III: Death Himself
by IfeOluwa Nihinlola
The morning I was transferred from the private ward to the ICU, the reasons for my transfer seemed simple and logical: I had maxed out the oxygen tanks in the private ward overnight, and would be better supplied at the ICU. My folks interpreted it differently when they came, and calls started ringing. They are moving him to ICU. He has gone to ICU.
My ICU introduction was rude. There was a baby with 80% burns in a cot and an old man, an accident victim, whose loud breaths were assisted by oxygen too. His family was asked to go look for more funds to pay his bills, but he died before they returned, less than four hours after I entered the unit. The nurse on duty called the doctor, he was declared dead, and the orderly on duty was asked to prepare the body to be taken out of the unit. But the orderly went out and did not return for almost three hours. In that time, the nurse refused to take care of the body on her behalf. I would later realize the orderly was notoriously lazy, so the nurse was fed up with picking up the slack. The family still hadn’t returned from their money-finding trip.
The body was still there when my doctors came into stick a needle into my chest, and through my back to take pleural fluid. It was a continuation of the many tests that had been done to find out what was wrong that came back blank. As I rested my chin on the cold overbed table, I realized how clueless the doctors appeared. Even the consultants, at that point looked clueless with only a smidgen of intuition.
Over the three days I spent in the ICU, there would be more comings and goings. One more person would die- the middle-aged woman in a hypoglycemic coma whose daughter kept on shouting at in Yoruba: Mama Kemi, wake up. She cried as she called, beating the woman’s skin as if she were asleep and both acts were capable of waking her up. Another woman came in and the nurses tried to find viable points to set up a line in her body, without luck. They eventually settled on a point on her head and another on her leg.
In all these, I did not appreciate how bad things looked from outside. I kept my mind on the little calculations, like how to hold my bowels till my youngest uncle could get to the hospital, because he was the only one I trusted to deal with the pan without accident. I got some perspective from the countenance of others, though. One man came into the ward, I think he was a doctor, and grilled them on why I was not in a properly quarantined area. He came to my bedside, checked my vitals, and made a pity face. Make sure you wipe the whole ward clean when he eventually leaves here, he told the nurses. They moved me to the far end of the ward and reduced the number of people with access to the ward.
I was later told another uncle came to see me one of those days in the ICU as I was sleeping. He had visited earlier while I was still in the private ward and, given the kind of attention I was receiving, was expecting me to be better. He returned home distraught. His friend who had an appointment with him later that evening found him locked in his room. He was too scared to leave. It was as if he had seen death himself.
This also helped me understand the couple who came to see me in the private ward the day I was allowed to leave the ICU for the private ward. They entered the room, took one look at me, and an urgent hymn-singing session ensued that lasted almost thirty minutes. My mother joined them with arms stretched wide and face turned up in supplication. I was just worried that my food was getting cold.