In many cultures, the mentally ill are made to contend with harmful effects of social stigma and discrimination – feelings of shame, isolation, hopelessness, and self-doubt – despite the deleterious damage these often inflict on their recovery efforts. Like the mentally sick they are trained to treat and manage, workers in the psychiatric ward of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) said they are now feeling distraught and burdened with the shame of isolation in the teaching hospital.
From doctors to nurses to other categories of workers in the ward, there is palpable feeling that LASUTH has not only isolated them from the scheme of things, it has also discriminated against their ward. But it is difficult to fault their concerns or complaints. The psych ward has stopped admitting patients since October last year – a situation not unknown to the hospital management. This was necessitated by the dilapidated nature of the ward, which compelled a joint decision by all the workers in the section to embark on such a protest action in order to “stop endangering the mentally sick and their family members” who throng the facility.
Everything seems to be wrong with the ward. For a fact, to describe the small building that currently serves as psychiatric ward in the state-owned teaching hospital as an eyesore is to state the obvious. Visits showed that the structure has nothing to show that it was originally meant for the purpose for which it is being used. Even for anyone without any training in psychiatry, a more than cursory look around the ward is enough to leave an impression that the decrepit state of affairs in the ward can only compound the woes of the sick, instead of helping to nurture them into recovery. One of the first things to shock or assail the eyes is that the bowels of the ward look more like the inner sanctuary of a disused cubicle for storing junks than a place providing medical treatment and nursing care for the sick.
But that is just the beginning of a study in unaccountable management and bad maintenance of which the poor ward has been allowed to be a victim. In the dingy and dusty ward, the various sections are completely cramped together at the detriment of convenience for patients, their families and care givers as well. Surprisingly, in a busy hospital where patients spend endless time on queue waiting to be treated, there is only a paltry 12-bed space in the whole ward – six for men and six for women. Unfortunately, both the male and female sections have nothing to write home about.
Indeed, the female section, which is further divided into two – three beds apiece with each section having its own different entrance – is the exact opposite of what a psychiatric ward should be. In one of the female sections, patients and care givers are always in for hash times whenever rainy season approaches. Reason is that there is a ceiling that has collapsed for years in the second female ward. What this means, in essence, is that the toilet in the section does not have a roof, which constantly allows water to come in and wreak its havoc whenever it rains. Beyond subjecting patients and workers to weather inclemency, the small space that passes as a bathroom also makes it easy for patients to bolt out of the ‘hell’ and escape through the gaping hole into the thin air – a regular occurrence before the ward put an embargo on patient admission last November. Last year, before the ward stopped admitting patients in protest against the deplorable conditions, a patient had indeed reportedly escaped through the space before one of the hospital’s sentinels was lucky to reclaim her.
At the second female section, the only bathroom there has not enjoyed the luxury of having a door for years – an equivalent of bathing in the open for patients. This is so because the bathroom directly faces the entrance to the ward, which makes it possible for everyone coming into the ward to watch what goes on in what is supposed to be a private place. “It is a way of stylishly subjecting the mentally ill to further psychological torture and dehumanisation,” as a senior medical worker in the ward described it last week.
But if the female ward is deemed to be in a terrible condition, the male section is in a far worse situation. Until last week, the male ward had been without a toilet for years, forcing patients to resort to dehumanising means to sort themselves out whenever there was a need for the call of nature. The water closet (WC) in what used to pass as toilet was said to have been broken by an angry patient some years ago, but the authorities did not deem it fit to replace the WC and other damaged items. However, perhaps having got wind of The Nation’s discreet investigation, workers in the hospital’s technical department suddenly surfaced in the ward last week and replaced the WC without bothering to do anything about decayed pipes, broken tiles and cracked wall as well as stinking floor. When The Nation returned to the ward two days ago, workers were seen condemning the newly-installed WC, saying it does not flush water very well.
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