II: Just Nod
by IfeOluwa Nihinlola
Just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine, they said. In their white overalls, all smiling, all confident that the situation was under control. I would nod my head as if I planned to follow their instructions. Eat a lot of proteins, they added. Nod. Try to exercise your muscles. Nod. You’ll be fine. Nod. Nod. Nod.
I’ve had that subtle rebellion against authority since I was a child. It was never deep enough to make prayer worriers of my parents, but it was there. Give me a chore and you could be sure that I wouldn’t do it. My mother would remind me of my hair and nails on the very days I had chosen to cut them, so my response was always to delay for yet another day. I wanted to be seen as having a mind of my own. But all my shakara was gone as I lay on the bed.
As I had chosen to stop thinking, there was no way I could reason myself out of any of my instructions. My new insight was simple: only people who could think could be depressed. So I followed every detail like a robot.
Or tried to. I was failing even at following, for by this time almost all decisions were taken on my behalf. When to eat. When to rest my back. When to take a bath. When to sit up in bed. When to leave the bed for the chair. When to stand and exercise my legs.
One of the toughest parts of being ill is learning the definition of vulnerability: accepting that your wellbeing is in the hands of another- that you would have to depend on their kindness for the simplest of things.
It’s probably not the ideal way to learn trust, but there are few options when your body starts to fail but to hope others share their own bodies with you. Their tongues to check that your food tastes right, eyes to watch the way you’re going, hands to clean up after you, and wheel you through hospital corridors.
I was released early because the system of care around me, involving a large part of my extended family living in town, was judged efficient. On the day I was discharged, father offered to walk me to the car. I refused. It was the first thing I would do on my own in days. So I also rejected the wheelchair. I wanted to regain some dignity after being wheeled through the hospital throughout my stay. I staggered out of the room, down the corridor of the private ward, past the nursing station, the whispers and pele of passers-by, and into the car. I spent the rest of that night on the bed staring at the ceiling, the Harmattan chill from the open window useless upon my still-blazing fever.
In the morning, I was helped up by my dad, and left for the bathroom. Another first since I became glued to the bed. It was in the bathroom, staring at my gaunt, zombie-like reflection that I realized I was short one vital instruction: Don’t look in the mirror.