By Cosmas Omegoh
It is sad. A certain ill wind of sudden death seems to be sweeping across the land. This has nothing to do with the current COVID-19 still on the rampage.
Just without notice, someone you know – who hitherto was looking healthy slumps to the ground. Pronto, he is dead – gone – the mortals’ way. Everyone begins to speculate on what happened. In the end, no sense is made of the incident.
For the religious-minded, the victim died of spiritual attacks. Fingers are pointed in one direction. Healthy relationships that previously existed among friends, families, and kith and kin are broken beyond measure. Everything ends in chaos.
Now, medical experts have come to say that the only way to prevent anyone from dying unexpectedly is for them to visit their doctors regularly. That way, an ailment can be discovered early enough and effectively managed.
How some died suddenly
Weeks ago, a petty trader – living and plying her trade in Surulere, Lagos, had packed her wares ready to go to the spot where she displays them on a table at a road junction. She had barely taken a few strides on her way when she fell crashing to the ground. Everything she was carrying in her plastic basin fell, strewing in different directions. Before help could reach her, she had kicked the bucket.
In the days that followed, news also broke about a lady nurse who died while on duty, sitting in the nurses’ room in the hospital she worked for. A patient had issues; her attention was needed urgently. The hospital bell rang out severally, but she couldn’t show up. Tempers flew up, invectives were poured on her. The patient’s relative, already baying for her head, went to fetch her. Right in her office, she sat, her head resting on a desk. She was stone dead.
Mr Kayode’s death in Lagos recently was not different. He was already dressed to go to his shop. Approaching his car, he opened it and sat on the driver’s seat. Resting his head on the steering wheel, he died.
Why people die suddenly
Some medical experts have been providing useful insights into sudden deaths.
“It is true that people often die suddenly – unexpectedly,” Dr Wilson Imogan, a former Commissioner for Health in Edo State, admitted, adding that “such death might be due to problems in the brain; it could be due to heart attack, because of the way our people take issues of health.
“Majorly, people do not care about their health. They do not care about our well-being.
“But everyone has a hairdresser – men and women. Everyone has a mechanic who tends for their car. Everyone has a tailor. People even have plumbers they call when their houses have issues. But if you ask someone who is your doctor?’ they say God forbid it; I don’t want to be sick. Not my portion.
“Many people don’t care about their health status. But it is there that after age 40, we should begin to monitor our health. We should visit a doctor once a month or once in six months or quarterly. You designed it so that you can go for a full evaluation. We ride our cars; we take them to the mechanics. But we don’t care about our health.
“Sudden death occurs, but not without showing signs of some underlying pathology.
“Unfortunately, it is often difficult for people to know why a person has died because we often don’t conduct a post mortem. If you ask for a post mortem people will ask you ‘will that bring back the dead?’
“So, a pathologist is the person to tell exactly why a person has died. Some people might have some underlying illnesses, but will not tell you. That is where the pathologist kicks in. He is always in the best position to tell what happened.”
Dr Gbenga Alo, who works at Anglican Hospital, Ibadan, told Sunday Sun that so many things can cause sudden death. “The most important factor is to know what the person was being treated for in the past. Was he diabetic? Was he hypertensive? If we know what the person was treated for, that would give us a clue.
“Besides, anything can kill anybody – hypertension, high blood pressure, heart attack, low blood sugar. They give signs, but many people ignore the signs,” he said.
Giving his submission, Mr Adesina Oladayo, chief medical scientist, Baptist Medical Centre, Obanikoro, Lagos, averred that there are various factors nowadays causing deaths apart from COVID-19, lamenting that most victims do not go for medical checks.
“Lately, a nurse was hypertensive, but told nobody. She was not bothered about checking her blood pressure often. So, she was driving and experienced cardiac failure and that was it.”
Spiritual angle to sudden death
So often, people say they came under some spiritual attack, and ascribe that to the health misfortune they suffered.
But is there some sense in all of that? “Sometimes some people say they had an attack and couldn’t walk again. It is also an aspect of the problem.
“Some people will tell you they don’t believe in that, but I will tell you that it is a factor.
“Medicine does not recognise that, but it is there; we are Africans,” Oladayo maintained.
Equally, Dr Alo admitted that African magic can play out in the way people die, although he maintained that science does not recognise that.
“Well, science and faith are not friends. That is why they don’t agree.
“But to me, there is a spiritual angle to sudden deaths.
“However, if a person dies suddenly, a post mortem is necessary. That establishes the cause of the death.
“But that people suffer spiritual attacks and die, that is real,” he said.
But Dr Imogan belief in African magic is mere superstition that has no place in science.
Hear him: “In Africa, it is believed that nothing happens without somebody causing it, including when you hit your foot against the stone.
“It is a matter of belief, but belief is not reality.
“What we know is that in Africa, nothing happens without someone causing it – including when a car you failed to service is involved in an accident, including when a driver drinks himself to stupor and crashes.
“Recently, some people were involved in an accident. When they were reviewing the incident, people said the spot was dominated by evil spirits. But the truth is that the man who drove the car was an epileptic patient. He was driving and it struck him; ordinarily, such a person shouldn’t drive. He was not fit.
“If there are demons, why are they not in Europe and America? If he took his medical history seriously he should have driven.”
How to avoid sudden death
To avoid sudden death, Oladayo suggested that “people should endeavour to check their BP often. People should not be taking the idea lightly.
“Sometimes we have to compel our staff to check their BP and when some of them do so, you see surprising figures 180, 170 over something.
“Some people also have terminal ailments that they don’t disclose to anyone – issues like diabetics. Before they come down with such issues, there must be signs knocking on the door – loss of weight and others.
“I will advise people to go for regular check for the BP, sugar level etc, and do comprehensive checkup maybe twice or thrice yearly.
“When one knows the state of their health, they will be able to manage certain conditions. But some don’t go to the hospital; they say ‘I’m okay.’ But when they eventually go to the hospital they are diagnosed with certain ailments.”
It was also the verdict of Dr Alo that Nigerians should imbibe the culture of paying more attention to their health.
“Once you are more than 40 years old, undertake regular health checks. “People should check for their blood pressure, blood sugar, and the state of their heart. These are the three most important things they should watch out for.
“Before someone dies suddenly, there must have been some underlining health issues. Anyone that has an underlining health issue should ensure that they don’t do what their doctors say they shouldn’t do. For instance, if you are diabetic and you are told to avoid soft drinks and you keep drinking them, you are inviting danger. Someone whose blood pressure is high and fails to take their medications, they are inviting danger. If someone is born in a family that has a history of hypertension or diabetics, he has to be extra careful. Some of these diseases run in the family. People need to be careful and avoid being reckless.”
Dr Imogan equally reasoned the same way. He told our reporter that “one of the major ways to prevent sudden, unexpected death, is for the individual to visit the doctor regularly. It shouldn’t be only when the system is running down. One’s system might be working well and the person will be managing it, but all of a sudden it might switch off because there are a lot of things in the body – the electrolytes in the body are important. If the potassium there disappears, something might happen. Blood pressure is important. Someone has to know that it is within the normal range – that the sugar level is okay.”
To prevent challenges such as this, he added that “the preventive measure is that we should enroll with a doctor in a hospital to check us and place value on our health care.
“My mechanic says before a car breaks down, it must show signs. If the man says he can manage it, and there is a wire that is not contacting well and there is a spark, won’t there be a fire?
“The solution is simple. Place value on your health. Visit a doctor regularly,” he advised.
What to do when faced with sudden attacks
Mr Oladayo counseled that should one go into sudden health challenge, call for an ambulance. “If you are in Lagos, just rush the patient to the hospital or call 767 for ambulance or 122.
“Last week in our estate, a man was shivering and convulsing. But rather than call for help, they started inserting a spoon into his mouth.
“In that case, just let him rest on his back and let some air blow him. Then call for an ambulance and take him to the hospital.”
That was also the counsel of Dr Alo. He said, “in an emergency situation, there is little to do than to take the patient to the hospital.”
Poverty is the problem
There is no gain saying that poverty is at the centre of the many challenges of the ordinary Nigerian.
But Dr Imogan says there is a way out. “Poverty is a major problem in the failed health care delivery in Nigeria.
“It is a major problem because people cannot afford healthcare services. It is not free and not cheap.
“But that is why the country is talking about health insurance. If we all enroll in it, we will have access to healthcare,” he said.
Therefore, he called on the government to further strengthen the health system.
He also called for increased awareness, insisting that issues of healthcare need to be emphasised always.
“We should tell the people that they need to go to the hospital no matter the signs they feel. They should note that the doctor is the mechanic of the human body. He examines the sick on a regular basis. When there are changes, he will know,” he said.