Thirdly, the average Nigerian patient is economical with the truth. Here, my people fall into two categories: those that tell outright white lies and others who will not divulge important information unless you pry it from them with a crowbar.
The first group of patients will look at you innocently and provide false information, usually in a bid to hide the multiple skeletons in their cupboards. This assembly of patients are usually the easiest to decipher as any serious doctor, worth his salt, will over years of practice adopt Dr House’s theory that ‘All patients lie’. That 14-year-old boy with symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection who vehemently denies having intercourse? Not true. That woman with a Keloid on her cheek that ‘just appeared out of nowhere’ who denies being hit by her husband? Not true. That teenage girl being evaluated for appendicitis whereas an ultrasound shows evidence of early pregnancy which she clearly knows about, but insists fervently that she has never missed her period or being with a man? Not true.
I call them white lies because these patients mean well and just want their secrets kept safe. They do not want to judged. Most times, when pressure is applied in a firm but subtle manner, that teenage girl, who was swearing just a few minutes ago, will burst into tears and tell you that it was her boyfriend who said she could not get pregnant from only putting the ‘tip’!
These white lies take many forms and recently, in this COVID era, have become quite rife. Questions like ‘Have you travelled outside the country recently or had contact with someone who did?’ The answer: ‘No!’ Meanwhile, he just arrived from China and snuck in from Abuja at night. He gave the airport officials a fake address because he does not want to be associated with COVID-19. He is sure that his sore throat is just a minor respiratory ailment. No need to tell the doctor, the less they know, the better. What business does the doctor have with his travel history sef?
The second category and perhaps the most dangerous, are those who give very little or misleading information. It is as if the Nigerian patient wants to test the intellectual prowess of their doctors. Why should they volunteer information just like that? Let the doctors suffer! What is their fat salary for? Some patients will twist and manipulate their history so much that an inexperienced doctor may end up making a wrong diagnosis! Much as it pains me to admit, this category of patients is made up of largely women. A young lady will visit the clinic with complaints of vague abdominal pain and heartburn and be angry that her needs are not met. Pray tell, how is the doctor supposed to read your mind and figure out that what really brought you to the clinic was infertility? Again, experience is the doctor’s ammunition. Old cargo doctors can spot patients who deflect or withhold information by merely staring at the patient. It’s like magic I tell you. Married without children, vague symptoms equals Infertility. Middle aged men, new bride, complaining of body weakness? That one is straightforward erectile dysfunction. However, even though the doctors are able to decipher these clues, it is exhausting. Dear Nigerian patient, not every time wuru-wuru- please just go straight to the point and tell the doctor what is wrong with you!
Lastly, but certainly not less important, the Nigerian patient is prayerful. Nobody has as much faith as a Nigerian who is sick. You will see them holding their prayer beads and mumbling verse after verse under their breath. This is especially seen among the elderly, who are in no hurry to die. Their beads are seen moving furiously even as they joke with their relatives making you (the doctor) wonder if they are indeed praying or suffering from some kind of dyskinesia. Their pastors or Imams (whichever applies, in some cases, even both) come to visit them often. The Nigerian patient offers alms to the poor and makes generous donations to various charities as if to make a barter with God. See me, Oh God! I have donated a whole borehole to the people in my community, You would do well to remove this cancer from my body. I do not want to die now! Never mind that he or she has amassed billions over the years and charity was never their strong suit. What matters is, they have now repented. The Nigerian patient suddenly becomes very pious and is unaware that the urinary problems he is currently having is as a result of the promiscuous lifestyle he led in his youth. They become very sober and it is up to you, the doctor, whom they have told their little white lies and stories of denials, to give them some level of comfort.
Like I said, the Nigerian patient is a unique individual, both physiologically and psychologically, specifically created for an equally intriguing specie- the Nigerian Doctor!