“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a medical practitioner who has been taking care of a sick parent since last year August. He tells us about the frustrations of the healthcare system, the mind-blowing financial costs and the emotional tolls an illness exerts on a person.
My days are so similar that they’ve become a blur — it starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. From the minute I wake up and take my bath, I’m running errands: get X tests done here, buy Y drugs at another place, run to Z place to get blood. I’m always on the move because there’s usually a lot happening with a sick person. My first errand today is buying antibiotics outside the hospital for my dad. I start my waka by making a few calls to pharmacies to compare the prices of the medicine. After securing a decent price, I make arrangements for pickup and delivery.
It’s 4 p.m the next time I look at a clock. Between running around to pick up medicines and calling my mum for updates about my dad, I wonder where my day went. I also don’t remember if I’ve eaten today. But I don’t have time to ponder over this because I have to take over from my mum in the ward — we alternate the cleaning and feeding of my dad — while she goes home. Depending on my dad’s mood when I’m done feeding him, we either have a conversation or he asks to sleep. He’s in the mood for a conversation today, so I pass time with him while waiting for the doctors to start their evening rounds. I can’t wait to leave the ward, get food and sleep because the cycle begins again tomorrow.
When the doctor told me that my dad’s condition was multiple myeloma, I cried because I had no one to vent to. Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, and one of the symptoms is brittle bones. The damage to my dad was so bad that his hip removed from its joint. I’ll never forget the days leading up to his admission at the hospital. We were always home alone [Mumsi had to go to work]. One morning, I broke his hand while trying to move him from the bed to a chair. One minute I was trying to move him and the next, I heard a loud kpa sound. I was so scared because I had never seen so much shock and pain on my dad’s face before. For his sake, I had to compose myself and reassure him that it’d be okay. I called his physiotherapist immediately I left his room, shouting, “My daddy’s hand has broken. It has broken.” Even though the physiotherapist gave me first aid tips, my mind was still not at rest. I experienced flashbacks where I’d relive the memory of the bone breaking throughout that week. In the middle of a task, I’d hear the kpa breaking sound and become sad all over again. This memory is why I can’t complain about the hospital stress because I know whatever pain I’m going through, my dad is going through times ten of it.
It’s sad to say this but I’d been shielded from reality as a medical practitioner before this. Being on the other side has shown me what patients and their relatives pass through. My mum and I had to rent a hotel outside the hospital because the “living area” allocated for patients’ relatives is jam-packed because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the general building design is not old people friendly.
One time my dad needed blood and I kept following up with the blood bank for three days without show. It wasn’t until the fourth day when I went to the blood bank with a friend, who was a medical practitioner in the hospital, that they finally attended to my dad’s case. I was livid and people had to hold me from losing my shit. It’s crazy that I had to know someone to get blood. Since that day, I started wearing my scrubs to the blood bank and the ward since we’re all mad.
My dad got admitted at the hospital on a Thursday, and I remember thinking to myself: “The health care system is fucked.” My first introduction to the anyhowness of the system was when I had to carry my dad on a wheelchair to the last floor twice. Apparently, there was light but the elevator wasn’t working. I know I paid at least nine people ₦500 here and there to either help me lift my dad or fast track his settling in. That first week was also difficult because we didn’t have access to my dad except during visiting hours, and he required constant attention. In retrospect that first week wasn’t bad. At least compared to the weeks that followed. We still had peace, and he was still responding to chemotherapy. If only we had known that the coming weeks would show us pepper.
You’re one illness away from poverty doesn’t hit home until it happens to you. It can only be experienced, not explained. When my dad got admitted, I thought we’d just do chemotherapy then surgery and we’d be done in a month. LMAO.
After the surgery, it has been one complication after another — respiratory distress, swelling of the body, low PCV. And we’ve had to run tests to locate the problem. At one point, I was averaging about ₦60,000 per day on tests and drugs. Then we had to switch him to a class of antibiotics because of postoperative complications, which cost ₦10,000 for one. I died when the doctor said he was going to need 15 vials. This is minus surgical implants, diapers, money for surgery, dressing gauze, irrigation solution for wound dressing. It was that day that it clicked in my head why my customer told me I had spent over a million naira on drugs alone. Illnesses are not only financially draining, they also drain you emotionally. I’m constantly having to reassure my mum things will turn out fine. Today, one of my uncles was crying over the phone because he couldn’t send money to help us, and I also had to reassure him that it’d be fine. The curse of being an only child is having to be strong for everyone even when you’re clueless about how to get money for drugs.
Same today the nurse came to tell me that my dad exhausted his Clexane [a drug to prevent bedridden patients from developing a clot] and I couldn’t say anything because it’s a non-negotiable daily drug. At ₦2700 per vial, we’ve been buying the drug for him every day for almost seven weeks. I’m at my wit’s end, and I’m tired of this place. Even though it’s less than two months, it feels like I’ve been here for six months.
My mum is a superwoman abeg. Has she been scared? Yes. Has she been composed? Yes. Has she shown up? Double Yes. Her presence has made this ordeal a bit bearable. I don’t feel completely alone anytime I see her. It helps that she’s a positive soul with so much good vibes. Sometimes she’ll call me to say “Daddy finished eating his food, and he ate it all by himself.” Other times I’ll see her petting my dad to eat and my dad pretending not to like the attention and fuss — he knows he can’t try serenre with me because I don’t have time.
Yesterday my mum was looking stressed, so I told her to go home early to rest. Today, she came back looking refreshed. I feel bad anytime I remember how this whole ordeal made me selfish to her. As a result of the emotional stress from running around, I didn’t realise I was transferring aggression to my mum. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out my aggression to me that I saw I had been too caught up in how I was feeling to remember that my mum was feeling the same way too. I apologised to her, and I’ve become less selfish. I like how refreshed she looks so I’m going to tell her to take a few more days off. I really can’t afford for both my parents to break down at the same time. I can’t afford it.
God, I know I’ve questioned you during this period, but I pray my dad’s quality of life goes up and he gets better. We deserve this rest. I haven’t gone home in seven weeks, and I’m looking forward to sleeping on my bed. I miss my friends. I miss my old life. I just want things to go back to normal.