I thought I was going to die and had already begun to make peace with it. Not even in a frantic ‘save my life’ way but with more resignation to the fact that there were only a finite number of things I had control over and the pain was not one of them. Second by second, pain jolted through my body from different angles — hard pain passing through freely and so palpable that it felt like if I reached inside my body, I could pull it out.
It was the middle of the night and on the way to the hospital, I was contorted into a weird shape, finding the part of my body that did not hurt so I could lay on it but found none. This should be what hell feels like, I thought to myself as I couldn’t imagine anything remotely worse. In desperation, I grabbed the handles in the car, attempting a half-standing, half-sitting position hoping to find some relief but the pain, as though angry that I tried to run from it, ran through me with so much force that the next moment I found myself on the car seat, broken handle in my hand. I finally surrendered to the tears. I wailed.
I was still crying by the time I made it into the emergency ward of the hospital and the nurses looked pissed that I came to disturb their night. When you are in pain, everything moves slowly and everyone looks like they are having the time of their lives. You never mind that they might be struggling right there and then. You just hate that you are in pain and would trade anything to have it all go away.
So when the nurse started asking me questions, I looked straight in his eyes and said, “just reduce my pain first. Reduce my pain first, please. That’s my priority. Do it.” He scurried to prepare some drugs and comes back to find a vein, draws blood and inserts an IV as I manage to stay still. He returned to push some fluids inside my body and for the first time, I didn’t care what it was or ask, I let him give me liquids I could not verify. Pain makes you desperate.
The room was spinning and then suddenly stopped. I opened my eyes and looked around clearly for the first time, acknowledging the full scope of where I was — in a hospital, surrounded by medical practitioners, dim lights and hospital white and blue. Two hours ago, I was nestled in my bed thinking about ways to stand up and begin writing an article I had been mulling over.
Then almost as soon as I drew a breath of relief, hoping the drugs were working, the pain began to return. It was one side first, then another, then full body again. I felt betrayed. Very betrayed because I thought I was clear that I needed the pain to go and I assumed he listened.
“Madam, how are you? Oh the drugs were to get you settled,” the doctor said, staring at me like my reaction was uncalled for.
I turned to him and told him the drugs were not working, that I was barely able to speak or open my eyes. He asked me to measure my pain from one to ten and I said eleven because the pain I was feeling could not exist on a scale; it was too potent to exist on a scale. He told me the pain couldn’t be that bad, asked more questions and left.
Fifteen minutes later, he was back by my bedside, pushing something into my IV and looking at me apologetically. My body starts to feel like my own again, soon and I draw a breath to confirm that this was indeed my body with the pain beginning to go away. I wonder if it was my constant grunts, or that I began to look really faint, that made him return to give me something real for my pain. How did he ever think a placebo was going to work for me in the first place and why didn’t he take my pain seriously till he saw for certain that it was going to kill me?
I laid there just surrounded by my own thoughts about death, pain and the lack of notice it often gives you. When the surgeon came later to talk about my options, he admitted that he could not give me an answer for what really happened to me because I did not engage in any of the things that could have caused this after talking with me and looking at my scans. So his conclusion was that it was genetic.
I nodded my head when he was done and turned away to think. Before now, I had assumed I knew every health related thing that was not great in my family. I have an intimate relationship with pain and it was from watching my people go through it. Everytime I pass a hospital, I turn away instinctively because it reminds me of the things I had to give up and the things it often foisted upon us.
When I was eight, I was holding my mother while her body was going cold. She asked me to take care of my siblings because she was prepared to not make it as the pain was too much. I somehow knew then that her survival was based on my ability to act. So I did. Dropped her on the bed and ran to call, to reach my father somehow. I ran back, held her hands and told her to hang on for just a couple more minutes, that she owed me a couple more minutes before she made that decision.
When I was thirteen, my father came home and said “you will enrol during the next WAEC. You are going to the university as soon as possible.” Then he went to his room and left me confused. It was unlike him to say something and not explain. I inherited my over-explaining skill from this man. Why would he just say something like that and go inside? In the middle of the night, he woke me up to talk.
I sat, hands on my chin as my father explained that he went to see the doctor and was told that he could die at any time. Thus was advised to put his home together and this meant I needed to step up. He explained, with so much pain in his eyes, that he understood that I already had more responsibilities than a child my age should have but this was very important for the future of the family. I could no longer study medicine because it would take too long but a four-year course could be the right meal ticket when things go wrong. I nodded, too stunned to say anything and the next day, I added it to my growing list of duties.
Every time I see my parents, I prepare a list of fun activities we can do to laugh and smile. Last December, I realised that my siblings do not have the same sense of urgency I have about my parents’ lives. They treat them normally and I treat them as people I could potentially lose. Even though they are way better now, the years it took to get their bodies here took a lot from me. A lot that I sometimes share in random jokes when I am with my people and a lot that I had to unpack in therapy and never speak about openly. But I treat them with care, like they are fragile but they are not. They are not as fragile anymore. We made it through those dark years but the lines etched stay with you.
Near-death experiences have strange impacts and no one really, really talks about what sickness does to a unit, how it changes everything. I just had mine. A near-death experience where it was not me looking after the other person, hoping for them and acting as the thing that convinces them to stay on this side for me and with me. This is mine and I understand my parents better now — the caution they quickly began to approach life with and the sense of urgency that uncertainty brings.
I have fought through life, creating pathways that people where I come from couldn’t dream of and showing up over and over as much I am required to. Since I had that fight for my life, I have just thought more about myself and my life. The other day I realised that I perhaps do not humanise myself enough. A number of people have met me in person after encountering my work or my social media and insinuated the same thing. Someone even told me that beyond media (and Nollywood), it is hard to know what I like as a person; the things that interest me and the quirks in my life.
I love talking to people, having random conversations and laughing. Because I am a storyteller and tend to over-explain, sharing on social media terrifies me. So does sharing with people who are not my friends. My actual friends. But I have realised that when people can’t figure the small things about you out, the things that make you human, they assume and they act on their assumptions. You can’t care about everyone’s assumptions but you care about those of the people who have direct influence in your life, no matter how much you want to pretend that you don’t.
Yet, the idea that I would share myself so openly scares the hell out of me.
This journal that I might likely share scares me too because it is too personal, too honest and usually it’s the stuff I sit on the floor and talk about with my friends. Yes, that is one of my quirks. I love sitting on the rug or cooking and trying a new recipe. I joke that I am the worst person to cook for survival and it’s true. I cook for fun and when I like. I love telling stories and cracking jokes.
My friends say I am a clown and believe it or not, I have been told to start making skits or start a vodcast because of how immersive my storytelling can be, especially when you are watching me tell it. I don’t think I am funny. I just think funny things happen to me alot and that when you are surrounded by people in pain, you owe them an escape. So you make them laugh and you make them feel alive so they can push through the pain.
When I got discharged from the hospital, I made a list of the things I love to do and have been ticking that list as much as my health would allow me. It is my turn now, I guess, to ruminate over my near-death experience and make peace with my humanity. I am not dying now so I better take living seriously.