“Do you know who I am? You will pay for this!” Getting punished for doing the right thing in Ghana.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023.

Years ago, I was on ward rounds with a Medical Officer and the Nurse in Charge of the ward one morning (outside visiting hours) when a ‘big man in the service’ came to the ward. He wanted to see a patient on the ward (who was well and being prepared to be discharged). This ‘big man’ looked familiar, but it didn’t change my routine. I told him it wasn’t visiting hours and that he could not see the patient when we were having ward rounds. When he introduced himself, I told him he could get the phone number of the Nurse in Charge of the ward and call whenever he wanted to come and work in the ward, so that he would be told when it was convenient to come over. I told him I was happy I could tell him this because it meant I could tell everybody else this if the person came to the ward outside visiting hours.

From the ward, I went to see a senior staff in his office to discuss some issues. I was this senior staff’s office when we heard a knock on the door. The person was told to come it. When the person saw me, he hesitated. The senior staff asked him to come in. Reluctantly, he came it. It was the ‘big man’ I met earlier on the ward. He had come to report me that I had been disrespectful to him on the ward. After he had given his side of the story, I also gave mine and said there were others on the ward who could also be called to give their sides of the story. I was amazed! I wondered what the narrative would have been if I wasn’t in the senior staff’s office at the time the ‘big man’ went to see him. It didn’t end there. Up till now, I have remained an ‘enemy’ to this ‘big man’ and even people close to this man who meet me for the first time seem prejudiced against me and ‘have a bone to pick with me.’

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I returned to Battor one day from Accra to meet a security officer at our gate who wouldn’t allow me to use my usual gate to enter the hospital and go home. He asked me to use the main gate. His reason? He didn’t have a thermometer gun to check my temperature. Everyone who entered the hospital had to get their temperature checked, a form of triaging to pick up those who were likely to have Covid-19… Not only did I obey. I was happy and I have commended this security man on several occasions. I know people who would have challenged this security man because they are ‘big people’ and the rules don’t apply to them. And I know security men who will not apply rules to ‘big people’ because they fear they will lose their jobs.

I have seen a ‘big man’ who had a relative on admission, comfortable on the ward long after visiting hours. Not only was he on the ward, he was sitting at the Nurses’ station, on one of the chairs for the nurses, and a nurse was checking his blood pressure! When some of us see this and stop it, we are given bad names and labelled disrespectful.

It is not everybody who can go through the ‘adversities’ I often go through to try to get the right things done. In Ghana, when you try to do the right thing, apply a good rule, and someone beats their chest, and asks you “Do you know who I am?” it means the person likely ‘has influence’ and can ‘change your sleeping place.’ Many people get afraid and withdraw. So we have a different set of rules for the ‘ordinary people’ and another set of rules for the ‘big people.’ People who do not want to lose their jobs decide to look on without making these ‘big people’ do the right things. No society can make good progress with such a system.

Have I given up? No. I will continue to apply the rules as much as I can to make sure that we have a decent system. The alternative is to give up for chaos to take over. Hopefully we shall get a critical mass of people who will stand up for the system to work well for everybody, not bowing to pressure from ‘big men’ who want a different set of rules to be applied to them.

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