The Unravelling

They sat in silence. They’d dreaded this moment. She more than he.

“Do you really have to do this? Isn’t there anything I can say to stop you?”

“Honey, please, let’s not go over that again. The arrangements have been made. The bus will be here in an hour.”

“But why Dan? Have I been such a bad wife to you? Is there anything I haven’t given you? How can you just throw your life away like this? Like rotten fish?”

Her words slapped him, and something in him shifted.

“Like rotten fish ehn? Thank you for the compliment. I better walk up the road. Take care of Ade and Wana. Bye Shade.”

He left with the sound of her sobs drumming on his ears. Wana and Ade were asleep. He hated to imagine how it would have looked if they weren’t.

He loved Shade. She was the only other woman he had ever cared about enough to change. To sacrifice. For her he had stopped smoking. He had learnt cooking. He had even started going to church twice a month. No other woman had been able to keep his attention for this long. Six years and she still stirred him as much as she had on their first date.

Except at moments like this…

The sky was aglow with the colours of the setting sun. A gentle breeze played with the dry leaves, scattering them on the street like confetti. The evening was so beautiful, he was so miserable.

He remembered something he heard the pastor say last month.

“Anger lies in the bosom of fools.”

It was true. He wasn’t being reasonable right now. Any woman would be worried under the circumstances. Shade was just worried. Worried and scared. Why wouldn’t she be? People were giving their souls to run away from Liberia and here he was leaving for the same place as a volunteer. She probably thought he was mad.

The worse thing was that he hadn’t found words to tell her everything. He couldn’t express how excited he felt when he was offered the opportunity. He couldn’t tell her how the moment he read the email, life suddenly seemed ten times nicer, livelier.

The past two weeks had been like reliving his childhood. He was the toughest police chief on the playground, eliminating the thieves. He was him.

Now he had a chance to do it again. In real life, with a real thief called Ebola. He had a chance to do work that really mattered. Not the dead brain routines of Malaria, Typhoid and Diabetes. A real time Emerging Disease Epidemic Response, a real war. He couldn’t stay away for the world.

But.

He could go gently. He could hold Shade and rock her till the bus came. He could remind her of how much he loved her and the kids. He could go over the instructions for his memorial( there would be no burial, just ash in an urn). He could kiss her brows one more time.

So he went home and did so.

It would be 8 months before he returned, not in a stainless steel urn, but in the flesh.

Shade wouldn’t be at the airport to welcome him, neither would the kids.

He would spend the next two years looking for them and failing to find them.

He would discover that she had sold the house and the cars and the land he bought at Lekki.

He would fall into a bottomless depression. And pick up smoking again. And try weed, and like it. And over do it.

He would want to die and pray to do so before morning.

One day, he would get a call from Wana. She was fine, her mother had placed her in a Catholic boarding school in Kenya, she even spent holidays there. Ade was with mother somewhere in Europe. She missed him. She had tried to reach him but mom said she shouldn’t dare. Was he OK?

“Yes, I am fine.” Dan said. And for the first time in three years, he almost believed it.

He travelled to Kenya to see her. As he stood beneath the pine trees waiting, he remembered another place, another evening. Then she was running into his arms, quick as a bullet, and he felt the broken things inside him melding.

It would be a long fight. A long wait. But six years later Wana would be back home in Makurdi with him. He would not marry again. Stop smoking again. Start jogging again.

He would travel the world lecturing on Emerging Disease Response. He would receive more honours than the four walls of his study could hold.

He would forgive Shade (but they would never be friends again).

He would live to eighty-nine. And from time to time he would think over things. He would imagine how things would have been if he stayed. Then he would laugh and mutter to himself.

“There’s no way I was going to let that Bastard get away.”

* * * * *

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6 Good Things Ebola Brought To Nigeria

Ebola. A one word terror that has gripped Nigeria in the throes of national hysteria. Having no cure or vaccine, killing it’s victims in a most dehumanising way, thwarting regional efforts to curb its spread, the Ebola Virus Disease is the stuff of science fiction or real life WHO nightmares.

So, when Ebola was imported into to Nigeria by a Liberian Diplomat, the polity was understandably agitated. Social media was agog with advice, speculation, theories and lamentation. A particularly unfortunate incident was a Prank Blackberry Broadcast a girl sent asking her friends to bathe and drink salt to prevent the deadly disease. The broadcast went viral and at least two people are rumoured to have died of complications of hypernatremia, less in fact than died of Ebola within the same time frame.

However, Ebola’s arrival in Nigeria has not been an entirely evil event. It also brought some goodies. Six of these goodies include:

1. A Clean Hands Revolution.
Never in our national history have we cared about hand hygiene as we do now. Hand-washing is preached and practiced in homes, offices and schools at previously unimaginable rates.

Even more amusing is the rash of hand sanitizing creams that have flooded the country. Now, many offices, banks, companies and schools demand visitors hands are smeared with hand sanitizer before they are granted access.

It is unclear how this would help prevent Ebola in people at low or no risk, but it is certain that one can expect lower incidences of contact diseases like diarrhoea and common cold in Nigeria this year. And that is a good thing.

2. More Attention To Personal Space

Nigerians are notorious for dramatic greetings. We hug, kiss, shake hands, lift each other off the ground and spin ourselves around.

Before Ebola.

Now, a wave offered from * meter or two will do. Who wan die?

3. An End To a Protracted Doctor’s. Strike

Some will argue this point, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Draculaen measures adopted by the Federal government to stop the doctor’s strike was partly caused by the Ebola outbreak. Politicians used the outbreak to pressure doctors to return to work and the polity wailed about doctors insensitivity. Never mind that most hospitals are yet to equip or train their doctors to respond. The strike has been called off. Let’s hope many non-Ebola deaths have been so prevented.

4. An Upgrade In Personal Protective Equipment In Health Centres Nationwide.

This point is speculative. It is believed that with N1.9 Billion released for a nationwide response, Personal Protective Equipment will now become available in all government hospitals.
This will go along way to protect healthcare workers from getting infected with disease while at work.

Even before Ebola, many centre lacked protective material as basic as gloves. Googles, body suits, boots and masks were a pipe dream.

Hopefully, Ebola will mean more money devoted to Personal Protective Equipment and safer work places for Nigerian healthcare workers.

5. Fresh Respect For Field Epidemiologists.

With the success of the Ebola Response following the outbreak in Lagos, many people have scrambled to take the credit. Epistles have been written in praise of the State governor, the ruling party, and foreign aid agencies.

The truth is, the Ebola response was successful because of the efforts of little known hardly seen group of medical personnel — the field epidemiologists.

As part of the HIV/AIDS response in Nigeria, the American government has sponsored the selection and training of doctors, vets and lab scientists in the discipline of field epidemiology.

Recently, the training program began to suffer budget cuts and funding reduction. Many feared it would be scrapped altogether.

Not anymore.

Ebola has shown that the little known discipline of field epidemiology is in fact crucial to prevent public health nightmare in developing countries.

And with that, more money is being pumped into training. There’s no need to close the field epidemiology program; rather plans are underway to expand it to cater for regional and continental threat.

6. More Funding For Emergency Response.

Finally, the Ebola outbreak has brought more funding for emergency response. Research, equipment, supplies, training and strengthening of networks that would have taken years are being fast tracked in months.

Ebola is a terrible disease but it seems to have brought some good along with its terror.

Love, Death &Ebola

Belinda watched Womako trudge into the makeshift bathroom behind their home.

“Woman! Where is my hot water!”

Belinda didn’t have the strength to remind him that their power had been cut–a souvenir for owing 3 months of bills, nor the patience to explain that she had to conserve fuel for meals.

She sighed instead and said “I’m sorry Woma, please just manage it.”

She heard the clash of metal and stone amidst her husband’s grumbling. They had been a reasonably happy couple before but the disease outbreak had changed things. Woma had to work longer shifts, coming home exhausted and irritable. She couldn’t remember the last time he played with her or the last time she felt him on her thighs.

Now her days were a cycle of watching him rush of to work, grouchy welcomes and loveless nights. Her fledgling bush-meat business was on hold and Woma hadn’t been paid in two months. The government had promised to pay more as hazard allowances to workers in the health facilities affected by the disease. Nothing had been done about that yet.

Woma walked past her into the house. He had hoped to change the thatch and mud hut to a proper house, but now, such talk was fantasy.

She waited a while then joined him in the room. The plate of rice and soup was untouched. The jug of water was empty though and Womako was not in the room.

“Bella”

“Yes”

“Come.”

She flicked aside the curtain to see him prostate on a mat in the adjoining room. They hoped it would be their children’s room, someday, but now it housed the occasional cousin from the village and Womako’s old books.

“Woma, what is it? Are you well?”

“Wait. Don’t come closer. I started feeling unwell on my way back and I don’t know. I have called Willie to come and take me back to the hospital. But that will be after he takes you to the motor park and puts you on a bus to the border. Under the mattress, you will find $300, I want you to take the money and travel to Ghana. Stay with your sister there and get tested if you feel any illness.”

“Woma what are you saying? How can I leave you now?”

“You must Bella. You have suffered enough drinking every potion and pill trying to get pregnant for the past three years. Visited every healer, seer and saviour, what they didn’t tell you was that you were fine. I am the one that can’t fill your field. I am the one without seed.

Now, there is no need for me to make bad worse. Do as I say. May God keep you and may He forgive me.”

“But what about the house? What about our plans for the new plot of land?” Bella asked in a tear choked whisper.

“Land and houses are for the living Bella. If I live, we will see. But now, I want you to pack, Willie is coming.”

Belinda packed.

Willie came and took her to the park. She got to Ghana safely. A week later she was told Womako’s ashes were buried in their backyard.

She waited for her own illness to begin. It never did. Instead she put on weight and lost two shades of tan. And many nights she would lay awake thinking. She would imagine herself a judge and Womako an accused. Should she hate him for the three years of lies? Should she acquit him for an act of uncommon courage? The arguments would rage for and against before sleep would whisk her away, to awake again to the toils and troubles of another day.

If Wishes Were Horses: Using Technology To Curb The Spread Of Ebola?

It is a nightmare brought to life. Our worst fears confirmed, the deadly Ebola virus has arrived in Nigeria and already at least 8 people are feared to be infected.

Discovered in 1976, Ebola has been profiled as an ‘African Disease’ that is a reflection of poor healthcare service. The recent outbreak however puts that line of thought in doubt as well as questions all previous assumptions and knowledge about the ailment.

For instance, the co-discoverer of the virus has been quoted as saying that he wouldn’t be worries about sitting next to an Ebola patient on a train except the person vomited on him or something. He went ahead to cite instances of children living in houses with Ebola patients without contacting the disease, in 1976.

The 2014 version of Ebola seems quite different. Despite the use of full Personal Protective Gear (Masks, gloves, goggles,scrubs), health-workers are getting infected.

Mr Sawyer, an American who flew into Nigeria with the disease and was seen in a hospital in Lagos for barely 72 hours and yet at least 4 medical personnel that attended to him are believed to be infected as well.

This raises questions.

1. Is the transmission of this virus fully understood?

2. Is this strain of Ebola different? If yes, how?

3. Can we continue to use the usual methods of patient care and nursing despite the huge risks?

4. What changes could we make? If wishes were horses?

Personally, the outbreak has kept me thinking. One thing is very clear, we don’t know enough about this illness and we need to change the way we are handling it if we are to make any progress towards ending the scourge.

That’s where technology comes in. If resources were available, these are some of the things I would like to see.

1. Robots used to clean, feed and nurse the affected patients.

2. Specialized beddings that soak and disinfect secretions as they are being produced.

3. Skype type communication with affected patients.

4. Mechanised disposal of bodies in dedicated cremation machines.

And so on.

As long as a cure doesn’t exist, breaking the chain of transmission is the only hope. If one man could infect eight others then imagine: how many people could be at risk from the eight?

It is time for scientists, bio-scientists and engineers to join the fight against this dreadful disease.

It is time for a change of tactics in curbing the spread.

The sooner, the best.

P/S: Opportunities exist for clinicians interested in working with Ebola patients. Contact me.