Man is an Animal (3): Medicine

in continuation of our series which examines just how close to our fellow animals we are we have wandered into a humourous examination of human medicine

The Sea Cucumber can eject its intestines at the sight of a predator, strangely it can jumpstart them into growing back


A Lizard can get its severed tail to grow back


 Chimpanzees have been known to self medicate, their medicine chest appears to include the following: Antiaris toxicaria leaves (anti-tumor), Cordia abyssinica pith (anti-malarial and anti-bacterial), Ficus capensis (anti-bacterial), Ficus natalensis bark (anti-diarrheal), Ficus urceolaris leaves (de-worming agent), and many more.


Doctors of Alternative therapy, churches professing miracles, yoga practitioners, support groups all offering secrets of healing, and many people flock to them in thousands.

In recent years, interest has risen in alternative therapy ahead of their traditional counterparts. The reason is not particularly far fetched and is easily understandable.

Nollywood has summed up the medical profession well. It is a profession of the downright expensive; it is so expensive that it will blow you right out of the window. According to Nollywood, no operation goes for less than three hundred thousand naira and all surgical operations are so critical that they must be between two days or the patient dies. But then we may be tempted to agree with them. The body is a delicate thing that should not be toyed with right?

Next to surgeries, drugs are the next up the list of most baffling items in  conventional  medicine . You go to your doctor’s office to tell him about your illness. He is usually pleasant enough “ hello Mr. B, how are you doing today?” you tell him that you  feel feverish, you can’t sleep at night, you feel hot and cold at the same time, a rock band is playing next to your ears, and World War III, complete with noisy airplanes and exploding bazookas and grenades, is going on in your head. “Oh! It’s nothing serious?” he exclaims. (Note than nothing is ever serious, he has seen worse before). “ Let me write you a prescription.” He gets a sheet of paper and writes a few things. “take this list to the pharmacy, buy the drugs, take them as prescribed and lets see how you feel after two weeks.” As he hands you the sheet, you try to read what he has written, but everything looks like ancient Hebrew. Everything is so strange that as you go to the pharmacy, you cannot help feeling that you have been asked to deliver a coded message to the pharmacist for your own execution. You can only hope and pray that you meet someone to explain the meaning of what you are holding to you before you are poisoned.

Let me at this point add, that the doctor will never writes the name of the drug that you know in a prescription. He calls it an obscure name out of their medical dictionary. It’s when you get to the chemist that you discover that the drug whose name looks and sounds like a passage out of an ancient Greek textbook is Paracetamol or Flagyl. “Why can’t they keep it simple?” you wonder. I think the most rational explanation is that if the doctor spent six years training to learn to distinguish between the names, why do you feel it’s going to be a piece of cake for you? To be honest, I can live with that, why should I fret about what a drug is called so far it does the job and does not leave any side effects. But the part that gets really scary is the fact that illnesses have also taken on the  complexity of nomenclature. I was once driven by boredom to reading medical books and dictionaries (believe me, if you are not a medical initiate it could be the worst decision you could ever make). Here common cold is not just an  illness, it is a virus ( the scary part is that AIDS and Conjunctivitis are also viruses). I suppose that since the names of the drugs are so incredibly complex, the diseases they cure should also be complex. That explains it. I also feel that if the illnesses were that simple, we might also become doctors and begin to cure ourselves. So for the doctors to stay ahead they need a code we (laymen) cannot understand.

Still on drugs, appearances can really be deceptive. A small tablet no bigger than a grain of corn may cost more than half the price of your brand new car, a pill like a mustard seed will top your salary per annum, and the price an injection the size of your left thumb will build you a mansion in Lekki or Victoria Garden City. The rule is you will never get well with a drug which does not taste funny and which you can afford. Doctors will tell you to eat before you take a particular drug, but what if the reason you need to take the drug is that you have lost your appetite ? Then you have to wait and pray that your appetite comes back from its tour (but what would you need the drug for then?). Actually it gets worse.  Some drugs for cold “may induce drowsiness” which means if you have a cold and you have to go to work the next morning, you can leave your nose run, or sleep on duty. The drug to cure your malaria keeps you awake at night and leaves your body itching like  you’ve spent the whole day in a jungle,(the drug to ease this will bring on general weakness over your body), and the drug to cure your constipation may bring on diarrhea. The drug to help you flush harmful worms out of your system may cause stomach pains. In the end you have to rely on the natural capacity of the body to heal itself. It is much easier for goats who seem to know by instinct which leaf to eat for each ailment and doesn’t need doctors to tell them what to do

After your sickness has defied everything you can use at home, you are brought to the hospital and admitted. In truth there is no other word that describes the process better. In hospitals, the ward is like a class. You get lost among rows of patients who are in the same condition you are in, whom you have nothing to share but your tales of woe. Occasionally they bring in someone who is in worse condition than you are, and just looking at the person makes you feel worse than before. You are so sad you want to scream.

It is also in the hospital that the phrase getting under your skin, takes on a whole new meaning. At every point in time something must either be going into your body or coming out of it. There are some people who come in put something into your body and then take away whatever comes out, blood, urine, faeces, and are never seen again. I may get in trouble for saying this, but I have always had this belief that every hospital has a horde of vampires allocated to it. I feel that is the only explanation about what happens to all the blood they draw from the patients every hour of the day.

Then there are the medical students who stare at you like you are something that just fell out of the wedding cake, and then shake and shudder like they are going to vomit.

And then there are also the nutritionists who come in and complain  that you have failed to finish your food for the third time in two days. Your only other option is to run away from the hospital

Finally let me offer you an alternative plan to a hospital it’s called the Get Well or Die Happy Plan. If you don’t feel well, check into a hotel close to your house. If you are lucky you might get a suite with a double bed and also a bath robe that covers your entire body (for the price of one night at the hotel, you’ll pay three times that for a hospital bed). The good thin is that you can sleep as long as possible without anybody coming to press down your eyelids intermittent to see what your eyeballs now look like, you get the privacy to read a good book, and nobody cares if you don’t finish your food. If you need an accelerated heart rate drop by at a public soccer viewing centre and watch a football game. If you are bored go to the nearest newspaper vendor and listen to people arguments about how politicians steal money. Before you dismiss my Health Plan as being too expensive, consider the fact that for a week in a hotel you will send four times more on a surgical operation.

   Cats purr when they are injured, it reportedly lessens the pain. I sometimes wish human beings can do the same. If that were possible no one would need to go to a hospital anymore and perhaps the medical practitioners will not be needed anymore and they’ll pack up. That would be great news right? Okay maybe some of us will not be very happy if that happens. But no doubt, we love our doctors. Long live the Hippocritical (sorry Hippocratic) profession.


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