The Myth of Brief Illness


Myth is a widely held but false belief or idea. In Egyptian mythology we learn that Ra was the sun god regarded as the most important of all Egyptian gods. Other examples are Santa Claus (St. Nicholas)-an invention of the western Christian church to entice children to the Christmas narrative and the 10-headed monster that kidnaps and keeps forever children that are crying often. Brief means very short, not long or enduring. Illness is defined as a disease or period of sickness affecting body and mind. Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie, who wrote an article titled ” Death after brief illness” calls it Nigerian disease. Obituaries “Death after a brief illness” are replete in Nigerian media, bill boards and in posters. I witnessed this during my last visit to Nigeria.

Conditions with brief manifestations before death

  • Drug overdose. (Note drug now mixed in water bottle. More common with teenage girls.)
  • Poison (cyanide)
  • Suffocation from smoke
  • Motor accident
  • Electric shock
  • Gun shot
  • Post-partum hemorrhage(bleeding after giving birth)
  • Complicated surgery. (Patient pass on operation table)

Some” brief illnesses” used as euphemism for diseases that the family considers a taboo and want to keep secret are:

  1. Cancer (breast, cervical, colorectal, prostrate etc.)
  2. AIDS
  3. Tuberculosis( Ukwaranta)
  4. Pneumonia
  5. Sepsis complicating as aseptic shock- a very serious medical condition that can lead to heart failure, stroke and death
  6. SexuallyTransmissible Diseases(syphilis, gonorrhea etc.)
  7. Cardiac arrest (heart attack)
  8. Diabetic coma
  9. Chronic kidney failure due to uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension.

At times we hear news that somebody died of prostate cancer when he actually died of AIDS,using prostate cancer, which is less stigmatizing, as euphemism for AIDS.

We need not hide our medical problems because according to Joyce Meyer- a famous evangelist-“Anything buried alive will never die”. Let your spouse know about your medical problems.

Diseases incubate in the human body. Some self-limiting (flu, common cold etc.) But they can get complicated when the immune system gets compromised and then cause disease. Some illnesses incubate for a long time without causing diseases. Some illnesses disguise their symptoms and warning signs and therefore often go undetected or unnoticed. If too much time passes without treating the disease it may cause serious complications and sometimes death. Chances are high that people may be living with such dangerous diseases without being aware. It is therefore mandatory to have regular medical checkups so that unexplained or disguised symptoms can be diagnosed early and possibly save lives. This brings me to what we call “silent killers” and “silent carriers”.

The first “culprit” in the list of silent killers is high blood pressure. There is a particular one called essential (primary) hypertension. Cause unknown. According to Centers of Disease Control (CDC) of the United States about 70 million of American adults have high blood pressure. Diabetes is another. The International Diabetic Federation has estimated that some 387 million people worldwide have diabetes and 1 in 4 do not know they have it. To add salt to injury diabetes may be incubating cancer because cancer cells feed on sugar and grow bigger and bigger. Colon cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. The statistics for Nigeria is not readily available. Non-cancerous polyp progress to carcinoma when untreated or ignored. No early warning signs. However, it is advisable to go for a simple checkup should one notice diarrhea, bloody stool, unusual gas, abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, especially in developing countries according to World Health Organization. Cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix and usually causes no symptoms during early stages. If not diagnosed on time it may spread to the bladder, liver, intestines and the lungs. At later stages one may experience pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding what is often confused with menses. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis viruses. Different hepatotropic viruses(viruses that have predilection to the liver) cause different types of the disease, including hepatitis A B C D E. A and E are caused by eating and drinking contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B, C and D are contracted through transfusion of contaminated blood and blood products, sexual contact and during child birth. Virus can be in the body for many years without causing any symptoms. However, to be on the safe side, when one notices low-grade fever, muscle ache, jaundice, vomiting and diarrhea seek a checkup.

“Silent carriers”, according to American Public Health Association, are asymptomatic carriers infected but not affected and can transmit infection to contacts. This is a potential source of infection. These carriers can harbor HIV and hepatitis C and certain sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and genital herpes to mention a few. According to well documented reports from research at least some 12 million HIV silent carriers roam the world! It is reported recently that in Russia HIV infection is on the rise as infected mothers hide their disease to prevent the government from taking their children from them.

Some illnesses, however incubate and later give symptoms but not all the time. These include certain cancers, Tuberculosis, AIDS, Diabetes and prostate hypertrophy.

Preventive medicine

Because of all the foregoing I advocate for preventive (proactive) medicine rather than therapeutic (reactive) medicine. It is said that prevention is better than cure. Preventive care helps us to get healthier and stay healthier.

Which is cheaper to manage hypertension or stroke which is its complication? Which is wiser to identify the trigger of Asthma and avoid it or start pumping chemicals inside the body endlessly? Should we wait for some body to go into diabetic coma or recommend blood sugar screening? I am not sure if we have any budget for preventive medicine in Nigeria.

Some questions to consider if you want to subscribe to a cheaper and more beneficial medicine:
Do you have a health insurance? Are your health insurance contributions to town associations or societies whose benefits are given posthumously? Is there any need for medical check-ups yearly to detect symptoms of hidden illnesses? Should you go to the doctor when you are not sick?”

Although Jesus said that it is only the sick that needs a physician. The interpretation of this metaphor is that you do not preach to the converted. You will remember that Jesus said this when the Pharisees were criticizing him for associating with the sinners. In focus here was Levi the tax collector. Jesus replied that he has come to call the sinners to repentance. For the full account of this encounter which you are all familiar with read Matthew 9: 9-13.

Some causes of death during illness

Culture of ignoring signs and symptoms of disease, Confidence in the infallibility of sorcerers and native doctors, Trying some alternatives to medical care, sometimes for years before seeking informed medical opinion at terminal stage of disease, Going to prayer houses and diviners for help forgetting that faith without work is dead as we read in James 2: 17-20, Superstitious belief that it was karma for false swearing and testimony before an oracle.

I recollect my experience with treating an AIDS patient in the 1990s when I was at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital at Nnewi. This patient was making progress based on the fact that his CD4 cells were appreciating. His treatment was paid for at a discounted cost by a relative, but he decided to go to a prayer house and abandoned the clinic. He died after 4 weeks.

Silent carriers, Carcinogenic foods and drugs. Consumption of foods preserved with carcinogenic chemicals such as sodium nitrate and chloride benzene to mention a couple. Have you wondered why processed red meat (beef) is always looking fresh? It is most probably preserved with sodium nitrate to prolong shelf life. Hot dog is preserved with a carcinogen called chloride benzene. There is evidence to show that refined artificial sugar feed cancer cells. According to Prof. Jibril Ibrahim, a development consultant, the herbicide glyphosate is still being used in Nigeria to preserve genetically modified crops which have been enhanced genetically to tolerate it despite the fact that it was declared by WHO as a carcinogen.

Fake drugs sold by fake pharmacists for selfish economic interest at the expense of the health of the common ignorant man, Fake doctors. There was a case that hit the headlines in 1980s of a fake professor of surgery with the false name of professor Thomas in Nigeria. He built an imposing hospital in Lagos and employed Indian doctors to protect him. He may have caused death from ‘brief illness” for his patients. He had been in and out of police jail and have always bailed himself with a “brown envelope” to continue his malpractice.

Emotional stress. Stress is a general denominator of illnesses because it compromises the immune system making the individual vulnerable to a host of diseases. Two doctors in the United States: Dr. Steve Sandiford-chief cancer surgeon of The American Cancer Treatment Center in Philadelphia and Rev (Dr) Michael Barry are pioneers in what they call Forgiveness Project. They believe that unforgiveness make people sick. It is now listed as a medical disease called Emotional Disorder. They contend that negative emotions produced by the burden of anger and hatred leads to anxiety which in turn leads to production of two important hormones-Adrenalin and Cortisol. Hormones are chemical messengers that travel throughout the body coordinating complex processes like growth, metabolism and fertility. They can influence the function of the immune system and even alter behaviour. They guide development of the brain and reproductive system. These hormones cause the depletion of Natural Killer(NK) cells-soldiers of the immune system which attack cancer cells.

The NK cells are a group in 200 different cell types in about 37 trillion cells of the human body. About 61% of cancer patients have forgiveness issues. Fifty percent of this number are severe. The Bible tells us that forgiveness is not the same as condoning what a person has done. Forgiveness must come from the heart (Matthew 18:22) From the result of his study so far Dr. Barry believes that when we let the burden of anger and hatred go there will be no negative emotional disorder that will trigger the hormones that compromise the work of natural killer cells in our body.

Fake diagnosis: Not long ago a medical doctor in the United States gave a bad reputation to medical practice by operating what CNN reported as breaking news and later confirmed by one Mike Adams, a forensic research scientist and investigative journalist. This Dr. F.F.(initials used to hide his identity) was operating a cancer industry racket with his criminal accomplice-pharmaceutical companies. This doctor is now serving a 45 years prison term for intentionally falsely diagnosing and treating cancer in black people, who genetically are vitamin D deficient, and dosing them with chemotherapy which absolutely was not needed. He entices black people, who are more vulnerable to develop cancer because their skin colour blocks ultraviolet light from the sun that is supposed to generate vitamin D3 which is vital in combatingcancer. This doctor lures the black community with free cancer screening with the condition that they will strictly adhere to schedules of chemotherapy. He then got these chemicals from pharmaceutical companies and defrauded the federal government by billing Medicare and Medicaid (government sponsored insurance agencies) millions of dollars. Thus, he enriched himself and his fellow conspirators. My advice is toseek second opinion when in doubt and be careful of enticing offers and fake doctors.

Shyness in reporting an ailment. Prostrate problem is one example. Talking about prostrate can be uncomfortable. Millions of men suffer prostate problems and most in silence.Perhaps the explanation below will persuade men to report themselves. Prostate enlargement or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is a common complaint affecting men and is a symptom in a condition called Andropause just as Menopause is for women. The cause of BPH is unknown but the predisposing factors are genetical as well as age and race. Africans are more susceptible than other races. At age of 40 the male hormone Testosterone suddenly shifts into overdrive causing a surge of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase that changes healthy testosterone into a more damaging kind of the hormone called DHT (Dihydrotestosterone). This destructive DHT is responsible for enlarging the prostate and irritating the bladder. At age 60 about 50% of men will have enlarged prostate. At 80 some 90% of men will be stuck with BPH. What to do? See a doctor (urologist) to perform two tests: DRE( Digital Rectal Examination) and PSA(Prostate Specific Antigen) when you observe symptoms such as frequent urination (when not diabetic) urine retention, pain during urination, dribbling urine, urge to go but no urination etc.

Many of these diseases mentioned earlier causing the so-called brief illnesses from which death results are preventable. Patients in Nigeria are most of the time brought late to the hospital. Some pronounced dead on arrival or brought in dead to fulfil all righteousness. It does injustice to the memory of the deceased to claim that they died of brief illness when indeed they had suffered for long and battled to survive.
Nigeria is a society in denial which reflects a collectively weak attitude to having a good health. Dying in silence.

There is no better way of summarizing this article than quoting from the article” Death after a brief illness” by Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie:

Frequently these people who have died after the so-called brief illness were in chronic ill-health often for many years and they were simply in equilibrium with their ailments for that length of time. In other words, they have adapted. If however, something fundamentally different occurred in the course of the illness, such as unexpected infection or bereavement, or some other physical challenge, that little reserve that has enabled the person cope with their illnesses suddenly give way and death is the result. A brief illness is the culprit.

Put differently when the patients’ immunity gets challenged and gets compromised they are no longer able to withstand the attack.

In conclusion, it is therefore clear that many people who die after the so-called brief illness do so because of a neglected and previously undiagnosed illness. Do not conceal your health problems from your spouses and close relatives. Seek medical consultation on time. ‘’Brief illness’’, the way it is erroneously perceived, is therefore a myth. According to Albert Einstein “By passionately believing in what does not exist, we create it”.

Finally, a guide to diagnosis which I call The Rule of the Tongue. Research shows that, to an extent, the tongue mirrors what is happening in our inner body. Tongue diagnosis is a 4000-year old Traditional Methodic System approved by WHO using images of the tongue pioneered by the Chinese doctors. See the figure. Upload your tongue in front of a mirror to have an idea of what may be happening to you. Then this will prompt you to see your doctor.

About author

Prof Clement Emenike Anyiwo MD

Dr. Clement Emenike Anyiwo-MD (Odessa); M.Sc. (Lond); Zeugnis Immun. (Vienna); Postgraduate Dip. Med Micro (Lond) P.E Cert Immun. (Lond); FMCPath. (Nig); FWACP (WA); FICS (Chicago); FRSTMH (Lond).

Dr. Clement Emenike Anyiwo was a Professor of medical microbiology and immunology in three Nigerian Universities (Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka), University of Malawi, and also University of Tokyo, at the Institute of Medical Sciences as Visiting Professor, between 1999-2000 under the auspices of Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science. He was also appointed Professor at the Universities of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

His research interests are in infectious diseases, and are focused around HIV infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), nosocomial and sexually transmissible infections (STIs) He holds an MD from Odessa Medical University, Ukraine; M.Sc. in medical microbiology, from the world-renowned University of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, postgraduate certifications in Immunology from Kings College, London, university of Vienna, Austria and eight Fellowships which include The Senior Medical Fellowship of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Fellowship of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Fellowship of West African College of Physicians, Fellowship of Medical College of Pathologists of Nigeria, Fellowship of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, Robert White Fellowship in Immunology (Awarded by the British Society for Immunology) and the coveted Fellowship of the International College of Surgeons in Pathology.

Prof. Anyiwo is a seasoned, versatile and broadly trained physician and internationally recognized medical research scientist with more than 40 years’ experience in clinical medicine and medical microbiology. He is a former Commonwealth/World Health Organization consultant on HIV/AIDS for West Africa (Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and Resource Staff for Commonwealth Workshop on Community-based approach to HIV/AIDS in Tanzania and Uganda. Prior to this assignment, he served as a member of the National Expert Advisory Committee on AIDS in his native country, Nigeria from 1986-1988. It was this committee that laid the foundation for HIV/AIDS policy in Nigeria. Prof. Anyiwo was appointed and assigned from 2003 to 2005 as United Nations Specialist on HIV/AIDS to Zanzibar (Tanzania) perhaps in recognition of his involvement and contributions in HIV/AIDS research. As a former President of the Federation of African Immunological Societies (FAIS)-an affiliate of the International Union of Immunological Societies-(1994-1997) Prof. Anyiwo was able to advance research in HIV/AIDS in member-countries, including Egypt where he was invited as Guest Speaker at the First Arab International Conference on AIDS and Sexual Diseases in 1988. The licensing of antiretroviral drugs by the Nigerian government was based on the multi-Centre research coordinated by GlaxoWellcome Pharmaceutical Company, of which he was one of the principal investigators. He was The Keynote Guest Speaker at the International Conference (Nigerian Sector) of the International College of Surgeons in 1995. There he delivered the Fourth Eruchalu Memorial Lecture Titled Transplantation in Medicine: Matters Arising. In 1997 he was also invited by the Nigerian Medical Association as a Guest Speaker for a lecture he titled Emerging and Re-emerging infectious diseases: The doctor's challenge.

Prof. Anyiwo served as Dean and Provost/CEO of Nnamdi Azikiwe University College of Health Sciences in Nigeria (1992-1998). During his tenure as Provost he secured The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria accreditation for the medical school and graduated its first 12 doctors in 1995 fondly dubbed "The Twelve Disciples". Thereafter some 200 more doctors graduated during his tenure and most of them now work in many parts of the world including Europe and the United States. Prof. Anyiwo is the Founder-Patron of the Medical Research Society of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi, Nigeria.

Dr. Anyiwo belongs to many professional associations including Austrian Medical Society of which he is a Life Member, Immunology Association of Papua New Guinea of which he is the Founder and Life Patron, International AIDS Society, British Society of Immunology, Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland and Member Scientific Advisory Board, Fund for International AIDS Research and Education based in the United States.

Dr. Anyiwo has widely travelled on appointments, assignments (Guest Speaker, Workshop Organizer or Community-based physician), international Visiting Awards and conferences to many countries of Africa, Europe, North America, The Caribbean, Asia and Oceania. An erudite scholar, eminent teacher, prolific author and an incurable researcher Prof. Anyiwo has many scholarly publications to his credit including books and monographs circulating as WHO literature.

It is therefore a little wonder that Prof. Clement Anyiwo was listed in 2000 Outstanding Scholars of the 21st Century,(First edition, 2002) by American Biographical Institute, Inc. and International Biographical Centre of the United Kingdom for “outstanding and exceptional personal achievements to society and profession".

Prof. Anyiwo was also honored by his kinsmen "In grateful recognition of your outstanding and dedicated service to the people of Arochukwu in Dallas Metroplex" and also for "your dedicated service as Chairman of the Advisory Council of Atani Welfare Union of USA (2007-2011) " During the celebration of his 10th Coronation Anniversary in December 2016, the Eze Ogo Atani-HRH Eze ( Amb) Charles Kanu Okoro honoured him with The Award of Excellence in Education for his contributions towards the development of Atani Community. The next honour was by the Anglican Communion when in 2017 the present Archbishop of the Diocese of the Niger, His Grace the Most Reverend Godwin Okpala invested him into the knighthood of the Order of St. Christopher.

Prof. Anyiwo is a practicing Christian, a Bible Scholar and son of an Anglican Clergyman. He is the co-founder, President/CEO of Jerry and Joe Foundation- a non-profit charitable organization in honour of two heroes of faith (Late Venerable Jeremiah Anyiwo and Late Sir Joseph Nwokolo) dedicated to helping the less privileged in society-orphans, widows and persons afflicted with infectious diseases. He lives in Irving, Texas where he served as Member, City of Irving Health Advisory Board. Currently he is appointed an Ambassador of Goodwill by the Governor of the State of Tennessee. He is married with three children who have degrees in Psychology (aspiring to be a Clergyman) Law, Sociology and Doctorate in Pharmacy.

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