When Nnaemeka sent me this message “My update, I dedicate to you. You have a beautiful mind and you make us think about the things we love to ignore. ” well, I was expecting nothing like this. We’d had an argument on my wall and despite everything I already know about him, I was thinking what an ass. Here’s the story as only he can tell it.
I was severely distressed by evil spirits, in the hospital, last night. The patients had been all comfortable, during the day. But, once midnight closed in and, I wanted to catch a nap, the evil spirits came. Then, suddenly, some of the patients started feeling unstable. One man stood out.
According to the new nurse, he had pulled out the nasal oxygen prongs that literally kept him alive and started walking outside, dribbling stool, as he walked, fighting imaginary spirits. When the student nurse came to the call room and reported to me, I wasn’t happy at all. “Fucking hell!” I stormed to the ward.
I tried all I could to get the man back to his bed but, he refused. Breathing rapidly and noisily, he staggered right outside and lay down on the lawn, refusing all my plea for him to get back up, into the ward.
I tried to force him, to carry him, though carefully, so as not to illicit effort from him but, his wife and daughter shouted at me. “You want to kill him by asking him to stay on the oxygen,” they raged. “That oxygen is not for people who’ll survive eventually, we know that once you people start talking about oxygen that someone is about to die.” Shoo! I was fired up.
I wanted to shout back but, one look at the beautiful angry girl, shouting at me, changed my mind. So, I calmed down,even though she had literally untied the crepe bandage I had used to restrain the man and threatened to sue me if I put back the restraint and the oxygen.
“OK,” I said, instead, and made to walk back into the call room. But, they wouldn’t let me be. They continued to call me to come and save him.Imagine?
How could I save a man who refused to be treated? But, I felt sad for him because it wasn’t the his fault. He was just trying to fight off death in his own way. When the kidneys and heart fail forever, the lungs are flooded with hypotonic fluid and the patient feels like he is drowning, no matter the amount of diuretics you administer, especially when the illness has lasted so long and the patient couldn’t afford dialysis. And normally, the the patient struggles for air, till he dies.
The situation is terminal and definitely result in death when the said organs are no longer responsive to treatment. So, I decided to stay close to him, to reassure him and his relatives. It was holy Thursday, anyway, and watching a little while with Christ wouldn’t kill.
But, I was bored and feeling sleepy. And Facebook came in handy. I read through, until I stumbled upon Pearl Osibu.
She’s is always putting up interesting and at times, controversial updates and I was drawn to one that got me remembering things. I clicked. She was talking about sexual abuse/rape- how the society ignore the rape of men and boys. I read it. I liked it.
But,I was not very cheerful and I needed to be distracted from the heavy night, in which I was forced to sit around a man whose kidneys and heart are all but dead, to watch every detail of such pain, for the one millionth time.
So, I made an ‘unserious’ comment on that Pearl’s update, hoping to draw attention. I typed something about boys not crying out when they are raped because boys are not supposed to cry. I only wanted to feel less stressed, to feel less burdened by the fact that in Nigeria, we cannot save some patients because we lack the capacity, out of our own inability and refusal to build a nation.
I mean, we have the money to flood our health facilities with dialysis machines and build cardiothoracic centers but, we refuse to because we are wicked! And patients just die when their kidneys and hearts are too dead to respond to treatment.
The truth be told, what pearl wrote about is a serious issue. Boys are abused sexually, raped on daily basses. Defiled, their moral and physical integrity shaken and battered. One only needs to Google the rape of men in the Congo and Rwanda to know the crust of the gist.
But, it doesn’t end there-in the shattered confidence. There’s been more destruction beneath, devastating destruction, even as boys and men rarely cry out. My comment on pearl’s update shows as much.
“Men don’t cry. They aren’t supposed to cry. They don’t whine. They take the abuse and all, without crying; they should. Stoicism. No tears! In the hospital, I always carry some Candy or biscuit for the little boys who don’t cry. Lolz! And I don’t pet those that cry; I make fun of them, call them wussies.It’s not patriarchy! It’s just that men are men!They don’t/can’t get raped by women. Only men can rape men. Note: men and boys are the same. Boys are men and men are boys. #flees.”
That pretty sums up our attitude towards the issue, even as I made that comment as a joke on that particular update of Pearl’s. But like I said, children are persistently being messed up because of the issue .It is a problem with grave consequences.
Yo, as a doctor, I’ve seen people suffer, people of all ages. It is part of the job. But, some people’s suffering stand out. The latest being, Chiemerie, my one time ‘friend in the children’s ward,’ as the nurses liked to refer to him.
He was aged 15. Admitted on the day IPOB guys were shot by soldiers. He was very catchetic. Malnourished. Weak. He was so small that I was able to collect him with just my right hand and placed him on the green examination couch, which had just borne the body of the girl that had just died from stab injuries, following a brutal gang rape.
As I was going through the normal routine of history taking, examination and all, the IPOB guys were brought in. One of them, bleeding profusely, splashed blood everywhere. Onto my apron and unto the boy. My protective goggle was smeared red, too. I got alarmed and asked the nurses to move the boy away. Promptly, I checked the IPOB guy’s HIV status and he was negative. I was relieved.
However, the splattering of blood took my mind straight to what could be the reason for the boy’s illness. It was very glaring. Wonder why I hadn’t thought about it?
Perhaps because my mind was focused on the threat of violence that lay like a shroud on the southeast, during the IPOB protests. Perhaps, because normally, a boy of that age, wouldn’t have HIV. But there and then, the rapid diagnostic test showed a double line. The boy had tested positive.
The parent’s had thought his illness was just a normal illness and had kept him at home to be treated by patent medicine dealers. Blame them all you can but, I felt sorry for them. How could they have thought about HIV when they both tested negative for the viruses which their son carried?
But, I didn’t tell them immediately o! I only didn’t blame them for not bringing him earlier. Besides, they looked so poor that one would be forgiven for thinking they were too poor to afford hospital bills.
After stopping the bleeding from the shot IPOB guys, I returned to the boy. I looked at him and I had to flight to keep back the tears. “My name is Chiemerie,” he reached out to touch me. “I have exams next month. Please, doctor treat me so that I’ll write the exam. I don’t want to fail.”
“You’ll get well,” I said in a broken tone. And we went to work on him. We worked him up, stabilizing him. Blood transfusion and antibiotics. And more investigations. The date was estimated, for the commencement of antiretroviral drugs. He would stay on admission for weeks.
Those weeks of pain followed. Pain from multiple needle piecing. Pain from seeing people die around him for the first time in his life. Pain from being forced to take bitter pills. Pain from watching his mother cry severally, on empty belly. Pain from the constant thought of death; that he could die at the time he was preparing for senior seminary school.
I paid more attention to him because I liked him. From the first day, he had proved to be very intelligent. Even beyond his age. He was funny too and passionate about things he loved, like football and liverpool fc. He knew all the players and all the teams in England. Sometimes, when I wasn’t on duty, I took my laptop to the ward to play Playstation with him.
He became my friend. And the days crept by. And our hope that he could survive grew, dangerously high. Until he reacted violently to the antiretroviral drugs.
The start of treatment saw him get worse. He purged and vomited for days after. Sleep disappeared and he became depressed. His appetite disappeared, too. The little flesh on him melted away, leaving just skin and bones. One day, he tried to play with me but he could no longer hold the game pad. He said “Doc m, I think it’s over.” The pad fell from his hands.
“You won’t die, Emerie, , you are definitely getting well,” I said to him.
He looked at me and smiled. “Doc, you know why I like you?”
“No,” I smiled back.
“You know how to lie to people, enough to make them think everything is all right.” He tried to punch me but he couldn’t. “You know I’m going to die. Please pray for me.”
Yo! Even though I believe that men shouldn’t cry, I found myself letting the tears fall. His mother tried to look at me but, I hid the tears on the screen of my computer. I sent her to go check if the pharmacy girl had come back so she could buy the fortum ceftriaxone injection.
It soon began to rain. Heavy droplets falling fast on the roof, overhead, like bullets from a gunship. Emerie rejoiced. He loved rain and it relaxed him. Then, he told me a secret.
“I lost my virginity on a rainy day,” he began. It was 10 in the night and I was itching to go check up on the rest of the patients, as part of my late night round, in order to ensure that they were stable before the hospital slept. So, I wasn’t really ready to listen. But, I had to.
Emerie smiled, perhaps, at my impatience, and said again. “I lost it on a rainy day. And I think God is punishing me now because I lost it and I kept it secret from the rector of the seminary.”
I sat down and held him. “You don’t have to be thinking about such things now,” I said to him. “Men don’t cry over spilt milk.”
He smiled and continued. “It was a woman who lived next door. She was beautiful and attractive. I even eyed her a lot. But, each time I looked at her, I’d go for confession because, it’s a sin. But, that fateful day, I couldn’t help it. I was 12 and I had gone to her room to give her her video CD which my mother had borrowed from her. When I went in, she was lying on the bed. Naked. My parents were not at home; I was the only one and so, she was not afraid to do what she did. She closed the door and asked me to help her bring her shoes from under the bed.”
A baby started convulsing and her mother started wailing. I rushed and aborted the convulsion. And, after watching the baby for a few minutes, I wanted to sneak away but, Emerie called me back. “You have to listen to my story,” he said. I’ll die soon, you know.”
I rebuked him and sat down again. A little irritated. I wanted to sleep and the story he was telling didn’t make sense to me. I had to continue to listen, all the same.
“So,” he continued. “As I was trying to bend down, she grabbed my waist, unzipped my trousers and put my manhood inside her mouth and sucked it. She sucked until it was standing still. And I felt some pleasure. However, I knew it was wrong and I started struggling. But she was stronger and slim and flexible. So, she pushed me down on the bed and before I could fight again, she placed me on top of her, held me between her legs and, put my manhood inside her and started moving her waist. I must admit I enjoyed it. And that’s why I stopped struggling until I collapsed, tired. She told me ‘You are now a man. You are a strong man.’ I believed.” His voice trailed off. He had been stooling on the bed. He didn’t even know. It was the smell that got me to notice.
I took the opportunity to leave, to go for the round. I woke his sister, on my way out and told her to go clean him up. I told the nurses to keep an eye on his intravenous fluids.
I left, having listened to the most influential story of Chiemerie’s fast dissipating life but, I didn’t feel it deep in my soul. It just fleeted away like any other hospital story.
Hospital stories, at times, mean nothing to our souls, if they don’t lead us to the patients cure. Especially when we are tired. So, I just went away, leaving the story behind. It would remain there until days ago, when I’d read Pearl’s update and made my ‘unserious’ comment.
I was at the door of the female ward when I bumped into his mother. She was running, her wrapper flailing apart. The rain was getting stormy and the droplets were crashing on my face.
“What is chasing you?” I asked. But,she ignored me, shoving me aside, saying something about having seen her son’s spirit walking away from her, into the rain. She made straight for her him.
She called his name. “Emerie! Emerie! Emerie!” But he didn’t answer.
She shook him so hard, I could hear the rattling of his bones. Then, she let out this heart wrenching wail, falling so hard on the floor that one could be forgiven for thinking her skull may have been shattered. But, no. She hadn’t broken her skull.
She got up again and fell. Again. And again. And…. Until she was restrained. Chiemerie had died, so silently, that I didn’t even notice. Perhaps because that was what he had wanted and been praying for since the last episode of purging began. He once told a nurse that he was tired. He once told me “What I’d hate is a loud death.”
The rain suddenly came to an abrupt end. The weather was cold but, I saw droplets of sweat on Emerie’s baby sister’s face
The evil spirits of last night were expelled by the first traces of daylight, like the first rains of March expels the stifling heat of the dry season. The patients were suddenly quiet and our restless man was still hanging in there. Should I say thanks to some more hopeful intravenous frusemide?
I stood up from the seat where I had fallen asleep and headed out to get some fresh air. I was at the door when a student nurse came chanting “Emergency!” “Emergency!” “Emergency!”. My leg ached and my head was burning, made worse by the attack some of Pearl’s friends had levelled on me for joking with something serious.
The sick boy that lay on the table, was foaming from the mouth. He looked 17.
Quick, we swung into action but, within three minutes of oxygen and insertion of intravenous cannula, the boy died. Resuscitation didn’t help.
His sisters were talking about how it all started with a sudden heavy headache and sudden collapse and loss of consciousness. And how their father would be devastated. And how they’d been preparing for his University education.
But, I wasn’t hearing them completely; what use was it to know that the boy could have had a ruptured vessel, bleeding into the skull cavity, probably an aneurysm? What use was it to know that something rare had just killed another boy, when a far more common evil, like sexual abuse and rape of boys, will certainly result to the death of many more?
Fuck this world! We have a culture that masks killer evil, in the name of………………
I am humbled; I am reminded that we never know what another is going through, another’s reality. To be kind always. Simply because we never know.
He might have written this for me, but I in turn dedicate it to all the doctors I know, selfless beings, who go above and beyond, who face death square every blessed day. and for the heartaches they face when they lose as lose they sometimes must. Who have to do their best in the most austere circumstances. Salute.
Nnaemeka, Ebam, Akorita – the rest of you. We see you. I see you.