Life is weird when on your wedding day there is heavy traffic on the route to the venue and you keep the guests and the Priest waiting for hours. It’s curious how only the about-to-be-wed couple and their colourful wedding train get struck in the traffic while the guests are settled in the auditorium like they took an alternative route.
But life is hard and impossible when your husband is a school teacher and your first child is four years old and you give birth to another child, a boy, who looks perfect at birth and the day after and even after he is named George on the eighth day.
His eyes only begin to get yellowish on the ninth day. The kind suggestions from your mother and a matron friend is that you expose him to sunlight. The yellow eyes are a symptom of jaundice and the sun would help with that, they assured. It does not. His belly begins to swell till it is a huge shiny ball of flesh that you fear would burst.
His temperature is close to boiling point and his ailment is not immediately obvious to the doctors, not even the specialists at the large National Hospital in Abuja, one of the largest in Nigeria. This is not malaria or any of the other conditions where every passerby is a medical authority. This is a nameless case only qualified by its symptoms: yellowish eyes, swollen belly and high body temperature. He has not lived for two weeks. Life is hard.
Running helter skelter began for George’s parents. First, it was a relay race from one doctor to the next. Each one took a look and recommended tests and scans. They did all but the doctors could not reach a cure and soon got weary of George and his parents. They ran as far as Aba, a city in South-East Nigeria, quite far away from Abuja where they reside. It was in Aba, after another medical test that a doctor cleared his throat and announced that George was born without a gallbladder!
This put strain on his liver which began to malfunction and got damaged. The doctor concluded to a teary mother, that her son required a new liver. No, livers are not sold in pharmacies like paracetamol and cough syrup, he told her. No, she could not order it on Jumia, Konga or PayPorte, online stores that were increasingly becoming one-stop shops. And no, she could not ask her friends who lived in America and Europe to send it to her.
But yes, he said, a liver can be transplanted from a living or non-living donor. But no again, he did not think it was a procedure done in Nigeria and he had no idea where in the world it was done. Yes, he affirmed her fears, it would definitely be beyond the means of a school teacher and his housewife.
The running continued. They had to find a place where George could undergo a liver transplant. They ran to the internet and found the success story of another Nigerian family whose child had undergone a similar procedure in India. They sent an email to the child’s mother. When the reply came, it was with enthusiasm. She gave them specifics, told them about the doctor.
The doctor was enthused to be speaking them, he said as much in his email. They could not correctly pronounce his Indian name but that was not the toughest part of the email. It was the part where they converted the estimated cost of the surgery from US dollars to Naira and realised they were in over their heads. Where in the world were they to get nine million naira?
It was not the kind of money you borrowed from a friend or a few friends. It was not the kind of money you requested of your employer as a salary advance. It was not the kind you asked your family headed by retired middle grade civil servants and comprising siblings pushing against the odds everyday, grateful for every victory over their children’s school fees.
It was the kind that left you feeling as though you’d been asked to dismantle Mount Everest in a few hours with a bread knife, when you were sure that even with a bulldozer and two years, you could not. George’s mother cried a lot. She wished his disability had been external, perhaps a hand or a leg. His father was calm and hopeful.
They ran to media houses, radio and television. They ignored the shame and went on air to ask strangers to be kind and donate money for George. The money found its way in. Some close associates rebuked the parents for what they considered public embarrassment. How can you go on television and beg for money?! The critics never correctly answered the reply “should we leave our son to die?” The helter skelter race continued for months. There was no time to stop to pant and breathe. George was about a year old when his liver was removed and a portion of his father’s put in its stead.
George’s eyes have lost the yellow colour and his belly no longer has the semblance of a balloon, it only has lines running across it that look like the lines across the map of Nigeria depicting rivers Benue and Niger and the confluence.
The scar should help to buttress the story his parents would tell him about how he hurried to earth without a gallbladder. Perhaps in future when he gets impatient, his mother would say “be calm and do things properly, don’t rush and leave out something important like you left your gallbladder!” or if he made too many demands his father would blurt, “I have given you my liver what else do you want?”
Hopefully, his parents would not omit from the story, the kind gestures of perfect strangers who gave money to the child they saw on television who was in distress.
Hmmmm. May life be easy.
A TRUE LIFE STORY
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