The phone rang for the umpteenth time. I didn’t bother to take the call. It wasn’t even a good time for me to talk.
On a good day, I am not so enthusiastic about picking up calls from callers I haven’t saved their numbers. I used to think this was somewhat immodest…and an exaggerated estimation of ones important. But if you have been a victim of mistaken identity, internet fraud or… if you’ve dealt with stalkers, perhaps you would understand my circumspection about ‘strange calls’.
This seemed like one of such calls. Hence I didn’t want to be bothered.
But as it turned out, this was going to be a call that would perhaps give someone the opportunity of a second chance at life. Or so it seems.
“Good evening sir, please sir help us, my elder sister is really sick and we are worried she might die soon”, came the voice on the other end of the call.
The call for help came as soon as I said ‘hello’.
I couldn’t make any sense of those few carefully worded sentences that could melt any heart, no matter how cold.
“Sir, please, I’m begging you sir, don’t hang up sir, I’ve been trying to reach you for days now sir, I beg you in the name of God”.
The desperation conveyed in the ‘sir, sir, sir’ were getting irritating for me.
The GSM reception in my village was very poor. We had traveled for my dad’s funeral and for about two weeks, I was out of reach.
This must have been her lucky break.
There was tension in her voice. I could feel it.
Having tried several days to reach me without any luck, this must have been her lucky day. And it must not slip away. She sounded like someone trained on how to deliver an elevator pitch which if you ask me- I think she did quite well.
She went on and on about her sisters condition. And then dropped the bombshell.
By this time, she had transferred the anxiety to me. I had started to get worried and tensed. Of course, one thing was sure; this person has some real issues and I’m not sure its something I could easily dismiss.
“Who are you? Where are you calling me from…what exactly is happening to your sister now? Is she ok?”, I asked the moment I found my voice amidst the overwhelming tension and curiosity I was experiencing.
I didn’t even remember to ask how she got my number. I guess that didn’t matter at this time. Listening to her story, I was glad she got my number. How she got it was less important.
“So, sir, when is the next medical mission sir? Would you people be coming to Uyo anytime soon?”, she asked, her voice shaking as she tried to hold back tears.
“Sir please I don’t want my elder sister to die”, she pleaded.
Who am I to have someone plead with me so desperately, yet with so much hope?
The lady apparently had read the last article I shared about my doctor friend- Benjamin Olowojebutu and his medical outreach to Makurdi and felt this could be her sister’s only chance of getting her fibroid removed. Ben had just returned from Makurdi ,Benue State with his surgical team where they did over 50 free surgeries. So, it was not a good time to discuss about another medical mission so soon.
‘He needs some time to run his own paid-for practice, make some money for his family before jumping off to another mission’, I though to myself.
But I was wrong.
“Wait a minute ,did you say she is in Uyo?”, Ben retorted the moment I recanted the story of this lady. “That’s actually one of the cities we were considering for the next medical mission, may be we just might settle for Uyo because of this lady’s sister”, he said with some smile that evokes the kind of faith that would make a mountain move and skip like rams.
And so, the medical mission to Uyo was decided…signed, sealed and about to be delivered.
For over six years, the lady in question (a roasted fish and ripe plantain seller in Uyo) have had this regular uterine complication and pain that was eventually diagnosed as multiple fibroids. Like most poor women, she has been trying to ‘shrink’ the fibroid with herbs as part of palliative response. She started with cheap local concoctions and then graduated to oriental herbs and assorted bitters.
From her sister’s account of the story, the fibroid did actually ‘shrink’. The illusion of shrinking uterine fibroids soon gave way for regular excessive bleeding that comes with excruciating pains during after her periods. She started loosing weight and with every weight loss ,her now fast-protruding stomach became so glaring that sympathisers would greet her with the same smile they would greet a pregnant woman.
This went on for years. No thanks to a daunting surgical bill she kept on trying to raise without success.
“It was N80,000 naira the first time she was diagnosed I think…in 2012 or so”, said her sister. “The last doctor we saw said it has grown so big that he would require N280,000 naira to remove it and my sister can’t even feed her family, let alone raise the money. She has since stopped her business because she now bends when she walks and cant stand long enough to roast plantain or fish”.
If this is not poverty, I wonder what is! And it is the story of so many poor Nigerian women diagnosed with fibroids. For these women, it has become their cross…a cross so bloody and hellish to carry.
You may not really know how rich or how poor you are, until you have a medical emergency or diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness in Nigeria. It often starts like child’s play and then it becomes a death sentence. Not necessarily because the disease is terminal but because there is no money to treat it.
Some of us have been there before.
Imagine those times when you are in the medical emergency ward…people shouting,dying,lifeless patients rushed in and then carried minutes later this time slowly to the morgue. The man gave up. In the midst of the confusion and pandemonium in such places you are able to find your voice and ask a few questions and you are handed that sort of prognosis that makes you wonder “Lord, what is my sin?”. The doctors and nurses don’t even have your time.
As you stare at the results of the texts you were asked to do, trying to make sense of the jargons contained in it, you come face to face with an estimate of the cost of treatment which includes a procedure and further investigations. You are gobsmacked.
“What can I sell now…my car, my father’s one plot of land in the village or go and borrow money to settle this bill?”, you wonder aloud.
This lady and her sister had left this stage because there really wasn’t anything of value to sell.
“Each time we got close to raising the money, her children would either be sent out of school or the landlord would threaten them with a quit notice for owing rent…and her husband had moved out log ago, he said the excessive bleeding makes him uncomfortable and sick”, she says.
The hope of getting the fibroid removed this October is putting so much smiles on her face and giving her strength to carry on amidst more loss of blood during her monthly period.
“I guess its because of cases like this that we are on this assignment…I still believe it is possible to have a Nigeria where people should not die because they can’t pay medical bills. We just must find a way to figure out how to make that Nigeria a reality and this medical mission is happening in October-the month of our independence” says Ben as he reassures on the possibility of getting help for this woman.
From Uyo, the train moves to Okija in Anambra State in November and then to Sagamu in December for the last medical mission for 2018. The initial target of 105 surgeries set for 2018 has been exceeded.
Wouldn’t you rather be a part of this laudable cause? #07032278864 is the contact number for the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation and #Zenith Bank Plc 1015836536 is the account details if you feel truly inspired to assist them continue this laudable work of helping indigent women pushed to a life of anguish by fibroid.