This Week With Aniedobe: Blinded by Medical Mission
The fear of kidnappers, it appears, has become the beginning of Igbo wisdom. I think of Somalia when I think of what might become if this scourge continues. Everyone now lives in imminent apprehension of being kidnapped. For those of us returning from Diaspora, there are two basic rules:
Rule No. 1. Do not sleep in the same place twice;
Rule No. 2. Do not let anyone, including your wife, know how you are going;
Rule No. 3. Do not forget rule Nos. 1 and 2.
I was observing my basic rules on my way to a hideout at Onitsha after spending the day at home when Eliza’s frantic call came in.
“Broda, O kwa ndi kidnappers O! Chei, o kam si je na uwam! (Broda, kidnappers are here. Is this how my life will end?)” she was panting.
It was about 7 pm in the evening. I was riding in a beat up Toyota Camry, now about ten miles from home, and I did not share in Eliza’s sense of imminent danger until she said,
“Broda, if they hold me, they will threaten to kill me until you come back but since I am only your house girl and not your sister, you will ask them to kill me and then run away to America. Chei, o kam si je na uwam!” Eliza was now weeping profusely.
“Where are they now?”
“They are knocking on the gate and I am inside the house hiding in the toilet. Broda, Chim egbue mu (My God has killed me),” she continued crying, panic written all over her voice.
“Eliza,” I tried to re-assure her although I was beginning to get concerned myself, “stay there in the toilet. Let me call Isaac and tell him to rally the vigilantes immediately. Just stay calm.”
“Yes Sir. Cheta, O Virgin Maria di aso …(Remember, O Holy Mother of God ..)” Eliza had begun to prepare to face her maker as I hung up to call Isaac.
I called Isaac and was relieved that he picked up on the first ring. I told him about the kidnappers at the gate and asked him to source some able bodied vigilantes and call me back immediately with situational assessment. Isaac swung into action immediately. It is times like this that you are grateful that you are in good terms with your local vigilante.
Ten minutes later, Isaac’s call came in.
“Broda, it is an old man from Nnewi. He said his name is Captain Charles Ukegbu, former Catechist of St. Charles Catholic Church, Nkalagu. He said he has come to see you and will not leave until he sees you. Do you want to speak to him.”
“Yes, put him on the line.”
“Cee,” the man began, his tired old voice revealing much about how well he knew me, “I saw you on television yesterday and I decided I must see you. There is a very important issue I must discuss with you and if I have to sleep in front of this gate, I will, but I am not going anywhere till I see you.”
That voice sounded awfully familiar. Old the voice might be, but he must have known me very intimately. No stranger calls me Cee. But where did I know this man, my mind kept racing. Then came that flash of recognition.
“Captain Ogbunigwe, is this you?”
“Yes, it is me.”
“Captain, is it you, the one they call Ogbunigwe on the football field; the artful dribbler, the Catechist at Nkalagu; the Charge hand in the Electrical Department?”
“Yes, it is me, my son. Anam efu efu, biko bia nyelumu aka (I am lost, please come and help me).”
I thanked Isaac for a job well done. I reassured Eliza that Captain was safe and to let him into the house and offer him rice and stew and that I would be back tomorrow sometime and that the Captain was determined to wait for me, so let him wait for me.
By now, Eliza had called all my siblings and they were all on panic alert. Calls were coming in from everywhere telling me to head out straight to America. My younger Sister assured me that she will arrange for mobile police men to report to our house first thing in the morning and to wait for her report before I venture outside.
Geez, I was thinking, if Somalia is worse than this, Somalia must be really bad. Everyone is living on wire’s edge in Igbo land today, afraid of kidnappers; the government slowly but surely losing grip of the social fabrics of the society. Ife emebi go. (Things have fallen apart.)
Last time I saw Captain was in 1982 when he came to bade us good bye following Governor Jim Nwobodo’s closure of Nkalagu Cement Factory. He had remained close to the family, but I had gone from Nkalagu to Nsukka then to Obodo Oyibo (Overseas). Thirty years sure is a long time.
Captain had come to Nkalagu as a casual laborer. You might think of him as today’s equivalent of a temporary laborer. Other than being a farm boy at Warri where he grew up, he had zero trade skills, but he was a soccer maestro. Maradona had nothing on this man when I knew him. He danced over the ball like a butterfly and stung like a bee with his powerful left kick that leaves an opposing goal keeper awe struck whenever the foot of this awesome midfielder touched the ball. Whenever his feet touched the ball, the crowd roared, “Ogbunigwe! Ogbunigwe!”
Because of his great football skills, he was highly sought after but he just could not pass his basic exams to become a regular worker. My father, then, a supervisor at the Electrical Department recruited him strongly. My father took him under his wings, coached him on the exams, and about his fifth try or so, he passed and became a labor mate in the Electrical Engineering Department, rising through the ranks to become a Charge hand before the factory was closed. So began the glory days of the Electrical Engineering Department in the Inter Departmental football competition. Everyone called him Captain because of his field generalship and that became his name till this day.
Other than being a soccer maestro, Captain was also a deeply religious man. He was very active in the building of the new St. Charles Catholic Church both as a Catechist and a lay leader and organizer. In all those days, his loyalty to my Dad never waned. In fact, there was no weekend that Captain was not at our house helping out in anyway and just spoiling the kids silly. Captain loved us as his own. Many were the days at Union Secondary Awkunanaw when Captain showed up with Cabin biscuit, Nido, and sugar.
Kidnappers or no kidnappers, when the Captain beckons, I have to go. This was payback time for the good old Captain.
Nine am the next day, I was on my way back home to see Captain. As I got to mbala Oye, Isaac stopped me to let me know that the vigilante had been monitoring the situation and the coast was clear and that there were two mobile police men at our house already. I parted with one thousand Naira for the info. Isaac headed straight to the watering hole at Oye market.
When I got to the house, the police men greeted me. Eliza seemed dazed and still under apprehension of some sort of danger. I assured her that the all was good. I ordered her to prepare food for the policemen and to serve them cold beer. Captain was upstairs on the second floor sleeping on a chair, I learnt, as I quickly mounted the stairs to go and meet him.
“Cee, is this you,” Captain cried, tears streaming from the corner of his eyes, his entire body gripped with such palpable tension and anxiety.
“Yes, this is I,” as I hugged him back, trying to choke back my own tears, my hands grabbing his time wearied shoulders.
“Have you eaten?”
“No, I do not have any appetite these days. She offered me porridge yam this morning but yam makes me to urinate often and I just did not feel like eating.”
“So you have diabetes,” thinking how yam has a higher glycemic index than rice.
“Yes, but that is not the reason why I want to see you.”
“Well, what is the reason?”
“Cee, I am going blind. My left eye is finished and my right eye is going with it. If I can’t read my Bible anymore, what use is my life?”
“What is causing you to go blind?”
“They said it is glukoma?”
“What is glaucoma?”
“Is it not a situation where there is too much water inside the eyes?”
“How long have you had it?”
“Since 1999 when the doctor told me that I had it.”
“American Doctor from my town, Dr. Ebubechi Iweobi. He used torch light to look into my eyes and told me that I had glukoma and he gave me Timoptol and asked me to use the drop every morning and every night.”
“And have you been doing that?”
“Yes. I never missed for one day. I even get it from America through my brother in law and when my America own finishes, I get it from the Chemists near the Teaching Hospital who sells good ones.”
“Has it controlled your pressure well?”
“Yes. The drug is not the problem. It is American drug, the best drug in the world. The problem is my relatives who have sworn that I must go blind just like my father. If it is not because of Psalm 35 that I have used to bind them, they would have killed me by now. They want me to go blind first and then finish me off just like they did my father. You know that they sent stroke to my father after they made him blind. Cee, it is not the drug, O kwa mmadu ka ana aya. (It is not the drug. My problem is evil people.)”
“How do you know that it has controlled your pressure well?”
“Whenever I use it, my eyes will cool down because when there is too much water inside my eyes, it will start to give me headache. That is why I am convinced that the drug is working. But it is the evil people around me that have worsened my sight. Just seeing me alive makes them uncomfortable.”
“Captain, close your left eyes with your hand, look straight at my nose, tell me how many fingers you see and when you see them.”
We went through the motion with both eyes. I made a rough sweep of his peripheral vision. His left eye appears to be completely gone, his vision narrowing to a very small window right in front of him. He appeared to still have some vision on the right although his peripheral vision was also narrowing down quite a bit.
“Your left eye is going.”
“Yes, and it is pulling the right one. The Hausa people that extrat catarat and macula generation told me that if they don’t extrat the glukoma in my left eye, it will draw the right eye too and I will go completely blind.”
“What do you mean by Hausa people that extract cataract?”
“Cee, they are in Igbo land. For a little money, they can extrat catarat, glukoma, and macula generation. They want to extrat the glaucoma on my left eye. I have prayed over it and my heart is strong. If I lose my vision, my enemies will laugh at me. They are taking only twenty five thousand Naira and I don’t have it. I need that money so that they will extrat the glukoma in my left eye so that it will stop pulling the right eye.”
“When was the last time you saw a trained Opthalmologist?”
“Cee, I have even seen everybody, including dibia Igbo (native doctors). If American trained Ophthalmologis who asked me to use timoptol for all these years could not cure it, you have to know that my enemies are too powerful. O kwa mmadu ka ana aya. (Evil people is my problem.)”
“Did your American trained ophthalmologist not tell you to have regular visit with your ophthalmologist to make sure that the timoptol is working and to monitor the health of your optic nerve.”
“That is the point I am trying to make. The drug from America was working well. Whenever I use it, my eyes waters will go down. You keep saying my ophthalmologist like I own any doctor. Do you know how much money it will cost me? That is why I kept using it all these years. I am in fact still using it now to control my eyes waters but the only problem is people who want me to go blind.”
“So you have not seen a local ophthalmologist?”
“And your American Ophthalmologist did what again when you went back to see him?”
“The second time I went, he was too busy. He asked me what drug I was on, I told him. He asked me if it was working, I said yes and he gave me up to ten bottles.”
I had heard enough. I called Dr. Chibuzor my cousin who worked at the Federal Medical Center Asaba and told him that I was sending a patient right away and to have his eye pressure measured stat. I instructed Paul my driver to take the Captain right away to Dr. Chibuzor and to bring him back later that afternoon.
Three hours later, Dr. Chibuzor called me. Eye pressure was 29 on the left and 31 on the right. Timoptol was not controlling the man’s eye pressure. Cupping of the optic nerve was severe. Prognosis not very good. Radical trabeculectomy on right eye if xalatan is unable to control pressure to acceptable levels.
Captain came back looking tired and dejected. I told him that the problem was that his timoptol was not working and that he trusted too much in it just because it came from America and was prescribed by an American doctor. I told him that had he followed up with a local doctor, that he would have been told that the timoptol was not working and could have been placed on one that worked. I assured him that no one was after him to make him blind and that frequent consultation at Asaba was his best chance of retaining what sight he had left. I asked him too to not worry about the doctor’s bills and just make sure he follows up with his doctors. I also charged him to let me know whenever he sees the Hausa ophthalmologist that claim to be able to extract glaucoma and macula degeneration and I will personally call the Commissioner for Health and ask him what the heck is wrong with his head – allowing all these charlatans to destroy people’s sights in the name of health.
I left that evening with Captain and the police men. I settled everybody quite a bit and Paul and I made our way to that night’s hide out.
So went a day in Somalia called Igbo land.
As we were making our way through the potholes that now mark the old Enugu-Onitsha road, I kept thinking why the irascible Dr. Ebubechi Iweobi, whom I know pretty well, would not stress that regular vision field tests and monitoring of the optic nerve was just as important, if not more important, than handing out ophthalmic drops? Didn’t he understand that our mostly ignorant and poor people will tend to put too much faith in these drugs and ignore the need for regular eye exams? Wouldn’t it have been better to just work with a local doctor to make sure that the continuity is there. Sure, Dr. Ebubechi asked Captain if the drug was working for him. But isn’t that the equivalent of asking an untrained person to make a clinical judgment?
Clearly, lack of clinical continuity blinded the Captain. Captain had had way too much faith in the missionary, Doctor Iweobi.
When I came back to America, I called the called the irascible Dr. Ebubechi Iweobi and told him the story of Captain Ukegbu. The doctor did not disappoint.
“Who gave you my number, *****. I was practicing Ophthalmology when they married your mother and you are here trying to teach me the standard of care in my profession. Why don’t you do your own medical mission instead of criticizing others, *****. Don’t call my number again, atulu nama. Standard of care ewu awusa.”
He hung up.
Captain was right. Sometimes, o kwa ndi mmadu ka ana aya (Sometimes, evil people are the problem)!
Chris Aniedobe is a US based Attorney and Counselor at Law
This story is dedicated to the memory of Edwin Ukegbu, Founding President of Imo State Congress, USA.
But the story also calls for sober reflection on the state of our homeland on many levels. On the one hand, there is the story of that man who may now be going blind because of the pathetic state of healthcare delivery in Nigeria. On the other hand, in the same land where most of us are focused on Boko Haram, there is the fire of kidnapping on our mountains. The author was right; our country is almost like Somalia.