Thirty-nine-year-old Nwachukwu Alagbu lost his wife, Nkiru, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State, when doctors at the hospital allegedly refused to attend to her over fear that she had COVID-19. He tells RAPHAEL EDE how he helplessly watched his wife die
You accused doctors at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital of killing your wife in a post on social media, how did it happen?
My wife had a child a year ago but while she was pregnant, she developed high blood pressure. After childbirth, the ailment was still there and we were treating it. At a point, she got well. Last week, she started breathing heavily. She experienced dizziness, weakness and some other symptoms. So we sought the opinion of another doctor, who is a relation, and he advised us to go for a comprehensive health check to ascertain what was really wrong with her because she had malaria and typhoid some days earlier and was treated.
Initially, we thought that the symptoms she had were connected to typhoid fever. The doctor directed us to a clinic which he described as one of the best in the South-East. We went there and did all the tests which included CRS, electrocardiogram or ECG, and X-ray as he advised. So afterwards, an old medical doctor told us that he didn’t see anything wrong in the scan other than the cardiovascular disease – high blood pressure. He advised us to seek the best person to treat it so that we would effectively deal with the problem. He said as a young couple, we shouldn’t be dealing with a cardiovascular disease.
So what did you do about his advice?
He directed me to a cardiologist in Enugu. When I called him (cardiologist), he said he was engaged on a consultancy basis at a private hospital. We went there but there were so many patients waiting to see him. By the following morning, my wife’s condition was getting more serious. We went to the private hospital but after she was examined, she was referred to another hospital. Unfortunately, when we got to the hospital, its management said it had been booked up and there was no bed-space, more because of the social distancing directive occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
From there, they referred us to Enugu State Teaching Hospital, Park Lane. When we got there, we met a sorry sight, I must to tell you. There was no trolley or wheelchair to take my wife to the emergency hall and my wife was losing strength by the minute. The emergency hall was filled up and some people lay on the floor. I was still asking myself: ‘Is this how I will leave my wife here’ when a nurse came out and said there was no space as the emergency hall was filled up and that they could not attend to her.
What other option did you have?
I called the doctor (cardiologist) and he asked us to come back. He gave us a referral note to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu. When we got there, we met two doctors and some nurses at the Emergency Unit. I gave them the referral note and after reading it behind their desk, they did not even leave where they were. They said that what the doctor wrote were symptoms of COVID-19 and because of that, they could not attend to her. I told the doctor that I had her test results and that it was a cardiovascular disease. My wife was losing strength by the minute. I pleaded with them to attend to her and that the doctor that referred us there would come later. The doctor had told me that he had patients to attend to where he was engaged on a consultancy basis and that they could commence treatment of my wife.
The cardiologist is working with the UNTH but is engaged on a consultancy basis with some other hospitals. When I mentioned his name, the doctor on duty at the Emergency Unit said he knew him but that they would call the COVID-19 task force to check my wife to determine if she had COVID-19 before they would start treatment. I said, ‘Sir, see her test result here, it is just high BP that she has and she needs some attention, oxygen and so on so that you could resuscitate her. And my wife will be okay before the cardiologist gets here.’ I called the cardiologist and asked him to talk to them. The doctor called them but they refused to pick up the call. The doctor called me and said I should give the phone to them but they said they would not speak to him.
I started begging him to attend to my wife that she was dying. At that moment, the doctor said I was harassing him and that he would quarantine her and let whatever would happen to happen. I asked him if he was a doctor or a policeman. I said, ‘You swore an oath to do this job diligently and save lives, is there what you are doing now? You’re supposed to have compassion on this job. A woman with four kids is lying in a car and you are here saying these things.’
He said he could not go against the guidelines put in place by the management and that was final. There was a female doctor with him; I sought the attention of the female doctor. I said, ‘You are a mother, can you just attend to this woman, even if it’s only to see her in the car? She is lying in the car, helpless. She is still breathing but very weak; please come and attend to her.’ The woman said if I were her brother, would I tell her to attend to the woman and die? I said for real, and you are a doctor?
All this was going on while we were waiting for the COVID-19 task force to come and ascertain if it was the disease or not. Meanwhile, by then, one hour had gone; it was getting to two hours. I asked the doctor: ‘Where are the people you said were coming? Don’t they have an address? Are they on the ground at the hospital or can you give us their phone number so that we can call them? If they are around, tell us so that we can go and get them. He said I should not bother him and that they were coming. At that point, it was getting to two hours and there was nobody to attend to my wife.
She told me: ‘Please, my dear, don’t let me die here; try as much as possible to make sure I stay alive.’ I promised her I would do everything I could to make sure she lived. My wife could sense that she was being rejected by the doctors. I went to the doctor again but the man refused to attend to her despite all the pleas from the women that went with us because the doctor’s wife was there.
The doctor who had sent us to a private hospital to do a comprehensive health check. She called her husband and he requested for a number of the doctor on the ground but they refused to give her the number. He called his wife and told her to give the doctor the phone; he took the phone and started shouting at the doctor that he was harassing him. The doctor, who is our relation, then told him that if he allowed the woman to die, it would be against their ethos. Then the UNTH doctor said, ‘Are you teaching me my job?’ They started quarrelling about the matter on the phone. At the end of the day, people started calling the man on the phone but he refused to answer the calls. He maintained that he must follow the hospital procedure.
What is that hospital procedure?
That they must ascertain the illness before they attend to a patient being brought in. We don’t know if they called anybody (COVID-19 task force) or not. And the doctor was busy covering his name; that means they knew what they were doing. Nobody was coming to ascertain if my wife had COVID-19 or not.
You said the doctor was covering his name…
Yes, so that nobody would know his name. It later dawned on me that they knew what they were doing; they didn’t want to help. Despite all the pleas made by the women that were there and the doctor that referred us there, none of them paid attention to us. We knelt down to beg these people, yet they were not moved. Those doctors are callous.
Were there no other doctors at the emergency unit?
I only saw two doctors, nurses and other paramedics. But there was a good Samaritan – a paediatrician who was passing by; we begged her to ascertain my wife’s state of health. She wore her gloves and attended to her but my wife was already giving up at that point. She said, ‘Let me tell you the truth; your wife is almost gone.’ That was about three hours after we got to the hospital and we started shouting and making a lot of noise. The paediatrician went inside to the emergency unit to beg the doctors there to attend to my wife but they started shouting at her.
Did the doctors complain of lack of personal protective equipment?
Let me shock you; I was on my knees begging the doctors till my wife died. The moment she died, they disappeared. None of the doctors, nurses and other workers could be seen anymore. One of the doctors that tried to get them to attend to my wife got in touch with the Chief Medical Director of the hospital on the phone, but by the time he came there, my wife was already dead. The CMD asked me what the doctors said was the reason why they could not attend to my wife until she died and I narrated everything that happened to him and how they said they were awaiting the COVID-19 task force to ascertain her status before they would treat her.
He asked what for and went inside the emergency unit but no doctor was there; they had disappeared. He said those people (COVID-19 task force personnel) were there and started pointing at them one after the other, asking them for their PPE. I asked the CMD who they were and he said they were supposed to attend to my wife; that they were there to assist and that PPE was there. I told him that the people were there all the while and that we begged them for three hours.
The CMD went into the warehouse and, lo and behold, there was PPE there. They refused to use it to attend to my wife. The CMD directed us to where we could find a trolley and my friend and I pushed my wife to the emergency unit as directed by the CMD. He wore the PPE and examined my wife but by then, she had died. I asked the CMD if they were not supposed to attend to patients despite the COVID-19 pandemic. All of them (health workers) were now touching her after she had died. I asked them, ‘So, she is no longer carrying COVID-19 again.’ It was a sorry sight; it was like crucifying someone and watching the person dying gradually. I don’t wish it on anyone. It was very bitter and wicked.
Did they think your wife had travelled abroad recently and could have contracted COVID-19?
For four months, my wife had not gone outside Enugu and for eight months, she had not travelled outside the South-East. Just a week earlier, she started breathing heavily and was weak. We initially thought she was still recovering from the malaria and typhoid that she had just been treated for.
How many children do you have?
Four children – three girls and a boy. The eldest one is 11 years old, the second one is nine and the third child is three years old, and our last child is a year and two months old.
How do you feel about losing her?
She was everything to me. She was my best friend; we started our relationship when we were in school and later got married. We would have celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary on May 17, 2020. She was my best friend; she was very dear to me.
What do you remember about her?
She lives in my mind every second of the day. She is there; right inside my head (Alagbu breaks down in tears). Brother, please pray that it doesn’t happen to someone else; those doctors are wicked and callous.
Will you take a legal action against the hospital and the doctors?
I can’t say for now; let nature takes its course. For now, I am taking my time to mourn my wife. Every other thing will follow after that.
Has the hospital management contacted you or your family members?
They spoke through an activist but I have yet to hear what they are about to say.
What was your wife doing for a living?
She was a graduate of the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu. She read Business Administration and she was doing business. She traded in clothes and artificial hair for women.
How tough has it been since the death of your wife?
It has been very tough; if not with the help of friends around, I don’t know how I would have coped. I live with the pain, agony and trauma of remembering each day that somebody could have saved my wife but chose to let her die. And this was done by people who swore to uphold an oath but decided not to do their job. They could have saved my wife. It is unimaginable.
What were the things she hoped to achieve?
Her dream was to become a business tycoon someday. She had a passion for trading and had mastered it; that was what she read. Sometimes, I asked her for ideas because I read Business Management too at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
What comes to your mind when you can’t sleep?
I don’t get to sleep again because I feel like a carcass. I don’t know what sleep is; it hardly comes. Sometimes, I get to sleep for 10 to 20 minutes. In the night, I toss and turn, thinking what went wrong; how did this happen? She was a woman with strength and vigour. What exactly went wrong? I ask myself this question like one million times but I get no answer.
I feel like life has lost its meaning. What is in life if your best friend and soul mate, who was with you in times of difficulty, is gone? It is like life has no meaning anymore. It is just bitterness I feel.
You have a little child, how are you coping alone?
It is a difficult task. For now, family and friends are around to offer assistance. The real work will start when the burial has been done and we are left alone. That is when it will dawn on me that the journey has started.
Why did you post it on social media?
Even if I’m given N100m, it cannot bring her back but I want these people (health workers) to know that they are dealing with human beings and not animals. Nothing will bring back my wife. Why I am doing this is for them to refrain from their evil act and uphold the oath they swore that they would save lives and not kill people because my experience with the doctors was hell.
What do you want after all that has happened?
I am calling for their sacking and prosecution immediately. Those people are not fit to be doctors; doctors have compassion for patients and have a passion to save lives but the ones I saw at the hospital are vampires. They watched as my wife died and the moment she died, they ran away. The doctors and nurses disappeared and never showed up again because they knew what they had done.
Do you know their names?
The doctors knew what they were doing and were covering their names. While I was talking to them, they covered the names on their coats.
Source: Sunday PUNCH