Clutching a cellophane bag, Christopher Akhile (43), a father of three, has been weighed down by the death of his wife , Elizabeth, and his inability to bury her remains.
This is because the remains of the woman who died in 2011 are being ‘detained’ at the mortuary of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State.
Akhile, who together with his late wife hail from Ugbegun, in Esan North East, Edo State, started the battle to save her life in Lagos in 2011, when she took ill and was taken to Plateau Hospital, on Agege Motor Road.
She was placed on admission for one month.
The battle to save his wife’s life, however, ended at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, where she died on August 2011. At this point, Akhile, a driver by profession, had exhausted his finances and lost his job with a female senior naval officer in Abuja.
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH on his predicament, Akhile said he remained in the village till January 2012, before returning to Lagos to raise money for outstanding services received at ISTH. Meanwhile, the bill continued to pile, with the daily N1, 000 fee charged by the hospital mortuary unit, for keeping Elizabeth’s remains.
Akhile, who said he paid N120, 000 at ISTH, but was unable to carry on, is pleading that the hospital waive their fee, to allow him bury his late wife.
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, the widower said he wrote for a waiver in April 2012. But by May 2013, when the bill had risen to over N500,000, the hospital’s authorities asked him to defray part of the amount before they could look into the matter.
Akhile said, “She (wife) became ill in 2011, I took her to Plateau Hospital, Agege Motor Road in Lagos. I paid N20, 000 and she became okay. This was after I paid for other charges and later she was admitted for one month. After discharge, the sickness came up again. I took her to LASUTH almost dead, after a day, they referred us to General Hospital, Ile-Epo, where she was on admission for about three weeks, after which we were referred to LUTH.
“In Ile-Epo, they listed some foods she should eat and advised her to stay on fruits, unripe plantain and vegetable and amala. The sickness they said could be diabetes, TB or pneumonia, and that was why I came. When my money got exhausted, in my two bank accounts, I took them (late wife and children) home, to Ugbegun. I was working with a naval officer (woman), in Abuja, and by this time, she said she had employed someone else.
“My sister-in-law took Elizabeth to Irrua Specialist, after which they called me. I stayed with her running here and there. At Irrua (hospital), for two weeks, she could not eat, she could not drink, and was placed on oxygen. After, the doctor called and said they would take her somewhere and I agreed. She came out and everything appeared well; I even called Lagos, and my wife talked with my neighbours.
“Later, the doctor said she needed blood and by this time I was empty; all my money had run out. On August 31, 2011, because she was moaning, she vomited all over me and gave up. That was the last. I remained in the village till January 2012, before I returned to Lagos, to raise money.”
Akhile said he was able to defray part of the bill in 2011, but could no longer continue, while more bills piled.
He said, “Everyday, the mortuary bill is N1, 000. I paid up to N120, 000 before I could no longer continue. On April 2, 2012, I wrote a letter of waiver, in order for me to remove my late wife’s body. They replied that I should pay N80, 000, failing which I would not be allowed to remove the body.
I pleaded, but to no avail.
“The letter they wrote, I wanted to go for it, so that I can use it as evidence when I meet those that will assist me. But on the day I went, the hospital staff were on strike.”
When contacted about the development, on Monday, the Chief Medical Director, ISTH, Prof. George Akpede, said he would not comment on what he did not know about.
He said, “I cannot comment on what I don’t know about, visit the hospital and get details of these.”
A visit to Irrua was to highlight the challenging situation in which the hospital might have found itself in, particularly in Akhile’s case.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, an employee of the hospital explained the difficulty that might result if people don’t come forward to claim the corpses of departed relations before a given period.
He said it might be difficult for management to write off debts incurred by such persons. He said the issue of money or release of a corpse was not the exclusive preserve of the hospital management. He further explained that the hospital reserved the right to bury those long abandoned in the hospital mortuary.
He said, “There is a standing law that if you don’t come for your deceased person in the mortuary for a given period of time, we have the prerogative to come and assess and accord such burial, because the mortuary facility will no longer be enough to cater to the service of others in need of mortuary, hence we call the local government to come and give them a mass burial.
“That is after our legal department must have had clearance from the local government and the court. If he (Akhile) has somebody there and he does not have fund, he should write the hospital for a waiver.”
When told of efforts by the distraught widower in that regard, the source said revenue issues were not for management alone to decide.
He said, “All we do is being looked into by external auditors from the Federal Ministry of Health; they are revenue issues.”