By Oyedeji Aderemi
Permit me this time around to talk about a patient who walked into my consulting room to seek medical assistance recently. A bright Thursday morning, sallah was in the air, and people planned to either take the day off to catch up on lost sleep, or to visit friends. I had no such plans, for the holiday I treated myself to work at the clinic. It was a slow day at first until she walked in after the nurse brought in her card. The lady did not look as young as the age written on her card tells me, she looked about 37 years old, but her age on the card reads 23years. I welcome her, but my curiosity got the better of me, I asked her, madam how old are you? (Hoping the age written was wrong) but she answered without any doubt that she was born in 1989.
I wonder what could have made her age so fast, within a few minutes the answer came pouring forth, she could not hold it all back, then I noticed she had a 2 year old son who was initially not allowed to come into the consulting room. She lost her first child aged 2years to a febrile illness, this son in tow is her second child and she was clearly pregnant, six months gone. She came to take care of herself because she was having body aches, she was beaten by her husband because she asked for some more money to buy food per chance that what she cooked in the morning does not appeal to her later in the day. The husband felt she should eat the same meal three times a day since he does not earn much from his work as a bricklayer and his daily take home pay, once he deducts the essential alcohol and girlfriend fund, cannot take him home. He kicked her, slapped her, dragged her on the floor to teach her a ‘lesson’, all this while the 2 year old son was crying and dragging the father’s trouser. Neighbors came in to intervene, but it was too late she had suffered bruises to the chest and back and the damage was done. She tells me that will be the third time he will beat her on trivial issues, each episode worse than the last.
Her case reminded me of another victim of domestic violence I treated recently. She was a university student and the abuser was a boyfriend. In the end, she tried suicide and although she did not succeed, one is not sure about her quality of life after that.
Everyday across the world a man or woman is beaten by his or her spouse, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, a professor, a primary school teacher, an unknown man or a star. Perpetrators and victims come in different ages, sex, profession, tribe and social strata. It is a daily menace that is seldom discussed in our society, much like rape and other sexually violent crimes. Often health workers are left to pick up the pieces with tools that are not sufficient. Doctors can only heal the body, and nothing else. Our society is called to change our patriarchal culture. In the rural and sub-urban areas, tales of woes rise and rise. They speak of women who died without any consequences to the husband or male relative that killed them, children who have become half-orphans, and those who must grow up seeing their father hurt their mothers and consider it the only way to ‘tame’ a woman. This is the norm of our society. The silence about domestic violence is deafening and often it is the health worker that must pick up the pieces of lives deferred. Before we lower another body six feet under, let us speak up.
I told the woman to report to the nearest police station, she looked at me with teary eyes and shook her head and she asked me, who will fend for my son and unborn child. I had no answers to that.