By Tayo Fasuan.
If there is one book that fascinated me when I was young, it was the medical book “Where there is no doctor”. I don’t know if the present generation of youngsters has ever heard of the book, but during my early years, I spent hours on the book daily.
The book painted scenarios of health issues in places and communities where health facilities and personnel are scarce or completely absent. Different tried and trusted methods of self-help, medications and treatments were provided and that actually made a lasting impression on me.
These days, doctors are scarce commodities. Those that are available are expensive, and those not expensive are usually on industrial strike or acting like thin gods in hospitals with intolerable nurses who would either be looking at you like you are smelling or snap at you like you owe them something. Whereas over the years, the World Health Organisation has repeatedly hammered that the doctor to patient ratio operated in the country is not the recommended one, the situation has not improved. The discipline keeps losing personnel and workforce to oversea hospitals where there are better pays and facilities. And majority of those who didn’t leave are diversifying into fields where they won’t have to directly deal with patients. It is a pathetic situation.
This has invariably led to many weird and dangerous health practices now prominent in Nigeria like self- medication, unsafe herbal medicine, treatment by ‘in-house’ doctors with no certificate or license to practice, and other absurdities like that. Perhaps the most dangerous ones are those online websites where prescriptions were given based on some sets of described symptoms. Can you imagine that? When most common diseases have almost the same symptoms, how would you know what drugs to take to treat a particular disease? To compound the issue, pharmacies and medicine stores are now setting up ‘consultancies’ where dubious individuals posing as consultants will be authoritatively telling you what is wrong with you based on ‘years of experience’, when they don’t know your medical history or have not carried out any medical tests. Now, the situation is becoming alarming!
So what is the right way to go? If hospitals and medical centres prove too expensive and scary to go to because of unbearable registration fee and annoying, irritating nurses, would self-medication and self treatment be preferable? The answer is no to self-medication, but self-treatment is another kettle of fish entirely. Both look the same but let me break it down for you.
There is a third factor called self-diagnosis and most people think they know what it is and that is why they self-medicate. But they are usually wrong in their assessment. Self-diagnosis goes beyond having headache and taking panadol; it goes beyond having abdominal pains and taking flagyl. What it entails is knowing your body, its systems, how they work and when to know something is wrong. It involves knowing your own medical history. It involves taking that your abandoned biology textbooks (which all of us used in secondary schools!) and familiarising yourself with those parts, organs and systems of your body you’ve always taken for granted. It also requires you to be a little scientific and methodological.
So, how familiar are you with your body system? Do you think the headache you have requires the use of aspirin? Do you think that your dry scalp means dandruff? Do you think your abdominal pain indicates dysentary? Or you think that hotness of body translates to fever? I remember I once ask a friend of mine whether she can differentiate between stomach ache due to dysentary, ulcer, constipation/indigestion or menstrual pain. She couldn’t! But she would always take flagyl whenever she has stomach ache, even during menstral pain! There was also this case of someone who ate five pieces of gala sausage roll and two bottles of Coke and minutes later was having stomach disorder. Of course he said the galas had expired but I wondered if he has ever had of constipation?
There are so many other examples. Is that itching of the private part due to heat rash or infection? Is the headache due to fever or insomnia (sleeplessness)? Is that body ache due to unrest or something else? Is your frequent dizziness associated with not eating at all or not eating the right food? Is your coloured urine because of infection or your intake of little amount of water in a day? There are so many instances to mention.
The basic thing in self-diagnosis of your body system is your ability to trace back events that have happened to you. If you are having an abdominal pain, think back to what could have caused it. If you think it is a contaminated food, think back of what and where you have eaten. You don’t have to keep a diary of your movements, actions and activities, but your ability to recollect will be very useful. It is when you have pin-pointed a probable or possible cause, that you will be able to correctly diagnose yourself and proffer treatment to it in the minimal way you can.
This may sound outlandish and you may think I am trying to downplay the importance of a physician, but I have been doing this for years, even before I cut my teeth as a microbiologist. I remember a time a doctor prescribed drugs for malaria and typhoid fevers for me when I knew that the symptoms of what I was feeling was far from that of malaria. I could do that because I was very conversant with my body and its running, and it is when I am confused that I sought out the professionals in that field.
Conclusively, I would state here that you have to master your body and try to take care of it in the best way possible. Don’t self-medicate, but treat yourself if you can correctly diagnose that malfunction in your body. Because that indigestion might not actually need ‘jellusi’ like my Ibadan people calls it. It might just require one or two pieces of orange to aid good digestion. And that, my people, is not self-medication, but self-treatment. You get the logic? I guess you do. Take care of yourself.