Health & Fitness

Accept problem to find its solution

In the last 10-15 years, the medical profession
In the last 10-15 years, the medical profession has, in leaps and bounds developed some very novel and effective treatment. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

“How can one deal with shame of embarrassing medical conditions? I know of many people suffering silently but they can’t face a doctor or relatives and friends for help”

I am not aware of any medical condition that can be (correctly) described as embarrassing. As lawyers might put it, all medical conditions rank pari-passu in the eyes of the doctor! There is no shame in suffering any medical condition. Indeed, it is the perception that some diseases bring shame and scandal that many people continue to suffer out of fear and ignorance.

In the last 10-15 years, the medical profession has, in leaps and bounds developed some very novel and effective treatment. A recent story in the local media tells of an ear nose and throat (ENT) surgeon who has offered to do a complicated ear operation on a well know media personality. Additionally, there are a number of cancer survivors who would not be alive today, were it not for the skills (and dedication) of a number of Kenyan doctors who use modern treatments of different cancer types. Whether one is practicing in the field of diabetes, heart disease or even infectious disease, Kenyan doctors have complex (new) tools that cure and in some cases control diseases that you might in the past have considered to be incurable or in your words, embarrassing.

In my own field of mental health, giant steps have been made in the safety and effectiveness of the substances that we now use in psychiatry. In the (many) years that I have practiced in mental health, there are many drugs that we used routinely 20 years ago that are no longer in use, in part because they are not as effective as the newer ones or because the side effect profile is so poor.

Two years ago, we saw a young man who was a student at local university. He had been expelled from his course because he had “failed to meet the grade”. In desperation, he had attempted suicide twice; the first time by taking an overdose and the second by jumping from a height.

The history given by his parents after the second attempt told of a boy who had excelled in primary and secondary school. He was an ‘A’ student all the way and gained admission to university to his chosen course without difficulty.

During the second year of his studies, he developed what was likely a depressive illness. At first he complained that the lectures were hard to follow. His mother told him to listen with greater care. In time he complained that he had problems sleeping at night.

His father told him that he also had problems sleeping while at university, a problem he solved with a tot or two of whisky. The young man took his father’s advice. It worked for a short time and in time half a bottle of vodka did not cause him any sleep. He was becoming an alcoholic on the advice of his father.

He then complained that he felt sad and that his grades were falling. His parents took him to the local pastor who diagnosed demon possession complicated by alcohol abuse. More and intense prayers were ordered but the problem persisted.

When he failed his exams and was expelled, his parents were too embarrassed to admit that their son had failed at university. The embarrassment was so great that they stopped going to church for fear of being asked about their son. Shame about a diagnosis of a depressive illness kept their son from the treatment he so desperately needed.

Finally they woke up and took him to a psychiatrist after a lucky escape from a fall from the third floor of a friend’s flat. A combination of talk therapy and medication at a local private clinic restored the young man to a life of a dignified self-respect.

Two months after “the embarrassing” event of the fall, the young man went back to first year and was once again at the top of his class. He has remained well and is due to complete his BCom in the next few months. Embarrassment about a possible diagnosis of depression had robbed the young man and his family of two years of his life. A near tragedy had saved his life.

You have a choice of either embracing your embarrassment about some medical conditions, or accepting that death could result from any further delay.