Health Stories With Hygeia HMO explores the health struggles of everyday Nigerians. We’ll share these stories regularly – they will be tragic sometimes but will always be educative.
By Okonkwor Oyor C.
To mark this year’s World Hepatitis Day, we spoke to a doctor living with hepatitis and she shared her experiences as both doctor and patient with us. Given that over 20 million Nigerians may be infected with hepatitis, this is an important story and we think you’ll enjoy reading this from someone who is both patient and healer.
If you had to choose a superhero power, which would you choose and why?
Quite a few actually, not just one.
How has adulting been?
Adulting has been…
Adulting! Whew! No single word can encompass this, mehn. But we thank God daily for the gift of people who are placed in our lives to make our day to day activities easier.
Are you doing what you always dreamt of?
(Laughs) Well, I can say for sure that I’m on the path to living the dream. Not there yet, but slow and steady makes the race.
That’s great. Can you tell me a little about this dream?
Well, I hope to make an impact on the younger generation. I dream of a more enlightened and empowered nation and I believe that investing in the youth is the way to achieve this.
When did you first learn about your condition?
I learned about it in medical school. We were about to resume clinical classes and had to get screened for and vaccinated against Hepatitis B. Most people got the vaccine after their screening results came out and they were booked for the next dose. But I was kept waiting for a longer period than usual. Then, the guy attending to us gave me a brown envelope as opposed to the white one he was giving others. That was how I learned that I was Hepatitis B positive and not eligible for the vaccination. Then I was referred to the gastroenterology unit in our government hospital.
What a way to find out, how did you feel?
Well, I can’t remember really. But I wasn’t sad or anything. I think I was just curious about how it must have happened.
If I hadn’t gone for the screening, I might have found out in a more unpleasant way. In all, I was indifferent. I think I took it quite well.
Tell me about your family?
I am from a cute family of 6. My mother is a trader with catering skills, while my dad is a military man.
What’s your fondest memory of your family?
As a military officer, my dad was always getting transferred from state to state. We used to stay in a flat and my mum would lock us in whenever she had to go out. As the eldest, it was my job to pacify the last born whenever he cried because his cries used to disturb our neighbors. So, I was always looking for new ways to pacify him. For some reason, this is the memory that comes to mind.
That’s cute! How do you think to have hepatitis affected your family?
I don’t think it has affected them in any way. It’s not such a big deal because I am a doctor and I know how to take care of myself. I’m asymptomatic, so I’m just careful about “bloody” transmissions.
Have you ever felt discriminated against or stigmatized?
Nah. Nope. About 3 of my friends know, my partner knows as well, although they are in the medical field too so their acceptance is a no brainer. Even during my housemanship
, as fate would have it, I rotated through a unit that handled hepatitis patients. I told my consultant but she waved it off and just told me to observe the proper precautions.
That’s cool, do you think everyone is this lucky though?
I don’t think so. I would say I was fortunate to work in a unit that managed hepatitis patients during my internship. It’s a unique experience to be both patient and doctor. So, I was involved in counseling and other parts of their management. A lot of people find out their status incidentally, most times during the pre-employment screening. It still makes me sad that some of them lost those jobs, and others had to come to us for a letter that certified them fit to work. The stigma is real, and frankly unnecessary. Most people think hepatitis is like HIV, and discriminate against people living with hepatitis. No one deserves to be treated differently because of a disease– HIV or Hepatitis or whatever it is. Discrimination of any sort is wrong.
What are the common misconceptions about hepatitis you know?
There are so many. One is that it is transmitted solely through sexual intercourse. (Chuckles) Sex is not the top route of transmission in Nigeria. It’s more of a child to child transmission (vertical), mother to child (horizontal) transmission, needle prick, occupational hazards and blood transfusions here in Nigeria.
Well, I guess people remember sexual transmission more than any other means. What do you think about the traditional herbal concoctions that claim to cure hepatitis?
Jesus! That thing is a killer. It actually sends severely symptomatic, acute, and chronic hepatitis patients to their early graves because some of those concoctions are harmful to the liver and kidney.
Yet people patronize them, any idea why?
I think it is mostly a case of a lack of proper education.
So, you don’t think people know enough about hepatitis in Nigeria?
No, they don’t. The few people that do know do not fully understand it and struggle with keeping instructions.
For example, we once had a patient who came down with a very serious case of acute hepatitis, it eventually affected her brain and it was so expensive to finance her medical care. We discharged her eventually but she couldn’t go back to work because she was a caterer and her employer did not want her back. Even with all the counseling, she struggled with keeping off restricted food. She presented later in the emergency room after drinking agbo (herbal medicine) and she died.
Her death was painful, and it happened despite her access to information. How much more the missing millions who go undetected and die ‘mysteriously’?
Have you ever felt overwhelmed or anxious about it?
No, I haven’t. Maybe because I’m a carefree person or I’m in the medical line with enough knowledge to reassure me. Also, I do my viral screening yearly to ensure my viral load is under check. I am asymptomatic, so I have little to be bothered about, as long as I do the right things.
That’s good to know, can you tell me some of these right things?
I eat healthily, drink water, avoid locally made nuts because of aflatoxins, avoid alcohol, and do my regular check-up and screening. My faith in God and my positive mindset are really crucial as well.
What is your philosophy of life?
What goes around, comes around. Always be positive. Do unto others what you want to be done to you.
Why did you decide to share your story?
I’ve always wanted to talk about it but had never gotten around to it. So, I took this opportunity as a golden platform to share my story.
What would you like to say to people about hepatitis?
Hepatitis is real. When it is undetected, you can go a lifetime without being noticed, but it’s better to get screened and know your status so you can live healthily and according to the rules to avoid the feared complications. Those complications are not nice at all. From liver cancer to liver failure, hepatitis can be deadly if it is not handled properly. Even though many can be asymptomatic, people with symptoms live a short and painful life.
Just get tested today.
For further reading on hepatitis, click here