The other day, I was transferring a patient from one hospital to another. This was someone we had operated upon and was being moved to the intensive care. It was a short distance but we still needed to hurry. The ambulance was on top speed and the sirens and lights were on, as usual, in an emergency.
It was pretty shocking and strange that many drivers on the road were claiming right of way and expecting the ambulance to stop for them. Mr. Clueless (one of the drivers) actually berated the ambulance driver for trying to cut in front of him! He then proceeded to show us that his car was faster by speeding off into the sunset. The ambulance did not seem to mean much to him.
It is interesting to see that many Nigerians seemingly have no clue about the importance of the ambulance. In other countries and in saner climes, the ambulance has right of way, and can use many means to get the patient to the hospital on time.
There are even ambulances or first aid officers on motorcycles and bicycles just in case the terrain is more favourable for a two wheeler. Ambulances such as helicopters also aid many sick people at great distances or majorly inaccessible locations. The air ambulance can then transfer the patient to a hospital in record time. Some hospitals in Nigeria have helicopter landing pads, just in case we get there someday.
To get there, however, requires a few things to be in place. Since we are not there yet, why are our ambulances rushing to get nowhere? Therefore, here are some of the reasons why you should not stop for an ambulance rushing to the hospital with flashing blue lights and a raucous siren.
Fake it to make it
The emergency response system demands an efficient communication system, good roads and a network of hospitals to take patients to. We do not have an emergency number like 999 or 911, so it’s pretty difficult to find help when you need it. We do not have a coordinated ambulance system like the St. Johns’ ambulance in some countries. So, why would our ambulances be pretending and rushing everywhere? How are we sure they are going to the hospital?
Transport to the market
Ambulances have been used for buying kerosene and diesel, shopping at Sahad stores and Wuse Market in Abuja. Ambulances are used to carry stuff from the market and take the children to school in Nigeria. The children are already late for school and so dad, the medical director, decides they can use the ambulance. Madam may also be cooking for some guests and needs some ‘Maggi’ for the soup. You know what we say, ‘No Maggi, no soup’!
An empty box
Then, of course, there may be no patient requiring treatment in the ambulance. One of my friends uses the ambulance to beat traffic. You know the traffic jams in Lagos demand you sit, sunbathing in your clothes, and sweating in your boxers! So, in order to avoid this, especially at lunch time, he would drive the ambulance himself and rush through the traffic. This gets him home in time for lunch and perhaps some indoor games with his wife!
A coffin on wheels
Many of our ambulances are ill-equipped to save lives. They cannot even save the life of an ant! They are cartons with wheels and a bed. They are, therefore, more often, used to carry bodies to the mortuary. At least the dead do not need oxygen or monitoring. In any case, the ambulance drivers are truly drivers, with little IQ and definitely no resuscitation skills.
Okay, we should qualify this. The ambulances you see by the road side at the stops manned by men of the Civil Defence, Police or, indeed, National Emergency Management Agency, are well-equipped and have serious people manning them. They have been well trained and are even capable of saving the life of an ant. Seriously!
A relative point
A friend of mine once drove past his brother on the road. This man had been attacked by armed robbers, unknown to his brother. But, who wants to stop and help the chap bleeding to death on the road. He may even be the armed robber! Anyway, isn’t that what you need an emergency ambulance service for? So, why stop?
The major reason you should not stop for an ambulance is that it may contain a relative. Perhaps this person is being transported to the intensive care unit. Here is the problem. Intensive care is hugely expensive in Nigeria. For real hospitals like Lagoon Hospital, in Lagos, you start at N2m (two million Naira only). This is the usual deposit required and guess who has to pay? You. So, why should you aid the ambulance to get there on time? Burials are cheaper, can be done on your own budget and at the time you want. Just put the patient on ice for months.
So, please, these are the reasons why you should be competing with the ambulance and even blocking them whenever you have the opportunity. Like Mr. Clueless, show that you can actually drive faster than the bumbling ambulance driver.
One day it might be you in the ambulance! Oh, not your portion?
NB: The NMA FCT AGM and scientific conference is coming up. The theme: Re-designing medicine, aims to dust and clean the battered image of medical practitioners in Nigeria. Doctors are not broken, just bent. And we can change!