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Published On: Tue, Apr 15th, 2014

The pest that ruined Nigeria

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By Ose Oyamendan-Eimakhu

I spent my week enjoying the inside of a hospital. I have never passed the night in the hospital before, except for the birth of my boys. And, even then, you’re free to go and come as you wish. But not this time. Seven letters ended my streak. Malaria! It’s like a bracelet that cuffs your ankles to the hospital bed. I have forgotten about malaria. I have forgotten about how devastating it is. I have forgotten because when you’re in Nigeria you run into people all the time who are just recovering from malaria so you get lulled into believing it can’t be that bad.

Now I know why they talk your ears full before you go to Nigeria. Beware of this, beware of that, don’t go to these places and whatever you do, take your prophylactic as directed by your physician. I used to be great at taking the prophylactic instructions but I got cocky after repeated visits. But, on that night in Kano last month when I saw a tribe of mosquitos converging in my room as if they’re at a convention, I knew I had a date with something very bad.

In America, when you have malaria, you’re like a pariah. Everyone panics. Your doctor screams at another physician for giving you seven pills less than you needed in Nigeria. Your managers are screaming at the accountants who are sympathetic you’re ill but wondering how it would affect projects. Your wife is screaming at the kids who think its cool to jump on daddy like they do at home. The only one not screaming are the infectious diseases doctors. You look at their faces and you think you’re going to die. You look at all the tubes going in and out of your body and you start cursing yourself for not going to Antarctica when you had the chance, thinking you had your life ahead of you

What you don’t know is that the doctors can’t treat an infectious disease until they know what it is? They have to eliminate everything until there are sure what it is. While they do that they sort of build a medicinal wall against your brain so whatever parasite is in your body cannot attack your brain because that would be a near calamity. Chei, American wonder! Then you start drifting off. Your mind drifts back home. And, that is then you know you’re not gonna die because if you’re gonna die, your mind would not drift back to Nigeria. It probably would drift to Ukraine or Afghanistan or maybe even Pakistan. When your mind drift to Nigeria in such a state it only means one thing – you’re going to survive this but you’re going to suffer a lot!

Your mind drifts through the streets and you see the hospitals, places that once were centers of excellence but are now centers of rot. I remember as a child when they said a relative was getting admitted at the University College Hospital (UCH), you knew that was a serious case and you knew you had the newspapers of that uncle to yourself for a few days. But you always knew they will return and they always did.

Now, when you hear people have gone to places like UCH you start a prayer vigil. I think Nigeria, my Nigeria, is one of the few places in the world where people like me remember the past with fondness because things worked then. And it kills you to think of life that way because Nigerians are some of the most brilliant people in the world.

In the last few years I have heard of a few deaths that just blow the mind. People driving themselves to the hospital for routine outpatient surgery and dying. People with cases of malaria and never making it out. People with so much life one day and no life the next. And, you look at the infrastructures and it makes you weep.

It is why every time I meet someone who says he or she is trying to establish a hospital in Nigeria, I ask them to call me if there is anything I can offer to their good deeds. And that is why I think Nigerians should ask the babel trying to kill themselves for a chance at power in 2015 to sign an undertaking that they will reform the health sector within two years or go back to their villages, with or without shoes. A nation of healthy people has a chance. A sick nation with sick people is simply doomed.

Back at the hospital, after thirty-six hours and gallons of my blood drawn for blood work, the doctors danced into my room and shouted “malaria!”. Same thing I told them thirty-six hours earlier, same thing my personal physician was screaming at another physician for a few hours earlier. But, boy – I felt bad for my body and malaria after they found out it was the one tearing through my body. I thought the saying was ‘be careful of scorned woman’. Not in malaria land when doctors attack. The doctors go after the malaria with so much venom that you’re treated between a cross of a pregnant woman (ultra sounds) and a HIV patient (many, many tubes).

At the end of the week, as I got wheeled to my car because in America, patients are not allowed to walk to their car on discharge, one of my friends who always have this argument about Nigerians and our lack of collective spine in the face of deplorable leadership looked at me with a very mischievous wink. “What?” I asked in a weak, raspy voice that the wife told me sounded like Marlon Brando on crack. “Now you know why Nigerians didn’t have to fight for our independence?” he replied. “Why?” I asked, delighted I was about to learn something new. “Malaria,” he replied and paused for effect, “the pest was gonna kill them all so they left in a hurry. And that pest cost us our spine! We could have gone all Mau Mau on the British; that would have told the military not to mess with us”.

Ose Oyamendan-Eimakhu is US-based Nigerian film maker

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