Please, permit me to introduce my friend Abigail to you.
She is a trained nursing assistant. She is married. She has two intelligent, handsome boys and she recently turned 40.
She wants to become a doctor because she wants to help and assist women with disabilities during pregnancy and childbirth.
On the 2nd of June 1999, Abigail was involved in an Okada (motorcycle) accident around the Yaba area in Lagos State, Nigeria. Her family quickly rushed her to the military hospital where doctors advised that one of her legs be amputated due to irreparable damage and fear of gangrene spreading throughout her body. Her family objected to this diagnosis and took her to a herbal home instead. All the while, she was unconscious.
Two and a half years later, she snuck out of the herbal healing centre in the middle of the night. Why? “There was no improvement at all, my leg was getting worse, I still could barely walk, It seemed i was wasting away in the home and they wouldn’t let me out otherwise, I just had to escape.” She says.
She immediately checked herself back into the Military Hospital where she had her leg amputated and was taught how to walk with the aid of crutches.
She had since lost the man she was engaged to be married. “He couldn’t come to terms with my present challenges.” Says Abigail.
Four years after she had the accident that left her unconscious for two weeks, left one of her legs with multiple fractures and robbed her of the man she dearly loved; her fiancée, Abigail felt she was finally able to begin her life again.
She soon realised that it wasn’t going to happen that easily. “I could not get a job because of my physical disability, I had no money to start up a business and I had no man to call my own.” She says as she looked into the distance.
Eventually, her family assisted her with some money with which she opened a patent medicine store.
Later that year, she met a wonderful man who soon became her husband.
In 2004, she lost her first child during childbirth. She says she never knew anything could hurt more than the phantom pains in her leg until that sad incident.
It is even more sad because she had been denied access to healthcare at a General Hospital in Lagos and had no choice than to deliver the baby at her church.
Later that same year, she had another baby all by herself at home because of her previous experience with her first child. She didn't bother going to the hospital or her church.
Six years after her first discrimination encounter with nurses and doctors at a General hospital during childbirth, she thought she had every reason to have faith in the healthcare system again. “There were massive renovations taking place, lots of commercials on TV lauding the work of the government and how it has improved healthcare delivery, I decided to deliver my last baby at the hospital.
First, I had to sit for hours for a nurse that did not exist, eventually a doctor came and referred me to a matron and the matron simply told me I had to pay for a caesarean session, just like that. No tests, no examinations, no medical history taken. Even when I told them I have had previous babies, it didn't matter. I went back home. I had my baby by myself and made two vows: to not have more babies and to be a doctor to be able to assist women with disabilities who are facing similar discrimination.”
Recent published reports say that many doctors experience challenges in dealing with women who are both pregnant and disabled.
Another report researched and written by Doris Rajan, a senior consultant with Disabled Women’s Network of Canada sheds more light on some of the challenges disabled women face when accessing healthcare.
Rajan says “It’s really hard for healthcare professionals to think of a patient with a disability as a woman first, due to stereotypes and unknowns.”
How Far She Has Come
Abigail held on to her dreams. It would appear that every day that dawns gave her a new reason to go back to school.
With support from her husband, she hired a private tutor and enrolled for the General Certificate Examination (GCE) in 2011. A poor result did not deter her. She doubled her efforts, took more classes and enrolled for the same exam in 2012 and made the required 5 credits. She enrolled for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exams early this year where she applied to study medicine.
How Our Paths Crossed
Two weeks ago, I was privileged to be among of the persons who listened as Abigail shared her heart wrenching experience with healthcare providers at a meeting with stakeholders and the Lagos State Government on inclusive healthcare policies.
We quickly became friends. I later learned that she could not get into the college of medicine because she did not score up to the required cut off mark. She told me that instead of sitting at home, she would love to get into the Yaba College of Technology and study a medicine related course to improve her chances of getting into the college of medicine next year. But she did not have the needed details on how to apply for a change of school choice and how the school calendar worked and most importantly, she wanted to know if she might be given any consideration or waiver due to challenges she may encounter during the programme because of her age, family obligations and disability. I quickly volunteered to help her get the information she needed.
Yesterday, I was able to gather the information she required albeit dealing with school officials who were least delighted to help. My World Pulse press pass later opened up doors that I regretted not showing it earlier.
As I walked out of room 24 in the Admission complex, I was delighted and worried. I could not shake off the feeling that I may not have asked all the questions that needed to be asked. By and by, I was happy that I fulfilled a promise I made to a dear friend.
My Journey to Her
I was so excited about yesterday that I could barely wait to share the news with Abigail. As I set out to see her this morning; not the rusty Danfo bus I boarded behind the railway lines in Ikeja to Abule Egba, or the near three hours I spent in traffic with horns blaring and air darkened due to fumes from the exhaust pipes of vehicles, or the cobbler who charged me an exorbitant fee because he saw that the sole of my shoe had pulled off, or the annoying second passenger who sat behind me and kept leaning on me on the okada (motorcycle) I boarded from Meiron bus stop to Ronke Olegbede bus stop where she lives could diminish my joy and excitement. The joy I felt was for my friend and I intended to deliver it to her in one piece!
She was delighted to see me, as I was to see her. We sat down, caught up on the last two weeks and proceeded to the business for the day.
Although happy to hear that she is eligible for admission into the college, learning she would not be given any financial consideration was saddening for her. Her husband recently lost his job and her boys are due to resume school soon. Together, we are exploring sponsorship and scholarship opportunities for her so that she can fulfill her dream of being a doctor and turning childbirth into a very memorable experience for women with or without disabilities.
I feel honored to know Abigail as I contemplate the little role I am playing in making her dream of becoming one of the best doctors the world may ever know, a reality.