…they say the “axe may forget but the tree that has been cut never forgets its tormentor”.
A MEDICAL operation is something in a day’s work for a doctor. Quite often when such an operation has been performed, the doctor may forget ever having attended to a particular patient because there are usually many such patients who require medical attention. The doctor may not be able to keep count or remember any particular face.
But patients are less likely to forget specialists who perform life-saving procedures. They are less likely to forget those who botch such operations and leave them to deal with the consequences for the rest of their lives.
In fact, Africans have a proverb to explain this phenomenon. It says while the axe that cuts a tree may forget, the tree itself would never forget its torment and tormentor.
One such patient is *Mapeo Luka. Three years on, Ms Luka, now 44, is still struggling to come to terms with a botched Cesarean (C-section) operation performed on her at Mafeteng Hospital in 2019 to enable her to deliver her baby.
In an interview this week, Ms Luka vividly recalled the horrific experience where her intestines spilled out of her gut through a badly sewn wound in full view of fellow patients and some health professionals.
This unforgettable experience happened a few days after she had given birth.
Instead of celebrating her new born baby, Ms Luka said she had to painfully endure the sight of blood, pain and sadness as she struggled to keep her protruding intestines from falling.
Even now Ms Luka says she has to contend with the pain and she has been disfigured due to the incompetence of the specialist doctor who operated on her all those years ago at Mafeteng Hospital.
“I was operated by a doctor who stitched my wound and left some gaps in between,” Ms Luka said this week.
“This negligence caused my stomach to burst. A subsequent attempt by student doctors to re-sew the wound did not help as it continued to leak puss and blood until I was released from hospital.
“Upon my release I was given a check-up date. I went back on that date and my condition had not gotten any better but the same doctor sent me back home. As I was walking down the hospital corridors the wound burst open and my intestines came gushing out.”
Ms Luka said some nurses rushed to her aid after she passed out. When she awakened, she found herself on a hospital bed surrounded by several nurses, she said.
She was then taken to the hospital theatre for re-stitching but her problem has never left her. She endures abdominal pains every day.
“I went back to the hospital and the nurses sent me to Maseru for a scan. When they saw the scan results they told me that they were afraid to do anything on me after my previous encounters. They told me that the only remedy they could provide was painkillers.”
Afterwards, Ms Luka said she went to see a private doctor who stabilised her condition.
The doctor told her that the doctors at Mafeteng Hospital were not supposed to re-stitch her after the failed attempt.
They should have allowed the wound to heal completely on its own, she was told.
“That Mafeteng Hospital doctor messed me up. He ruined my life. My posture is now lop-sided because of the botched C-section operation,” Ms Luka said.
She is not the only victim of incompetence and negligence by doctors.
Another patient, *‘Mamosa Tema said she also suffered unbearable pain when she lost her baby soon after delivery at the same Mafeteng Hospital. She was attended to by the same specialist doctor.
As if losing her baby was not enough, the doctor removed her womb shortly after she gave birth, saying this was to avoid further complications.
“One night early this year I felt some abdominal pains when I was seven months pregnant. I decided to go to the hospital in the morning and I was referred to the doctor for examination,” Ms Tema said.
“The doctor asked me when last I heard the baby move in my womb. After that, he prescribed some medication and released me.”
She said she started bleeding when she got home and she was rushed back to the hospital.
The same doctor was called and he took her to the theatre room for a C-section operation. But the baby was very weak and died not long after being delivered.
Then more shocking news came.
She said the doctor told her he was going to remove her womb. She was not offered any counselling.
She said other health professionals remained silent because they did not want to be seen as challenging the doctor’s decision.
“They said since the doctor was the most senior they could not challenge him even if they were not happy with his decision to send me back home after my first consultation. But there was nothing they could do because he is their senior.
“That doctor failed me. None of my problems would have happened had he not sent me back home when I first went to consult. I was not even allowed time to think about whether or not the decision to remove my womb was the correct one.
“Right now I have pain and so many regrets. The only way for me to get some kind of closure is for that doctor to be fired. I cannot bear to think what other female patients might be going through in his hands. I lost both my child and my womb. It’s sad that he doesn’t see anything wrong with his actions. When we ask the hospital for answers, they tell it was a human error on the doctor’s part and I just have to accept it,” Ms Tema said.
She said she and her husband were determined to find closure and they had since engaged a lawyer over the matter.
According to sources at the hospital, another woman came to have her fibroids removed through a laparotomy.
But after operating on her, the same doctor re-stitched her, saying he could not find any fibroids.
The sources said when the woman returned for a scan she found out that the fibroids were still there. Unfortunately, another private doctor refused to assist her, insisting that she should go back and see the Mafeteng doctor who had operated on her.
The sources told the Lesotho Times that the hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology ward was frequently full of patients who returned for further consultation due to complications from botched operations performed by the same doctor.
Contacted for comment, Mafeteng District Medical Officer (DMO) Mahali Ntšasa said she could neither confirm nor deny the allegations about the doctor because she had not received any complaints about the alleged malpractices.
“Such allegations have not reached my office. The problem with patients is that they do not report cases of ill-treatment or malpractices to the authorities.
“I do not know if this is out of lack of knowledge or they are just afraid to knock at our offices to seek our intervention. Everyone who has a query about the hospital must feel free to come to my office to report their challenges. But no one has come so far. So, I cannot confirm or deny whether all these alleged cases are true or false,” Dr Ntšasa said.
She advised the patients to lodge formal complaints with the hospital and these would be recorded in files which she could access to find out which doctor had been negligent in his work.
“In Mafeteng we have two doctors who specialise in obstetrics and gynecology so I will be able to see who conducted the operations,” Dr Ntšasa added.
Contacted for comment this week, the Health ministry’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Services Manager, Motsoanku Mefane, said they were only aware of the allegations through the grapevine. No formal complaints had been lodged, she said.
“When these things happen and remain unreported, it becomes a challenge because sometimes health professionals protect their colleagues,” Ms Mefane said.
This is not the first time that questions have been raised over the competence and professionalism of some doctors and specialists engaged by the Ministry of Health.
Some workers in the ministry recently alleged that some consultants were not suitably qualified and they were under-performing.
They called for the reform of the ministry’s Credentials Committee which is tasked with assessing and overseeing the duties and performance of consultant medical specialists engaged by the ministry.
They claimed that the ministry spends about M600 000 on one consultant doctor per year, yet these consultants spent most of their time running their private clinics.
Some of them even referred patients from government hospitals to their private facilities so that they can make more money.
They also alleged the Credentials Committee was performing poorly because its members were handpicked by the director general of health services, Nyane Letsie, whom they accused of failing to execute the ministry’s mandate of providing quality health services to the public.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times a fortnight ago, Dr Letsie denied all the allegations.