How a quick decision from Dr Uto Essien Adetula, saved a senior’s life
Meet Dr. Uto, one of the oldest Doctors at Gerocare. One fateful day, Dr. Uto was going for what she thought would be a regular Doctor’s visit to a senior. The state in which she met the senior was shocking and she swung into swift action to take measures to ensure the senior got first aid and prompt medical attention afterward. Her actions literally saved that senior’s life. Dr. Uto is our Gerocare Hero this December because of this uncommon feat. I had a chat with her about that incident and about the work she does at Gerocare. Here’s an excerpt from the interview as written by Jolaoluwa Abokede
Can we meet you? Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
My name is Uto Essien Adetula. I’m an orthopedic surgeon, I live and work in Enugu. I’ve been an orthopedic surgeon for over twelve years.
Can you tell us a little more about that fateful visit?
It happened several years ago, I think about five years ago, it was in July. Gerocare was still pretty much new and we were taking baby steps. It happened in Enugu where I live and work. So I was called to ask if I can schedule an appointment with a patient, then, I called the sponsor and she gave me the phone number of her Dad. I actually called to reschedule because it was late in the day already and had some things already planned, but they said he was quite ill and they would appreciate me coming in that day. I decided to and I got there that evening, thinking I would just see him, prescribe some medication and go back home, but he wasn’t looking good when I saw him. He was very ill-looking, actually, he was just lying down, he was really really ill and he was elderly too. By the time I got the story from the caregivers and those around him, i discovered he had been ill for a while and hadn’t been using some of his drugs, he was actually looking terrible and I didn’t think he would make it through the night so I had to call the sponsor again and give an update. There was nowhere I could take him to that I was comfortable with at that time, it was quite late and far answer needed a place his caregivers were comfortable with where they could come to take care of him and go back home that wouldn’t also inconvenience them so much.
They recommended a hospital nearby I was comfortable with when I checked. I spoke to the Doctor on call, actually speaking with a fellow Doctor and colleague makes it easier to care for a client. When he saw my client, he understood my fears and challenges, and he decided to go ahead with the admission and started taking care of the senior. I told them what I wanted to be done for the senior so he took over from there. The next day when I called, he had been moved to a bigger hospital, the state hospital I initially recommended and he got quality care from then on.
When you say he was in a terrible state, did any diagnosis immediately come to your mind?
When I saw him and asked for a quick history from his caregivers, what medication has he been using? Has he been eating? Etc. I went with my gadgets and I was able to take some of his vital signs. He had a very high fever, he wasn’t really breathing well either, he couldn’t even answer my questions, he was also diabetic and he wasn’t also on his drugs so I thought about so many things that could be wrong at that point in time, could he be having a diabetic emergency? Had his immune status dropped so low due to severely complicated malaria? I don’t remember so well but he really was very ill. So i made a spot on diagnosis that he had to get immediate medical care.
How did you hear of Gerocare and when did you start working with Gerocare?
I’ve known about Gerocare since it’s inception. You could say I joined Gerocare the very year it started. Initially, it was just Lagos and Abuja, Enugu was one of the next states and then I thought it was a lovely idea, I was just afraid of you know how Africans can get, we can be traditional but I thought it was a wonderful idea. You know really having a Doctor come home to care for you, not a pretend Doctor, someone to come to talk to you, you can tell them how you feel, they tell you what they found out and tell you how you can take care of yourself. In a hospital setting, you rarely have time to ask your Doctor, what’s wrong with me?, you really don’t have that one-on-one session but with Gerocare, you get to do that.
I can communicate freely with you, communicate with your sponsors/kids, and tell them what I found out, and what I think. You don’t really get that at the typical hospitals because with all that’s going on, you don’t want to be sued for someone misconstruing what you said or turning it the other way around and that’s one beautiful thing about Gerocare, When it started, I felt oh it’s a lovely idea but will Nigerians accept it so soon but see, it’s been a wonderful experience, I haven’t been disappointed with Gerocare at all.
How did you anticipate your first senior visit with Gerocare?
In all honesty, I was a bit skeptical, I love my job no doubt but going to houses, I am a woman, going alone, honestly, I was just so worried. I called a male friend then, I told him I need you to go with me, just wait in the car in case it isn’t safe or what I expect lol. Coincidentally,the patient was from my hometown Uyo, they were really friendly, and all the clients I have had to see since then under Gerocare have all been very welcoming and accommodating. In fact, once or twice I have gone back with gifts I didn’t even want to take so the visits have been nice, they all appreciate a Doctor coming over, taking their vitals, listening to them, they’re always happy with that.
Can you tell us about your most memorable visit?
I’ve had several! Several memorable visits, apart from the first visit we spoke about, there was a senior in Akwa Ibom I went to see, his sponsor was in Abuja so we had to call and call just to get the location. They were really so happy and I actually saw both the Dad and the Mom even though they only registered one parent, they were so happy, they just asked me to see the other parent off record. By the time I was leaving, I don’t remember what it was they gave me again but it was such a nice and thoughtful package, even when I said no, they insisted and took the package to the car. They actually thought I came to visit because I was their daughter’s friend, I don’t think they realised it was a paid service.
How have these visits impacted your career as a Doctor, having to constantly attend to seniors?
You know how life is, how the world goes now. Many of us don’t have the luxury to be with our loved ones 24/7, being able to care for someone else’s parents, you want to take care of them like they’re yours so you do the best you can and you hope that when it comes to your turn, you’ll get the same kind of quality care and that your own parents are also being cared for where they are, that basically is how it has impacted my job, do the best you can do, you don’t know where you might be tomorrow, you don’t know what life might throw at you.
How has Gerocare enriched the lives of these seniors?
It has enriched their lives a whole lot because you don’t really see geriatric patients coming into the hospitals often, because they usually need someone to get them to the hospital, maybe before they come they’re late. Most times, they just want someone to speak with them, talk to them, and most times, that time is not there in a clinical setting because there’s a million and one other things to do, you’re rushing to see other patients so that time isn’t really there. But with Gerocare, you’re able to meet them in a place that’s comfortable for them, it’s their territory, it’s their comfort zone and so they’re able to speak freely with you. You as a Doctor, give them your time and ears, there’s no way that won’t have a positive impact, it’s also meaningful work for you as a Doctor and you’re making a difference so it all counts. You’re also able to guide the caregiver to give appropriate care, this is what we want you to do and we’ll keep you posted if anything changes, it’s a lot, it’s a whole lot.
Can you share a story about one of your favourite seniors?
I don’t remember her name, it was a woman. She’s been all alone and lonely and when she was told she has guests, she was so excited, “oh I have guests? I have guests? Wow!, Oh people came to see me?” She was just so excited. I had to tell her, oh your daughter asked me to come see you, I’m a Doctor and I’m here to see you and she was just so happy. Most times, they just want you to sit down and speak with them. There have been several experiences like that but that one stuck with me, she was so happy, and her joy was so palpable.
What’s one thing you’d like to see improve at Gerocare?
I’d like more people to embrace the idea behind Gerocare. I know Gerocare is mainly for the geriatric population but I’d like more people to embrace that thought, that idea that I can care for my parents from anywhere in the world. I’d also like to see other services at Gerocare, maybe schedule other specialists like ophthalmologists, ENT specialists, etc to tackle the usual problems of seniors like poor eyesight, not hearing well, etc. But I think Gerocare is doing an amazing job, what they have achieved in the last five years is remarkable and I see them conquering more heights in the near future.
Most Seniors seem to be lonely, how can their sponsors deal with this?
I think it all boils down to starting early. Many people have to leave home for work and build their own families and also make some money. Your kids won’t always be around but if they grow up going to visit their grandparents, your kids will in turn do the same. Give them company, it’s wrong for them to always stay alone, have someone, preferably family stay with them or a caregiver to keep them company. They could also join groups online just to have that sense of community. I don’t think seniors should be left alone especially when they’re over sixty and sixty is still a fairly young age. You could pay someone to stay with them. I am African, i don’t believe in dropping our seniors at old people’s homes, i don’t believe in that. I believe those who you’ve impacted/trained when you were younger should be able to give you some of their time too. Everyone is going to grow old eventually, so teach the younger ones how to care for their older ones when they’re young so when they’re older they can do the same so it’s something we pass on from generation to generation.
What do you think the Nigerian Government can do to alleviate the plight of seniors in Nigeria, especially ones that are not as privileged to access a service like Gerocare?
The government has a lot to do, we need special hospitals for seniors, or even within hospitals, there has to be special centres for the geriatric population. They walk in, they shouldn’t have to queue, they shouldn’t have to wait too long, they should have access to a Doctor within twenty, thirty minutes, employ enough hands, and pay them well. They should have places they can go to access quality care. Their services should be free or highly subsidised compared to others. These are people who have worked hard in their youth and adult years and when it is time to rest now, they shouldn’t have more stress, we should appreciate them. So the government has a lot to do, many of them are even on their pension that they don’t get regularly so the government has to really come in and do much more than they’re doing at the moment.
Let’s talk about the japa wave in the healthcare sector, how will this mass exodus of Nigerian healthcare professionals impact the geriatric population now or in the future
In five/ten years, you won’t have any Doctors to care for of Nigerians anymore o (laughter), Japa is real, it’s so real. You’re talking to someone now and by next week, that person is gone! If you speak to ten doctors now, nine of them are one foot out of the country already. They’ve taken exams, and they’ve paid. The government isn’t doing enough. There Are no tools to work with, no jobs, and even when you have the jobs, you’re not being paid regularly, the clients’ relatives are almost always angry at Doctors thinking you’re the cause of their problems, not realising the government is also frustrating you. Even if you want to work here, you want to be happy with your job, if I have everything I need when I want to work, I’ll be really really happy, I won’t even mind working so hard as long as I’m seeing the improvements. But really, by the time everyone leaves, who will teach the younger generations? There’s no knowledge transfer as it is. So we’re all at risk basically.
What Can Sponsors or Relatives of Seniors Do Better? What advice would you give them?
My first advice, register your loved ones with Gerocare! That’s the first thing, it’s one of the best gifts you can give them. Then when it is time for a visit, tell your parents to get ready on time. Most times, they have been notified of the intended visits at least 24 hours ahead. Don’t let them keep the Doctors waiting, Just try to get them ready one time so the Doctor has enough time to speak with you, examine you and isn’t in a hurry to leave and if they aren’t happy with the service, encourage them to leave feedback with Gerocare.
With Gerocare, what do you think is the future of the senior population in Nigeria?
When Gerocare gets there, it’s going to be wonderful for the geriatric population in Nigeria. We’re already getting there (laughter). I see a beautiful future, I see them living longer, not just longer lives, but improved quality of life with the Gerocare visits. A happier, healthier older generation is what I see.
Thank you for having me Dr Uto and for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me
It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.
compiled by Jolaoluwa Abokede