A day in the life of a laboratory scientist
Without an effective laboratory to compliment services, a medical doctor works as if blindfolded. Cognizant of this, the management of Ayokemi Hospital and Ultra Sound Centre lwo Rd., Ibadan runs a well-equipped laboratory to augment the task of delivering quality healthcare to a teeming population in one of West Africa’s biggest cities.
lt was one of those uncharacteristically cold wet mornings in August 2012 when a heavily built, light-complexioned 36-year-old man was brought in by his wife. The man was screaming unselfconsciously in pain, his wife watching him in what could only be described as a fine blend of concern and contempt. To her it all looked like a preface to the nightmare scenario she had long rerun in her mind concerning her man ever since she knew his genotype.
The patient was quickly clerked and admitted. As he received first aid for pain, in-house Lab Scientist Simeon Ibekwe took blood samples for various tests including, well, genotype.
Practice as a laboratory scientist has brought Simeon Ibekwe into close contact with legions of patients and health conditions; but for the first time in his six-year long practice, he doubted his own competence. lbekwe attended St. Annes’ Primary School in Kakuri, and Government College, Kaduna, a city not unknown for Islamic fundamentalism.
After his family home was razed during a spate of religious crises, Ibekwe relocated to Lagos. In succession, he attended the College of Health, Yaba, Lagos and the School of Medical Laboratory Science, Oluyoro, Ibadan. Several times Ibekwe ran the blood specimen through the digital electrophoretic machine and unwaveringly the result came back as HbCC.
‘I was familiar with HbCC as an abnormal genotype,’ Ibekwe says, ‘but had never come across it in anyone.’
lbekwe checked once more and gave it up. With a non too confident mien, he went to report his findings to Medical Director, Dr. Seyi Ojo. On seeing the result, Dr. Ojo gave broke into a broad smile. It confirmed what the patient said on clerking.
Inwardly, Ibekwe heaved a sigh of relief: for no idle reason was he selected best student of the 2003/2004 set at school.
When he was 14, Uzo (not his real name) lived with an aunt who had spent many years studying in the United States. When her two-year-old daughter was found with sickle cell anaemia, she decided everyone in the household must have their genotype verified.
Thus, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Uzo, was told that his genotype was CC. The letters meant nothing to him and he continued his life as before. Until his admission at Ayokemi Hospital, he had never gone to see a doctor in his life.
‘My health has always been perfect,’ Uzo says, ‘and I have never had issues with pain.’
Even people with normal Hb AA do come down with illness from time to time, but for all his life Uzo’s ‘healthy’ sickle cell seemed to have kept illness down.
Treated at Ayokemi Hospital and discharged after one week, Uzo returned two weeks later for a checkup. A health-conscious geek, he lived exclusively on fruits and vegetables throughout the period of convalescence. Still, the self-confessed introvert’s weight jumped from 95kg to 103kg.
A well-travelled hybrid engineer with Airtel in south east Nigeria, Uzo received his prescription of folic acid, multivite and anti-malarials, medications he had done without for all his 36 years. He took the regimen for a few days and flushed down the remnants. He wasn’t used to taking anything but food on a daily basis.
The odds are, this patient with an unproblematic sickle cell disorder will not be axed by the disorder again. If at all, going by probabilities, he will be 72 before he has another sickling crises requiring hospitalization.