By Bankole Olamide
gruntings and groanings
Fear of the “known”
Face to face with death
Running to the only available pillar… the father
Thursday evening, we were watching one of the episodes of Henry Danger when mama returned from work and started complaining of chest pain. She works as a nurse at Irrua specialist hospital in Edo state, where we live. She had just gotten transferred from the infectious unit of the hospital. The infectious unit housed patients of various diseases, including Lassa fever, yellow fever, Ebola virus, and recently coronavirus
My mother is an over-thinker. When she gets stressed and anxious she talks the house down. She started complaining as soon as the COVID-19 started. She knew her hospital unit would house the COVID patients, so she started prayers as a fervent Adventist Christian. The first prayer point was for the Federal government not to approve her hospital for treatment of COVID-19 but the federal government approved it anyway. Nurses were asked to enlist for treatment of COVID-19, and that caused an uproar, not just in the hospital but at home. My mum and dad talked about it repeatedly for almost a week. The conclusion was no. Mama wasn’t going to treat COVID-19 patients. Oh! The irony!
Mama found a way to transfer to another unit. In the usual Nigerian manner, she got it done by “having connection.” Without knowing the “powers-that-be,” you couldn’t get anything done in this country; from political appointments to withdrawing money from your bank, you need to be connected to somebody who knows somebody at the top, else you're stuck at the bottom. Mama got transferred to the intensive care unit “ICU” Hurray! God had answered our prayers and we were so grateful.
The chest pain developed about two weeks after she resumed at the ICU. We prayed and prayed for it to go away. She attributed the pains to stress; after all, what else could it be? She used antimalarial drugs, all to no avail. In Nigeria, because the population of mosquitoes is almost on par with that of humans and malaria is a common-almost normal-occurrence, most Nigerians assume they have malaria whenever they’re sick. She went to see a doctor and was advised to take a Covid test. We didn’t get the results early enough, and thank God we didn’t!
The chest pain persisted for almost two weeks. Towards the end of the second week, it climaxed. She couldn’t cook or even go to work anymore. On Sabbath, we all went to church. She usually taught the children in the children’s church, but she couldn’t teach that Sabbath, and I had to help her. She left church during the sermon because she couldn’t bear the pain anymore. When I noticed she had been gone for more than twenty minutes, I went out to find her. I met her crying and praying. I almost shed tears at that point. Mama was crying. But I didn’t cry, though my insides bled, I couldn’t cry; I had to be strong for her. She told me not to come too close to her and I guess her nurse’s instincts already told her she had the virus, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday the next week, mama’s pain had subsided, she had used a strong antibiotic and she was much better. I kept wondering if her Covid test results would come out, but I didn’t voice my thoughts. My mum and I were different, and I kept my strongest feelings to myself while she spurted every last bit of hers.
Around 3 pm that Tuesday, two cars drove towards our house. My brothers were playing football outside, so they sighted the cars first. My immediate younger brother came upstairs to tell me, “daddy is around, and another car came with him.” We all wondered what “the other car” was doing in our house since we rarely had visitors due to the pandemic. I guess we all knew, deep down.
My dad summoned us all downstairs and he told my brother to bring a chair with him while he was coming. When we went down, we saw a man with laboratory equipment. He wore a mask, and he had come to take our samples. That was when it dawned on me…on all of us. Mama had received her Covid result or sentence. It seemed more like a court sentence to me.
The man collected details and wrote them down on the test papers for each of us. Dates of births, names, when we got exposed, the symptoms? He asked all sorts of questions and wrote the answers down in the papers. That was the day I knew the year my father was born; he would never have told me if I asked.
After collecting details, he began the long process of wearing the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We were familiar with all the hospital equipment since my mama was a nurse and my dad was a medical laboratory scientist. Most families would have been as quiet as a graveyard as they prepared to be “convicted,” but not mine. So, I took it upon myself to make us laugh, and my younger siblings cooperated. We shared jokes as usual. My youngest brother - the last born - was surprised that there used to be a year 2003. He wasn’t born until 2013, so he had never heard of dates like 2003 or 2005. We laughed over that, and when my other brother took his test we laughed from the tickle of the Q-tip. We laughed in the face of danger.
Our Covid sentences came in at last. Everyone was infected. I knew it! We all knew it even before the results were out. My mother is the center of our family, we all touched her and hugged her almost every day, so if she had it, we all did. I loved using her wrapper and blankets; it smelled of her, my brothers loved snuggling close to her, my sister and I spent hours in the same kitchen with her, and my father spent nights with her on the same bed. We all had the virus and it was no surprise. We had even joked about it before the results came out. Our common joke phrase while awaiting our sentences was, “if mama had it, we all have it.”
We commenced treatment immediately; mama was a nurse, after all. My youngest brother had started to show symptoms already. My mama went to the pharmacy to get millions of tablets. We were sentenced to Corona and my mama was the lawyer helping us appeal to the court of viruses so we wouldn’t be jailed, and she did her job well. My siblings and I didn’t break down so much. I guess our cells are young and our immune systems fought strongly against the virus; my dad wasn’t that lucky. He broke down completely; that was the first time I saw my dad really sick!
My dad is a man who likes to keep active at all times, and he never stays home no matter how much mama complains. Dad wouldn't come home if the sky hadn’t shed its light. Due to the curfew, he started coming home at sunset. But as soon as Corona hit, he couldn’t even step out of the house. It was terrifying! My dad is the strongest man I know; seeing him down and weak broke me. But as usual, I kept my feelings to myself, and as a child who grew up acknowledging God as our Heavenly Father, I turned to him. He said, “come unto him all that are heavy laden and I would give you rest.”
So, I cried unto the father…
My mother extended the length of her usual midnight prayers. She started to have insomnia. She was worried-sick. My father grunted and groaned in his sleep; his breathing sometimes wasn’t even. My youngest brother complained of stomachache repeatedly. I had vomited the first day I swallowed five zinc tablets. Laughter was scarce in our home for days; Hydroxychloroquine and zinc tablets had replaced it. We took about five pills twice daily. We boiled pawpaw, dongoyaro and other leaves I can’t even name and drank the bitter liquid we got from it. At one point, we started to bathe with the bitter mixture. We also inhaled steam and menthol since we got information that the virus couldn’t thrive in the heat.
Usually, we had prayers twice - mornings and evenings but we increased it. Finally, we started to pray three times daily, like Daniel of the bible! Yes! We had been infected, but the father would heal us. He would be our pillar in times of trouble, and he promised that in his word. At some point, I started to doubt. Did God hear prayers? Why was my dad up all night coughing and struggling to catch his breath? Haven’t we been faithful as a family? I probably asked a billion questions in my head.
We ate lots of fruits and started warm water therapy, we had to overcome the virus! I was grateful for the little farmland we started cultivating during the lockdown. We got our fresh food from it since we couldn’t go out to buy any.
About 2 weeks later, my dad started to lead prayers again! It was a miracle! He had stopped leading the morning prayers because he was too weak to speak. But he had gotten stronger! We completed our drug dosage, no more than 10 tablets every day! My siblings and I were excited about that. Little by little, we came out of the isolation phase. It was a miracle!
As soon as we confirmed we were all well, we thoroughly cleaned our house. My dad bought so much hypochlorite you’ll think we were cleaning the national stadium. We washed all our clothes, including the neat ones. I had to sanitize all doorknobs, surfaces, tabletops, and light switches. We practically baptized our house in the hypochlorite solution but we were all happy doing it. It signified that our battle was over.
Bankole Olamide aka "midey's pencil" is a dentistry student at the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo state, interested in writing and literature since her high school days. She enjoys writing short stories, flash fiction, book, and movie reviews. As a medical student, she plans to publish books that include a new genre combining medical sciences and literature. She hopes to reach every reader with beautiful stories that spur important conversations.
Her article, co-written with Ojewale Olajumoke, "Alté fashion: how are Nigerians taking it?" Made it to the top 10 of the 10th bi-annual TUSH magazine contest. She owns a personal blog where she uploads stories and movie reviews.
Her hobbies and interests include scriptwriting, story writing, singing, and reading.
She enjoys reading books by her favorite writers, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, and Chinua Achebe.
After her medical study, she plans to further her education in literature, linguistics, and story writing.