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article imageOp-Ed: University College Hospital, Ibadan — middle age impressions Special

By JohnThomas Didymus     Apr 3, 2012 in Health
Ibadan - Hospitals mean different things to different people. In Nigeria, the name of the major tertiary hospital in a region often has a connotation of evil because it seems to everyone only worst-case patients at secondary health centers are referred there.
In Ibadan and environs, the name of the University College Hospital (UCH), Nigeria's first teaching hospital built 1953-57, is almost a synonym for hard luck among ordinary folk. If you tell anyone living in Ibadan and environs that you are visiting the UCH, you are almost certain to see a look of alarm on that person's face. During my undergraduate years, I ran into a relative I had not seen in years. After the usual exchange of polite pleasantries, he wanted to know what I was doing. I explained to him I was a third year student at the University of Ibadan. The he asked about my sister. I answered without thinking, "She is at the UCH." But I realized quickly enough that I had misspoken as a look of alarm spread over his face. He pursed his lips and held out his arms, as he stuttered: "W-w-what h-happened?" I cut in quickly to explain that she was a medical student at the college and not a patient!
The man sighed in relief at the information. He brought out an handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. He'd actually broken into cold sweat.
University College Hospital  Main entrance II
University College Hospital, Main entrance II
For those of us who grew up in the university community, UCH is simply a school where medical students get trained to be competent doctors. Association of the name UCH with florid visions of gruesome tropical diseases and incurable ailments is not the picture of the regional center of medical excellence that dominates the mind. Thus, I answered the man as I was accustomed to answering members of the university community who ask about my remarkably look-alike sister, with the assumption he would understand my abbreviated response to mean, "She is a medical student at the UCH."
Frontage of the hospital complex from the main parking lot
Frontage of the hospital complex from the main parking lot
Frontage of the administrative building
Frontage of the administrative building
But recently, I visited the UCH, and realized how being an outsider to the institution changes your perception of what it stands for. I was born in one of the staff wards of this hospital. In my childhood and undergraduate years, the university community — including the College of Medicine and the University College Hospital — was practically my extended family. Now, after having been away from "home" more than twenty years, I wandered the massive hospital complex in anonymity, something that would have been impossible in my teens. Thanks partly to the impact of the brain-drain that sent most of my childhood friends and acquaintances who should now be staff in the hospital overseas, only very few names of members of medical staff sound familiar. My sister who now works for a top-flight private hospital in Lagos had mentioned a few of our childhood friends in the medical staff I could contact. But I did not bother.
View of the drive-in from the adminstrative building
View of the drive-in from the adminstrative building
View of administrative building and drive-in from ENT clinic
View of administrative building and drive-in from ENT clinic
While wandering the familiar hospital complex after so many years, I became keenly aware of the duality of town and gown, an idea that had never meant much to me. Now, the human environment is unfamiliar, and thus seems detached and unfriendly. Consequently, for the first time, my attention was drawn to the anxious faces of patients and their relatives on referral to the hospital. Faces that in the past had only been part of the background scenery of "fixtures and furniture," now suddenly become real faces, human faces.
Medical staff offices as seen from MOP clinic
Medical staff offices as seen from MOP clinic
UCH Wards
UCH Wards
Nursing students  hostel
Nursing students' hostel
I tried to shake off my newly acquired consciousness and concentrate on snapping photos of the aging architectural edifice. But I had an uncomfortably close encounter after I had been snapping photos of the complex for a while.
Surgical theater complex as seen from groundfloor
Surgical theater complex as seen from groundfloor
Surgical theater complex from groundfloor
Surgical theater complex from groundfloor
Surgical theater complex from grounfloor
Surgical theater complex from grounfloor
Health records
Health records
ENT clinic
ENT clinic
I went up to one of the top floors for a vantage view. Just as I was preparing to snap a photo, I heard a cry from one of the wards.Two men led out a distraught woman. Her loud lament told the story. A loved one had just died. She sat on floor, slapping on her thighs and crying out the deceased person's name while her male companions tried to comfort her. The medical staff looked detached
A visitor asks medical students for directions
A visitor asks medical students for directions
Accident and Emergency
Accident and Emergency
Surgical Theaters complex. The hospital mortuary is at the groundfloor
Surgical Theaters complex. The hospital mortuary is at the groundfloor
My perception of the environment changed permanently at the moment the bereaved woman was led past. I was standing close to a waiting room leading to an in-patient ward. Anxious relatives crowded the room, many having spent days hanging around hoping for good news of their loved ones. This wasn't the UCH of my childhood memories. Something had changed. But I knew what had changed was not the UCH but my awareness of it.
Academic staff offices
Academic staff offices
Surgical theaters  groundfloor
Surgical theaters, groundfloor
Administrative offices
Administrative offices
I did not snap that last photo. My project suddenly seemed inconsequential relative to the reality of human suffering and grief that surrounded me. I did not capture the scene of grief. I Just couldn't.
A few words sum up my feelings as I left the UCH that afternoon: Youth is the illusion, middle age its disillusionment.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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