05 May July 1990, A Needle to the Heart (Part 1).
“It will be three years next week since the accident!” Tears filled my mother’s eyes as soon as the first word came out of her mouth. She trembled in her words. Anxious about what was to come, she gaped at me, and then back at the doctors. She turned her gaze from one doctor to another in tear blurred eyes. There were six medical physicians in the room. Two of them were Americans. One undoubtedly Indian, while the other three were Nigerians. It was easy to figure out, just by listening to each one of them talk. They sounded quite different, yet they clearly understood each other. I assumed most, if not all of them were pediatricians. The oldest was Dr. Lander, an African American, who was the Chief pediatrician at Ikeja General Hospital. She was my pediatrician. She had summoned five other doctors to her office while I sat in the lobby with my mother. They had talked for approximately twenty minutes before we were invited to join them.
It seemed like the end of the world to mom as she anticipated more information from the doctors. She had not completely gotten over the loss of my two-year-old baby brother. I can’t remember what the cause of his death was, but memories of the severely jaundiced baby crying in severe pain for days remain vivid. Both mom and dad were in and out of the hospital for weeks until one morning, while my mother gave him a bath, he began to gasp for breath. They rushed him to the hospital, when they came back, my brother wasn’t with them. He died on the hour-long journey to the nearest hospital. I couldn’t entirely comprehend the pain my parents were dealing with as I was taken away from the living room by Grandma while several friends tried to console my parents.
As our whole house went into mourning, I came down with a deadly case of pneumonia that would lead to a startling discovery. It was around this time that I began to have terrible nightmares. Although I was too young to make anything of the nightmares, they became more consistent; often before something terrible happened to me or someone I loved. My mother continued to sink into depression. What happened to me, and the news she was about to receive on my health following such agonizing loss of a child could only make life more unbearable for her.
The physicians continued to stare at me, astounded by the radiologist report. I had been admitted to the same hospital. During the course of that illness, I stayed in the hospital for two weeks. Recovering in the hospital bed gave me a lot of time to read any book I could get my hands on, especially the books from America. I loved to read, and to think there was so much around me that I wanted to learn; so much happening in my life that I hated. But at ten years old, I knew I couldn’t change any of it: the way my mother was treated, the notion that it was normal to treat others the wrong way, the place we lived, the fact that we often had very little to eat. Until I was seven, we lived in the city and were close to everything we needed. Now, we didn’t even have electricity. Even the most basic things in life felt harder, and there was nothing I could do to change it.
While these thoughts orbited my mind, I gazed at my mother. Despite the lingering pain of the untimely death of my little brother, she never left my bedside. Even nights when the hospital staff ordered her to let me rest, she slept in the cold of the night outside the ward. I imagined how much fear she was dealing with. The loss of another child would, without a doubt, kill her. As we regarded each other in the silence of my hospital room, I maintained that promise between us: I’ll take you to America. The way I’d come to see it, life in Nigeria meant making ourselves vulnerable to the worst.
My admission had commenced into fifty-three antibiotic injections, none of which I thought my father witnessed. The first and only time he visited me was on the first day of admission to the children’s ward. Till date, I have no idea if it was due to work or he showed up a few times when I was asleep.
My in-patient experience left my gluteus maximus severely swollen, painful, and tender to touch since the doctors and nurses could not decide on an alternate injection site. As a result, I laid in a prone position as I endured my two-week confinement to the hospital mattress.
Here I am on my fourth appointment in two months following my discharge from the hospital. It took the radiologists a few weeks to finally come up with something definitive, considering how I ‘d been exposed to X-rays more than six times in ten weeks. Whatever their discovery was, they were staring at it.
Across from where I was seated were eight X-ray images hanging in the X-ray fluorescent lightbox. They looked identical to me, but I thought there might be something different about the X-rays as two of them were from three years before. The doctors continued to whisper to one another as they slowly moved from one X-ray to the next.
“Finally, they uncovered a mystery about the ten-year-old Deji!” I thought. I remained quietly seated, watching my mother shed tears in the chair next to me. Alas, the doctors were too stupefied to speak. It was the third time I would see my mom in this shape.
I have been with you—
And you said, “Certainly; I do know.”
The sea tide is rising;
Let us go home.
Home is in the end—
The end of a long road.
It haunts me to tell,
that this you must tread.
It’s so uncertain—
I’m sorry, ’urn request.
The thorns must be there,
Including the starless midnights,
And as in the beginning,
You don’t have to find me.
No! You’ll never walk alone.
Everything is all right.
These bloody drains—
That of domestics?
She looked at me and sighed;
It may be cruel as you see it.
Perhaps as you take it or live it
It has little purpose—
To bother or worry.
There will always be tomorrow,
So please don’t hurry.
My son …my help!
Well, it’s just me now.
The road, this road we’re on.
No cars, no flight; so dull.
Well, I won’t be afraid of surprises.
I’m full of it.
Looking back is bad.
There’s no need to look around.
(She whispered from afar).
Well, then, help me not to look down.
And if I look inside,
Tell me it will be all right.
“Hey, son!” She whispered aloud,
But these rights include so many ways of life:
The thins, crooks, and smooth.
Well, teach me to look up.
Then she said, “That’s all right.”
To be continued ….
Copyright © Deji Ayoade 2020