12 May July 1990, A Needle to the Heart (Part 2).
On account of the apparent recency of my brother’s incident, I wondered if the gutter event was the first time I saw mom in this shape. Perhaps, this semblance might have been the needle incident from just three years before when I was just seven years of age, I thought. It seemed almost like déjà vu sitting in a room filled with pediatricians.
“I can’t believe my son is still living with a needle in his chest,” said Mom. She finally broke the silence, dolefully glared at herself and away from the doctors. I felt responsible as well as guilty for my mom’s predicament as I recollected the night of the needle incident when mom rushed to the scene.My mother was a seamstress, and I’d been a little obsessed with her sewing machine since I was five. However, her tools were inaccessible because she was working as a fashion designer in town. She never kept her tailoring tools anywhere near the kids. It was her biggest dream at the time to own a business. So, my father built her a small investment boutique to start a tailoring and fabric business at the new house. I would observe how she flawlessly cut the clothes into different shapes and sizes and sew them together into “Buba” and “Iro,” the traditional attire for Yoruba women in Nigeria. Buba is a loose blouse worn on top of Iro. Iro is a wrap skirt referred to as a wrapper. My mother specialized in this type of wear for women. Oftentimes, she would get very crafty with the fabrics, creating diverse designs depending on her client’s requests. I never saw her outline male attires except when she made me a male buba from leftover materials.
It was no surprise that in mom’s absence, I played around with her sewing machine and some of her tools. On one occasion, I ran the machine needle through my right index fingernail while attempting to sew pieces of fabrics together before she returned. Fortunately, there was no thread through the eye of the needle. Eventually, my curiosity would get the best of me. A few weeks later, my older cousin caught me with a sewing needle. We had been horseplaying, and she’d tried to take the needle from me, so I tucked it into my front shirt pocket to hide it from her. The house was always hot in the evenings, so after dinner, we children often congregated in the living room where I loved to lie on the center table, just because the surface was smooth and cool. But as I’d positioned myself to lie on my belly, the needle angled upright, and, because my shirt was too tight for me, it penetrated my chest.
I screamed out in pain. “Pin! Pin!”
Grandma and the rest of the kids, alarmed and confused, screamed back, “Where? Where?”
The commotion was unexpected for the family as grandma yelled out for mom.
“My chest! My chest!” I continued to scream.
There was no electricity, but we had a few lanterns in the house. My brothers grabbed the lamp from the table where I was lying before my screaming episode began. Grandma held me by the shoulder while she searched but couldn’t find the needle. The lantern wasn’t bright enough for anyone to find the needle. We could barely see each other’s faces, so they had no other choice than to helplessly continue to search as carefully as they could.
“Where is it?” “Where is it? Show me, Ramon!” Grandma continued to ask.
“My chest! My chest!” I continued to cry. “It was in my pocket!”
Grandma carefully tried to remove my shirt knowing whatever I was crying about must be hanging somewhere. That was when mom came into the scene.
She heard my cries, and as my cries got louder, she became more agitated and in panicked haste accidentally broke off the protruding end, leaving the rest of the sharp needle embedded in my chest.
Not long after, my father arrived. I remember lying in his arms in severe pain as he rushed me to the back seat of his car and zoomed off to the hospital. The closest hospital to my father’s house was the Isolo Health Center; about twelve miles from the house. The doctors took two X-rays after the incident, and I was admitted for a week.
For weeks after, I felt a sharp tenderness beneath my ribs, but the X-Rays immediately following the incident had dismissed the possibility that anything was wrong.Now, three years later, six new X-Rays for my pneumonia reveals a piece of the needle situated dangerously close to my heart. My mother, still grieving the loss of her youngest child, as I—often her protector, her confidante—fought for my life, blamed herself for all of it.
“Mrs. Ayoade, we looked into the two X-rays you brought to your son’s last appointment. I told you to bring them over because I wanted to compare them with what we have. You said they were from three years ago?” Dr. Lander reconfirmed.
“Yes, they are!” mom replied.
“You are right. We did not find this needle in those x-rays” Dr. Lander continued. “However, if you look through these radiographs, at the lower left side of the chest, there’s a needle of about two inches in length, pointing towards the apex of the heart. She pointed to the radiographs with the tip of her pen. It took the radiologist a while to finally come to a conclusion. As you can see, these six radiographs were taken at different times between his admission to this hospital and his last appointment to my office. The most shocking part is that the radiologist’s conclusion is accurate based on the short story you just told us. Ramon did have a needle accident in the past.”
The doctor continued, “It was hard for us to believe as much as it is for you Mrs. Ayoade. The truth is, Ramon has a needle in his chest. I’m afraid we must act quickly. How he made it this far without problems or complications is still a mystery. I wanted these doctors to witness your son’s case, that’s why they are here. I’m sure they have questions for you. We will be deciding today on the best step to act on to achieve success with the new development.” “Mrs. Ayoade, can you give us a little history about why your son was admitted here?” One of the doctors asked.
“He could barely take a full breath. He couldn’t lay on his back as well, so we took him to a local health center. The same hospital he was admitted into three years ago. The doctors referred us to your hospital because they could not treat his condition. He had severe pneumonia as your doctors later diagnosed. His pneumonia was too advanced for delayed treatment, so he was admitted to this hospital. They had him on antibiotic injections every six hours for two weeks. He was discharged after his pain and breathing got better. We have since been on bi-weekly appointments with Dr. Lander to monitor his progress.”
My mother still had concerns that were more pressing to her. She abruptly switched from her short story, which the pediatrician was paying much attention to.
“Forgive my diversion. I’m still trying to place how a needle resurfaced on six new radiographs.”
Dr. Lander attempted to explain a possibility to her, but clearly, her medical explanation didn’t do much for us.
“Will my son die from this needle?”
“You mean there’s been a needle close to his heart for three years?” Still, in tears, she turned to me. She seemed amazed by my presence. Meanwhile, I tried to hide how special I felt about such gargantuan attention I was being showered with by keeping a blank face. I would be boasting about carrying a needle in my chest for three years in school the following Monday while my friends thought I was a superman.
“It’s my fault. I should have been more careful.”
“Mrs. Ayoade. There is a way out. Your son will not die.” Dr. Lander assured.
“We have to refer you to another teaching hospital where they have more experienced cardiothoracic surgeons than we do. They could operate on your son successfully. I know someone in Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. We used to have the good ones here, but most of them left for the greener pastures if you understand me.”
“You mean they could remove the needle successfully?” Mom asked a question that had already been answered, apparently because she desperately wanted an assurance on her son’s life. It seemed like Dr. Lander nearly understood mom’s most crucial desperation. However, her countenance remained the same. It wasn’t going to be any gleeful until there was hope for the possibility of my survival from the discovery near my heart.
“I will write you a referral. I’m sure the surgeons will do their very best to help Ramon.”
I gazed at mom’s swollen face and puffy eyes as we rode quietly in a taxi.
To be continued ….
Copyright © Deji Ayoade 2020