Ghanaian Chronicle

Men With The Scalpels & Stethoscopes

Date published: November 28, 2012

Dr. Kofi Dankyi Beeko, the Author

In the above topic, the masculine plural is meant to signify the feminine plural as well. It was in 1975, when I had been admitted at the Medical Academy of the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, West Germany, to absorb the field of Neurological Surgery. Just around the time, a young Rumanian doctor had also struck the same piece of luck, and had been absorbed into the unit.  He wore on the left wrist, quite demonstrably, a watch which I was the only one who did not appreciate its value, out of ignorance.  Not quite a week later, he was advised to store his treasurable commodity in a better place, if he meant to keep it for long, and he truly did just that. The young East-European had worked for half-a-year in an Orthopedic Clinic in the city called Essen, right in the center of the Ruhr District, where Friedrich Krupp had employed a million workers in his Imperium of steel-works that built Adolf Hitler’s war-machines, just thirty years previously. The link of the watch and Monarchs of the Orient was this: A young Saudi boy,  learning to be an Orthopedic Surgeon with in a department run by a certain Prof. Schleggel, had managed to induce a couple of royalties from his country to show up for the finest of bone surgeries like hip-joints, including spine, and knee surgeries. What the professor got from the royalties could only be imagined, but the young doctors received pleasantries such as wrist watches that were up to US$8,000 a piece for following the Professor with the golden expertise.  As I became a Specialist of Brain-Surgery, and then a Consultant subsequently, advanced hospitals had emerged in Arabia (built, of course by the leaders with oil money), and the Rolex brand of watches had disappeared in German hospitals, as souvenirs. Even if foreign experts continued to see Saudi and Oriental Monarchs, THEY SAW THEM IN SAUDI HOSPITALS. The late Prof. Christian Barnard of South Africa, the man who succeeded in making OPEN HEART SURGERY a routine, and transplanted in his career, hundreds of human hearts successfully, once heard the following from King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, whose heart condition shortened his life. “If you can treat me, please, do it here in Riyadh, and not in Cape Town.” Christian Barnard shuttled to Ryadh an awful lot of times to see the kind-hearted Arab Monarch, but dying of a heart which was progressively getting weaker and weaker. At the moment of our discourse, hardly a Saudi Prince travels outside the Kingdom for any kind of treatment. None sees the need for the “ballyhoo.”  A Nigerian doctor imagines what a young Saudi specialist in heart diseases said to his colleagues in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, in connection with the recent death of the a Nigerian Head of State. “Ibi na Nigerian and Ghanaian specialists teach us in Saudi Arabia. Now they bring their President to Saudi Arabia for treatment?  Nawaooo!” In quintessence, and for those who don’t understand Nigerian pigeon English, let’s translate it this way: “Was it not Nigerian and Ghanaian medical scholars who descended here to teach us to be sharp doctors? How come they cannot heal their Head of State in illness?” Much as the question could be made understandable, following the saying two thousand years ago from Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that went like, “The Prophet is not without honour, except in his own country,” the saga of the African Head of State, or a prominent politician, who must always be sent to a “superior country” outside for treatment, has long since started losing meaning. Let us look at the situation of Africans who, after World War Two (WWII), got the opportunity to study in England, the USA, Germany, and/or France.  The Africans, including the author of this article, studied a language like German or French first. Thereafter, he joined a semester size of 240 students, and went through subjects like Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Physics, and let’s stop counting before it might swallow us all. The African was not always at the bottom of the class, or always at the top. As he learned, or not, he was in front or at the bottom. He flew out, if he could not be brought to perform.  And so was the case with some Germans, Swedes, Russians, or Americans.  It was the Soviet Union that built “a special university” in a city called Odessa that trained only Africans. They left too early for somewhere else, or thrived when they attained degrees.  But, our topic today is with men and women of the healing profession, and practicing in Ghana. Anything wrong with them?  Now and again, complaints emerge from “disgruntled patients” whose talk of non-professional unfriendliness from Ghanaian medical personnel, both “doctors, and nurses, have got them sick.” You may not, as a patient, ask any questions, and if you did, you got a rude answer back.”  Another would top up: “You waited too long to be seen.  When it was your turn, you didn’t get examined. He, the doctor, heard you narrate your complaints, whilst you were urged to hurry up. Then you got your prescription.” That was all. But, would that be the case with the VIPs also? There was a case with the late S. D. Dombo, Nkrumah’s contemporary, an ace politician from the Northern Region of our Republic, who was run through some rough course at the ace health institution in Accra. The way we heard it from overseas, as medical students, we took it as “apocalyptic.”  Perhaps, we were wrong.  So, did the bank of VIPs of our Republic get built up so as to ward off the crooks in the medical profession? Where have the crooks come from? The very first doctors who ever worked IN THE COLONY were missionaries. So were the nurses, who had been trained and influenced by the Catholic Hildegardis, who trained near Dusseldorf, in Germany.  The cult trained someone NO LESS THAN Florence Nightingale. The names of hospitals in Ghana, like Agogo, (Presbyterian),  Dodowa, and Korle-Bu (state-run) had so served the communities so well that the colonial masters, when they fell ill, were treated locally and seldom sent overseas (albeit by boat).  Doctors of almost every degree exist in Ghana, and government hospitals, as we are told, have been upgraded to “unprecedented standards.” Why then, do we still have a problem with the VIPs getting ill, and with need and fear to be rushed overseas? By the way, with the Arabs, who those days were sent overseas when nothing existed back home, it was not only the King, but the man in the street too.  The late Muammar Ghaddafi sent his soldiers from Chad to the University Hospital in Dusseldorf, where I once worked, in droves.  We, citizens of the noble medical profession, needn’t be happy of a situation where we aren’t able to provide life-saving services to the man in the street, who turns into the VIP of tomorrow.  When Mr. Lee Kuan Yew needed a cardiac by-pass surgery almost twenty years ago, it was done in Singapore by Singaporean cardiac Surgeons.  What has the Singaporean got which is missing in the Ghanaian?  Is it the “famous attitudinal change we say we need, but are incapable of adopting?” The Americans express it this way: “Give me a break!”

Kofi Dankyi Beeko, MD

E-MAIL: [email protected]


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