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9 Lessons My Patients Teach Me

Be Grateful for Health

Value your health. Take steps to keep it at its optimum. Your money will not be as enjoyable when you are not healthy. There are things that money cannot give back when lost ; breathing that we take for granted, the ability to spontaneously get up with no hassle. Value your health because it is the foundation of who you are. Good health is the ultimate wealth.

Look Beyond the Surface

Look at me and see me. I am beyond a patient, I am someone’s mother, father and loved one. My time away is going to cost upheavals in my dear ones‘ lives. Look at me carefully, talk to me find out my dreams and aspirations. Give me your best shot, I deserve to make it.

Cherish your Family

At the end of the day, they are the ones who show up for you when you are helpless. Sometimes the work of care may be taken on grudgingly by them, but still it’s the family who do the most. Mothers who do not sleep, camped all night in the open under trees and at the mercy of the elements.

In particular, I love the Muslim families. Time and again you can be assured they will all rally together and make sure their relative or friend has all that is requested done somehow no matter how poor they look. The women folk in the family especially must be cherished. These are the periods I lament my lack of girls, but I have seen sons do hands on care for their loved ones and have been amazed. So I am training my boys.

This same family can be at their worst for some patients, refusing to help until the person dies, then suddenly, the patient becomes the most important thing to the family, mortuary bills are paid in a day when labs and medications that would help were never bought. Who loves a dead body more than Ghanaians?

Some friends can also be more than family. Choose some good ones. But in most cases they can never do what the family does when you are at your lowest. Invest in your family and close friends, you will need them. Let the care be done with love not obligation.

Be Willing to Die

Taking the decision not to do heroics at the end of life can be a challenge.

Is it worth doing that complicated procedure that costs so much for an 82 year old whose only words she mumbles is how soon she wished death would take her away?

The brave father who, looking at his terminal cancer, decided death was better and chose to invest the money for his palliative treatment into his two daughters’ future and education?

The brave young lady who decided enough was enough and gave up in the face of multiple complications of a disease with no cure? The courage to do that may depend on the spiritual connection the person has or the level of suffering.
Sometimes, death is the cure!

Stay Positive

It can literally make the difference between life and death. In my relatively short practice time, one key ingredient I have come to realize that makes a huge difference in patient outcome is attitude. Too many times that has been the deciding factor, the only one I can identify. I used to wonder what made people with the same condition sometimes have different outcomes.

That patient who lights up when you enter her room, the one who is always cracking silly jokes or telling you about their rich life story. It makes you want to give them your all.

The scientific evidence is conclusive when it comes to mood, outlook and health. Happy people live 7-10 years longer than unhappy people, and optimistic people have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimistic people. Chose a life of gratitude and optimism.

Everyone is Selfish

You get amazed at the level of insensitivity of folks when they get sick. After a while, I have learnt to forgive this as you realize in the desperate state of sickness, your needs as a health care worker don’t matter. What they see is their situation and your role to help alleviate it. No matter the time of day or what you have to do as a health care worker, you must do it.


Health care is darned expensive, better have some plan for it either by saving up for it or having a good insurance policy. Better still have both. Even rich people are surprised at how quickly the money runs out as you start doling it out for a lab here and there. You see people struggling to do labs, even to buy daily eggs to improve their nutritional state. Have a health fund, it is an investment.

Have a Spiritual Connection but Think

For the Ghanaian, religion can be both a blessing and a curse. Having a spiritual connection has been shown in studies to influence patients’ outcomes. It is part of having a positive outlook as a patient places their hope and faith on a higher being, thereby lifting some of the burden off them. Too often though, like in many aspects of their lives, we sublet our thinking to spiritual heads. The one who is on TV saying no dialysis needed but secretly comes for sessions himself. The one who says pray and treat diabetes but doesn’t joke with his specialist who cares for him. There are too any instances in the Bible where people had to have some intervention before being healed. Ask God to reveal that intervention and let Him do His work.

Life is Short

It’s such a cliché, yet it is so true. Life is short. The young die. So do the old. The one who you thought was a simple case can be gone by the time you turn around. Live your life.

-Dzifa Dey

( copied from her facebook post on 9th Nov.2018/ 9:11am)

Dr Ida Dzifa Dey  is the first rheumatologist in Ghana and the director  TRI which she founded  in 2012 as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education, advocacy and research into autoimmune rheumatic conditions in Ghana and Africa.

November 9, 2018

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