Thursday 10 July 2008

Nigeria: Lost are the arms of right and wrong

Through a window pane

Peering through a glass pane into the world of a country that is kaleidoscope of humanity and the people who live it can be an interesting experience.

Nigeria is as colourful as any subject matter would get and this one paints too many shades and hues to be adequately covered in a blog, but I would attempt something.

A 13 year old was knocked off a motorbike [Source: BBC NEWS | Africa | Threats over Nigeria amputation] by a truck which in turn lead to the loss of both her arms just above elbow – with it comes a story of sadness, intrigue and everything all too typically Nigerian.

Witnesses to the accident caused such a commotion that a doctor in a private clinic was attracted to the situation, admitted the girl to his hospital where he observed she was bleeding profusely that he decided he could only save her life through amputating both arms.

Witnesses say the truck had shattered the bones in her arm that severance was routine, meanwhile the amputation took place without the consent of the parents who had to be called to the hospital.

It has become a police case that has had the doctor arrested and bailed, a sad case because a medical clinic is now closed to business and a bizarre case because the doctor is being accused of amputating the arms for ritualistic purposes.

The accident

The report makes no mention of the driver of the truck or the motorbike and nothing is recorded from them about the state the girl was in after the accident. It is likely people gathered round and wailed rather than helped the poor girl to some medical facility.

The girl contends she still had her arms intact immediately after the accident, which would be interesting because one would expect she would have gone into shock – however, witnesses who might have a tendency to exaggerate could have seen a lot but observed little.

The doctor

He swears that the milk of human kindness and compassion along with taking the Hippocratic Oath [Source - Hippocratic Oath - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia] (how old-fashioned) lead him to take on the treatment of the girl without registration or payment.

On balance, the least the doctor could have done should have been to take photographs of the girl and her wound, better still take an X-ray of the condition that would have lead the doctor to amputate.

Poor documentation of state and status remains one of the banes of the Nigerian society and it affects the management of the law of evidence when we rely on just sworn statements rather than corroborative hard facts.

Considering the girl was a juvenile, there would have been the need to get parental or guardian consent for the operation – this could have come from the motorbike rider who was not mentioned.

This was a weighty decision the doctor took, there are places in the world where he would most definitely be struck off the medical register for such an egregious exercise of medical privilege even though he presumably saved a life.

The situation

In most cases in Nigeria, a child that is handicapped is automatically seen as a burden, no one dares to think outside the box and wonder much can be made of what they have.

What a child needs for school are brains which could be nurtured, whilst there could be an opportunity of learning to write holding a pencil with the toes.

Sadly, we have a society that first sees children as a blessing but before they are out of childhood they are viewed of future investments for a lucky break that would take their parents out of penury.

Meanwhile, a child is a help, an extra hand, a servant and almost a slave who cannot complain because once you have provision for food and shelter you have to be the most grateful. Love is a misunderstood bonus; or rather fathers think provision is deep love.

The parents

The story does not say how long it took the parents to get to the hospital before they learnt that their daughter had lost all her arms.

The moment the parents disputed the decision that had already been taken to amputate, they fuelled the impression that those arms were being used in some ritualistic activity.

In certain countries the doctor could be done for a criminal offence that would include negligence.

I would surmise that they could have taken an objective path to some resolution but it became an opportunity to extort money from the doctor, not really to compensate for the child’s misfortune but to cash-in early on what fortune that child was expected to bring back to the family in the future.

When the doctor did not give in their demands but offers a smaller sum of money with help to acquire prosthetic arms for the girl, the police got involved such that the authorities ended up closing his clinic and seizing all his medical instruments – it is not clear what he is being charged with.

The doctor gave the parents the amputated arms and they have since buried the arms near their farm.

A future possible

I do not believe the girl completely lacks prospects in life because of the loss of her arms, we need to move beyond making the child twice a victim, first because of the accident and then as one unfortunate in society.

She might not be able to help on the farm but she should not be taken out of school to lay waste – we need to move on from the concept that arms and hands are a core requirement for living, they are useful and we all who have them might not be thankful enough for their use.

I cannot drive and I remember once when I say a lady who must have had stunted limb growth – phocomelia [Source - Phocomelia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia] – of arms not reaching the elbows probably due to the thalidomide [Source - Thalidomide - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia] drug issues drive a car without having any special adaptations made to the steering wheel – I might well ride with her, if that opportunity came, without fear.

In the end, the girl is alive, she needs help to realise her potential, her potential is in the use of her brain and her remaining limbs, and she can have a dream to make her a worthwhile and useful contributor to society – Oh God! If only circumstance and most especially her parents would not kill that dream with despair.

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