Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Ordinarily, giving birth to a baby is a thing of joy from whichever way you look at it, especially when you consider the fact that there are many couples yearning to have one.
But when God gives you, not just one but two, and, sometimes three, of such bundles of joy, you have nothing else to do but to begin to celebrate. Paint the town red if you can! But these ones you are about to read their stories are not thinking in that direction. They seemed to be united by one plight: they are looking for money with which to bail themselves and their sweet babies out of temporary ‘detention’ in which they found themselves owing to their inability to pay their hospital bills. Talk of different strokes for different people!
Triplets without triple joy
For Mr. Sunday Egede, 35-year-old bricklayer from Ndegu Amagu community in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, his story started when his wife, Ijeoma, was delivered of a set of triplets recently at Mile 4 Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital. Although the delivery was done through caesarean section, it was generally successful.
Egede told Saturday Sun that, at first, his heart was filled with joy when the nurses broke the good news to him. He leaped up like a totally broke man who miraculously picked some money on a lonely pathway. But that joy suddenly evaporated when he was presented with the list of items needed for the newborn babies and their mother. To worsen matters, the cost was exclusive of the main hospital bill.
It was with a voice full of mixed emotions that the man told Saturday Sun: “God has blessed me; but He did so in the magnitude I did not expect. I am not blaming God but I am appealing to everybody to come to my aid.” Recalling what happened during the gestation period, the man told Saturday Sun that he donated blood to his wife as she did not have enough required before to be delivered of her babies.
When Saturday Sun visited the triplets and their mother in the hospital, they were doing well. Their mother, Ijeoma, was kept in the postnatal ward while the triplets were placed at the Newborn Unit where two of them were put in an oxygen pressure air device, according to their doctor, Dr Lucky Emumwen, the two developed what he called Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
“The babies were born in the 34th week and because they were triplets, two of them developed Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a situation that prevents their very tender lungs from taking in as much oxygen as they would need to survive because their lungs are not fully matured,” Emumwen explained. “Because of that, as their respiratory rate increases, the oxygen saturation drops. So we had to help them by placing them on oxygen pressure air device last Thursday. Two of them have done very well and have been weaned off the device. The other one which is the second twin didn’t have any issue but we are still going to keep the babies for observation because of the issues that come with babies that are not up to 10, their weight being low, they have the tendency to contact hypothermia and infection.
“So far, from our assessment this morning, compared to how they were last week, they have done remarkably well. After full assessment, they are fit to go home which I doubt, anyway, because we will have to monitor them very well for jaundice and all that. At this moment, they don’t have full development of their sucking reflex. They can’t really suckle with their mouth. One of the challenges we have is that their mother cannot express her milk very well. So with the little she could express, we feed them. You could see one of the nurses was on what we call NsD2. It goes to the stomach through the nose. We pass the breast milk through it but because the breast milk cannot really take care of those three babies as she is not producing enough milk for the babies.”
The nursing mother, Mrs. Ijeoma Egede, who is thankful to God for their bundles of joy, lamented, however, that if everything is certified to be medically ok for her babies, she is not sure they would be able to go home as they don’t have money to settle the hospital bills.
Ogala and the dilemma of a nation
Saturday Sun’s findings show this is a fate that many mothers who were delivered of babies in that hospital share with the Egedes. It speaks of a sorry situation in a nation like ours where population has continued to increase at geometrical progression while resources to take care of the burgeoning figure, including medicare, have continued to tag along at arithmetic rate, to quote Malthus theory. About three other women who were delivered of twins each appears to have worse case than the Egedes.
Two out of the three, not only have no money to pay for their bills, they also have no food to eat and, for that, depended on others for their daily meals. As a result of this, they claimed, in a chat with Saturday Sun that they were not given adequate medical attention and drugs as they were supposed to because of their inability to pay their bills. One of them is Eze Grace Ogala, a 39-year-old woman from Okposi Mgbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state. She was delivered of a set of twins on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. But ever since the delivery, she told Saturday Sun that she has been experiencing severe stomach pains. She also lamented that she has depended on her next bed neighbour for her daily bread.
“They have given me only injection and nothing more,” she said with regard to medical attention. “They also prescribed tablets but they did not give me because I have not paid for them. My husband does not have money to pay for the hospital bills and the drugs. But for my neighbor here that, sometimes, shares her food with me, I would have died of hunger. And, a nursing mother like me needs food. I also get assistance from some relations.”
Talking about her babies, she said: “I was delivered of a set of twins but one of them is not strong enough, so they took him to Alex Ekwueme Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki because the available equipment has been occupied.”
Twins delivered to a jobless man
Another nursing mother, Mrs. Achunike Franca Ogechi, who hails from Akaeze community in Ivo Local Government Area of the state, is suffering from similar fate. In her own case, she was delivered of twins, male and female, on Wednesday, April 3, but she could not go home as a result of her inability to pay her bills. Ogechi holder of Ordinary National Diploma (OND) certificate from Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, Afikpo, where she studied Business Administration and Management told Saturday Sun that she is jobless. She added that although her husband, Achunike Paul, works at the popular Abakaliki Rice Mill, his take-home pay is not enough to take her halfway home let alone paying hospital bills.
“It has not been easy”, she confessed, “but you know it is God’s blessing. But to say the truth, we have many things to buy and everything is money. I breastfeed them and also give them artificial milk. I can’t breastfeed the two at the same time. This is why sometimes I would be feeding this one with breast milk and my assistant would be feeding the other one with artificial milk. One of the babies is not strong. She has issues in her eyes and they said that they would have to take her to nursery. But the baby boy is ok.”
Abandoned in awaiting bills settlement unit
She expressed fear that their current bill which the hospital put at over N120, 000 might be jerked up after the baby is treated. The pathetic stories of these women is one that is shared by Mrs. Una Ngozi, from Onuorieagba village in Ishielu Local Government Area. She lamented that since she was delivered of twin male babies on Wednesday 3rd April through a caesarean section she appears abandoned as no one has come to visit her.
The woman who had earlier had four children lamented that her husband whose name she gave as Uchenna is jobless, and as such, cannot fend for the family. “No one is taking care of me and my husband has not visited me,” she said. “We don’t have anything. I have not been given any drug since I put to bed. It was even my neighbour who has been sharing her food with me. I have not been billed but I know it’s going to be much”, she said.
Speaking in a chat with Saturday Sun, the nurse in charge of postnatal ward, Patience Njoku, revealed that in her section, there are about 10 patients like that who have been discharged but who could not pay up their hospital bills.
“Most of them here can’t pay for their drugs. At the moment, we have up to ten nursing mothers like that who couldn’t pay their bills at the awaiting bills settlement (ABS) unit; that is, the people have been discharged but they are waiting for their bills to be settled.”
For now, nobody knows when they would be able to pay up and go home with their bundles of joy. Nobody knows if they ever will and what will happen if they are unable to. Neither the nursing mothers themselves nor the hospital authorities can say when they will be let off the hook to go home. This is why the trapped women are appealing to their state governor, Chief David Umahi, his wife, and other public-spirited individuals to come to their aid