’t want to study medicine; but as a child, my family had a first aid box and my mother allowed me to administer the drugs from the box. I actually wanted to be a mathematics teacher, which is my passion. I was supposedly good, according to my classmates. My classmates used to call me ‘My Teacher’. So, all I wanted to be in life was a Mathematics teacher. But my secondary school teachers in Federal Government Girls College (FGGC) Owerri, thought otherwise; they felt I had what it takes to study medicine. That was in the days when such courses were reserved for brilliant students, according to my teachers. They said to me, do not go and study a single honour course, go for Medicine. It wasn’t just about me, but the order of the day then that good science students go into such courses. With that most of us in science class studied Medicine, Engineering and Pharmacy.
How do you feel being a doctor today?
Well, mine is a noble profession and when I got into it, especially being a Christian, I consider it a calling and so I strive to do my best. Being a doctor has promoted me, but I look at myself more as a teacher.
You recently launched five books on neurology published by Amazon.com. How did you come about that?
I am a consultant neurologist. That is the study of brain diseases, and it was discovered to be a very difficult and complex part of Medicine. All over the world, medical students and doctors find neurology challenging, daunting and difficult. I did too as a medical student. As a medical student at the University of Port Harcourt, on a certain day I expressed fear about neurology and one of my very senior colleagues who is now a Professor of Paediatrics, Prof Nwadiuto Akani, looked at me and said, you are afraid of neurology; I said yes; she said I used to be afraid too. That degree of honesty was unprecedented. So, I asked her what she did, she said she took her time to study it. So I sat down and started reading neurology. By the end of that weekend, I was teaching my mates neurology. When it comes to teaching, I have a special gift from God. I teach my classmates, siblings, friends, my seniors and juniors, then my students. Even in churches, my pastors sit in my Sunday School classes to listen. I am still teaching till today.
How did you come about writing five neurological books?
Surprisingly, it was not my idea to write books. When I was a senior registrar in Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), residents in Psychiatry also did residency in neurology for three months. On one occasion, one of my colleagues, Dr Kingsley Mayowa Okunoda, now a consultant psychiatrist at JUTH, came for the three months posting and observed me teaching and explaining; he gave me one of my best compliments when he said: ‘I wish I knew you when I was a medical student, I would have done Internal Medicine/Neurology to be like you.’ He encouraged me to write for others to understand.
I started writing with just one-point agenda to make neurology easy until another colleague of mine, now a consultant nephrologist, Dr Udeme Ekrikpo, who was the first person to catch a glimpse of what I was writing, screamed with joy and gave me the needed confidence that boosted my morale. Though he was junior to me, but he is highly intelligent. At a stage, all my works were lost when I lost my laptop at a conference, but mercifully, I had sent the works to my sister’s email address, so I retrieved it when I bought a new laptop. Sometime in late 2017, another friend of mine who lives in the United States, gave me a link and told me “these people published my books which were more of Christian novels”. I was able to click and got into the link, but then my work was too large. I said, let me just cut off the first part which was the evaluation of a person with brain disease, but because I wanted to make it easy, I called it ‘Clinical Neurology Made Easy’.
When that first one came out, I wondered how to break the remaining work. I needed to simplify it, to write on how to know this is the brain, spinal cord, or just the nerves and the muscles. Or what we call the cerebellum, the part of brain in charge of balance. People usually do have a lot of confusion and I needed to thrash that out.
Because of this, I wrote the “Fundamentals of Neurological Diagnosis”, in the first part, I wrote Basic Anatomy of the Brain. Just a simplified version, the second part was the localization of seizure. I wrote mine in one hundred pages because I needed to explain all big words. That is a problem in the language area.
I paid attention to details that will take 3-4 pages.
Though that was not my original plan, I thought I could take it in 20 pages, but it came out in 100 pages. The third part became how to conduct an investigation, test for brain diseases which are very expensive. That is where CT scan and MRI are needed etc. The Fundamentals of Neurological Diagnosis helped me to address the area of the brain involved.
The third one, I started it as a Lecture Note in Neurology. I thought I could write a simple concise Notebook in Neurology, but it kept enlarging, it was my Book Reviewer, a Professor of Paediatrics, Prof Enobong Ikpeme, who read and said that I was undermining the work by calling it lecture note; that it is a textbook on neurology. The fourth one is called “Mentorship in Medicine”. The idea came two years ago.
Then I was the hospital coordinator of residents training of UUTH. We were welcoming new residents as part of the orientation process. The then Chief Medical Advisory Committee Chairman, Dr Isaac Udoh, asked me to give a talk on mentorship for 30 minutes. I found out that there wasn’t anything tailored down to medical practice; I took it from the fact that I am from Owerri in Imo State, graduated from University of Port Harcourt, trained for housemanship at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, and my residency was done at Jos University Teaching Hospital. One year posting in UCH, Ibadan and now in UUTH, all these meant that I had worked, trained and studied in five teaching hospitals in Nigeria, four different geopolitical zones.
I have seen different types of systems, teachers, doctors, consultants, residents, students and house officers. That was when I realized that I had been trained without knowing it. When I pulled the diverse experiences in the concept, it became a hit, but it was just a talk. A colleague who heard it called me again when consultants were having their AGM, so I gave that talk again. When female medical doctors were having the ‘Stethoscope Ceremony’ where we induct young female medical doctors, the president called me to give a talk on mentorship again. When I finished it another senior colleague, Dr Mfon Edyang-Ekpa, called me and said, this is not a talk, it is a book, make it a book so others will learn.
That was the fourth book. I wrote “Mentorship in Medicine”, in 10 days. The fifth book is entitled ‘Principles of Prosperity’. By the grace of God, I am a born-again Christian. Back then when I repented, the emphasis was on reading and studying the Bible to know what it says. I have heard the word prosperity being bastardized and supposedly making the basics of the Bible. There is a vicious cycle of empowerment among the Igbo by settling their servants. Every workman as little as alabaru is worthy of his wages because that is what he lives on. One basic principle of prosperity is that zero cannot be multiplied. One must bring out something no matter how tiny and then watch God multiply it. Quick wealth, Ponzi schemes were also discussed.