by IfeOluwa Nihinlola
Of all the days I spent in bed, feeling fever melt my body, the moment I really found despair was about a week after it all began. My uncle, having fed me the lunch of semo and ewedu that I abandoned after a few morsels, asked the doctor how long it would take for me to improve. There had been no signs I was getting any better, after all the drugs that had been pumped into me and the minor miracle of the doctors, after so many wrong turns, finally figuring out what was wrong.
Six or eight months, the smiling doctor said.
We were stunned. The doctor was still smiling.
My lanky doctor always entered the ward with a laugh, even when woken at midnight for emergencies. He would bump in and swagger through, greeting everyone on the ward and continuing his job with that firm smile. Earlier that day, he had rushed into the ICU asking the nurses for Vaseline to protect his skin from Harmattan. He then asked for toothpaste too, laughing at their shock as he hurried off on his rounds.
How he could laugh in such a dreary place is still a mystery to me. The Senior Registrar on my case always came in stern of face, steeled to tackle whatever new problem my body had come up with to mess up his day. It is perfectly normal to choose steel in the face of a problem that wouldn’t identify itself, shifting posts like an online argument about aliens. To laugh instead is completely bonkers. I sometimes want to think smiling doc leads a healthy life beyond the things he sees in the hospital daily, but I also know how easy it is for us to wear masks, how laughter might just be our armor, our helium balloon, and we’re all just a pinprick away from sorrowful breakdown.
His bizarre mirth continued, even with our evident shock. It could have been far worse, he added. Of course, I could be just another body wheeled from the ICU to the morgue. Cheery thought, doc.
I spent the remaining hours of that day plotting the best way to move from the bed to the nurses’ table in the brief window of time they all dozed in the middle of the night. My plan was to grab a handful of drugs, swallow them, and return to a bed without pain for the first time in many days. My mind couldn’t conceive any way to endure the pain for another day, to say nothing of a six month sentence.
Sometimes, I imagine Hooke’s law being constantly at work in my states of mind. The same person who seems capable of handling the absence of a job, the mockery of watching his life stagnate while his peers sail beautifully on the sea called life, and near-death at the hands of a disease from the dark ages, then gets derailed by the mere news that he’ll be taking the same drug for the next six months. It’s like a ship surviving a violent storm capsizing after because a teacup dropped in the dining room. The ship’s situation is comical, but not implausible. Hooke showed that once the elastic limit is reached and surpassed, even a slight increase in stress results in a large and disproportionate strain.
The only thing I accomplished that night was stepping off the bed. I couldn’t even move my legs, couldn’t remove the line stuck in my arm, couldn’t will my muscles to obey my mind, couldn’t order back the rush of urine that chose that moment to run down my body. I hadn’t spoken coherently for some hours, and had had oxygen fed into my lungs for a large part of the day. But I was bone-headed in my quest for relief. The nurses heard my struggle and came to help. They offered me a jar to complete my pee, cleaned my body, took my clothes and laid me back on the bed.
It was that night that I decided to stop thinking. To accept the full gravity of my condition. To simply focus on getting through the pain of the day. To try to accomplish little things, like watching the measurement of my oxygen saturation, and willing it to rise.