The +++ Journals: Entry VIII

The +++ Journals: Entry VIII

I had a smile of deep contentment as the taxi sped down the Third Mainland Bridge towards the Mainland Branch of the Hospital. I recalled all the lobbying and office politics that had occurred over past fortnight. It started with always having a pack of chewing gum and biscuits strategically placed on my desk, where Mr. Mbaka would see it. He took the bait and asked and kept asking shamelessly every day. I chuckled when I remembered the look of confusion in my colleague’s eyes when I suddenly declared a flame-red passion for the Gunners and leaned considerably towards a Pro-PDP Government. I know I took it too far when I decided to organize a night out for the unit, much to the dismay of everyone in the team except Mr. Mbaka.

Beneath the clear skies, we all clinked bottles, feasted on Nkwobi and slurped on Point-and-kill. We laughed with peppery throats and running noses as Mr. Mbaka got up to dance to the tunes of the Live Band. His awkward movements and bulbous tummy seemed uncoordinated. Despite my underlying intentions, the night turned out to be delightful, and we looked at the possibility of having such bonding sessions periodically.

I was therefore filled with confidence when I approached Mr. Mbaka’s desk to talk about my ‘chest contractions’.

“Good evening, sir,” I said taking a seat in front of him.

He was frowning and typing angrily away. I knew someone in another department, Internal Control perhaps, or a colleague had goofed.

“Idiot!” he grumbled, his breathing heavy.

I was startled. However when he looked up and saw me, he smiled and let out a hearty guffaw.

“Not you o jaré! Is it not this foolish Amaka? See error, error, error in her reports. But if it is to paint face and be talking about latest fabric with the fellow foolish women, speaking mkpo-mkpo English up and down the building, she will be the first person there… Hian!  I have told HR to stop sending me women who only know how to make babies and wear akpola shoe!

I recoiled at the venom in his statement. Normally I would have challenged his thought process or at best pass a snide remark, but I listened and nodded agreeably. I laughed along and promised to work with Amaka on another draft of the report.

“So what can I do for you Mr. Cole – Ehen, before you continue, do you have anything to chew?” he said, thumping on his drum-like midriff.

I chuckled, left the office and returned shortly with a pack of Chocolate Digestives. His eyes gleamed greedily and asked me to help him fill his keg from the dispenser. Sigh.

Soon, Mr. Mbaka was chewing away noisily as I told him of the pains I had been having in my chest, about how I had visited a doctor over the last few weeks and I had been scheduled for a scan. He seemed genuinely concerned and interjected my narration with an occasional hum and clucking of his tongue.

“It is the drinking and cigarettes,” he said in a surreptitious whisper. “When I was a lad like you, me too could guzzle beer ehn! But I had to stop when I developed those chest pains too, and of course madam came into the picture!” He gave out a chuckle.

I laughed along, mostly out of relief because this “bond” just made my visits to the hospital a lot easier.

“So you want to take time off?”

“No, sir. I just need to take a few hours on Wednesday to see the cardiologist and then probably run some tests and follow-ups. I will only be gone for a few hours in the day.”

He munched on another piece of biscuit. “Ok. No wahala. You can go! But please help me review this nonsense Amaka sent to me and ask her to see me please!”

A few crumbs of biscuit fell out of his mouth as he spoke and I felt compelled to ask him to chew with his mouth closed, but I was too excited to be bothered. If e like sef, make e put hand inside nose and back into his mouth, me I was sha going to the clinic.

There was slight traffic beyond the bridge and into Ikeja, but the taxi man was able to skillfully meander his way through some dirt roads and hidden streets to lead us to the hospital in good time. I prayed that I would be this fortunate each time I had to make the trip here as I thanked him and paid my fare. I walked into the hospital and to the friendly face of the receptionist seated there.

“Good Morning, madam, I am here to see Dr. Kitan.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“Err…yes, I was referred to this branch by your sister hospital after conducting some tests…”

“Ok. May I have your card please?”

I handed over my card and scanned the room. It was scanty; there were a few people here and there, seated in the lobby and watching a muted television. I wondered if they were here for the same purpose.

“Oh, you are here from the HVF Clinic,” the receptionist said, still smiling.

“Yes.”

She went ahead to write a code on my hospital card that I would be identified with thereon. It almost felt like what a Jew must have felt like during the Nazi era. (Of course I am just being dramatic, and the hospital may have done it for easier identification) Next I was directed to check my vitals and then to the foyer upstairs. As I made my way to there, I received a text advising me of the time and room to see my doctor. I had expected to be the only one or perhaps with one or two other people, but that was not to be so. There were at least seven other people, mostly women, waiting in the foyer as well.

My initial assumption was that they were waiting to see another doctor and proceeded to the room as advised. I met a nurse by the door and smiled politely.

“Sorry sir, you cannot go in.”

“Why? I have an appointment.”

I handed over my card to her and showed her the text message.

“Sir, all those other people seated outside are also waiting to see Doctor Kitan.”

I could not mask my surprise. The nurse nodded knowingly and pointed me to take a seat among the others. Thinking back, I believe that my surprise mainly stemmed from how ordinary these people looked. Like me, they seemed like everyday people, doing everyday things. There was a woman feeding a toddler. A few seats away, there was another in a silk pink bolero. There was a third who just stared into space, and a young boy with a Mohawk, who was at best in his early twenties. While I waited, I wondered how these people had gotten here. I tried to write each person’s story. I failed. It was almost impossible to tell the circumstances that had led them there. I flipped through the dailies while I waited as one by one, people walked in and out of Room 2. Other people joined us as we waited.

Eventually my turn came. I was thankful. It was about 11 am and I believed that I would leave the clinic and make it back to work in good time. I knocked and a warm voice ushered me in. My first impression of Doctor Kitan was that she felt very motherly. She reminded me of a senior colleague in the office; like her, she wore little make-up and always smiled. I felt at ease as I sat down.

“You are welcome, Mister…”

“Cole. Temi Cole.”

She laughed. “I like how you said that. Like ‘Bond, James Bond’.”

I laughed back.

“So what can I do for you, sir?”

I narrated my story to her. The same one I had told the last two doctors. She listened as she typed.

“Well, I believe the Virology test sort of puts a lid on it. So we won’t need to run that again. However what we’ll be doing is CD4 count, liver and kidney tests, just in case we need to put you on the ARV and a viral load test. The CD4 count is free, but the others are a bit pricey and I always advice other patients to go and do it at a government facility instead…”

“It’s okay. I can afford it,” I said rather smugly. “I cannot afford to go to any government-run facilities, doctor. I also wanted to know if there is any way the hospital can make provisions for me to come on the weekends instead. I run a very busy schedule and time is not really my friend.” I finished by looking at my watch. It was past eleven thirty now.

She smiled. “Mr. Cole, all this initial gra-gra that you are doing no go work o. The viral load test with us costs about fifty thousand. I will not advise you to do it because the CD4 which you are doing and which is also free is a reflection of your viral load. We can do it much later. And as for the kidney and liver tests, I suggest we wait until we have your CD4 count. As for the CD4 count, in line with program directives, if it is above 500, we would not put you on the ARV drugs yet. Rather we would encourage you to keep building your count. And finally, right now, we cannot afford to render Saturday services. I am sorry about that. You see, the HVF clinic we run here is actually government sponsored and duplicated across several other hospitals. And again, the directives and funding only caters for a particular time during the week…”

I sighed. Nawa o.

“Ok, doctor, thank you. So what next?”

“Well, you can head down to the lab for your CD4 test. I hope the machine is working.” She picked up the intercom and spoke to someone, who I assumed was the lab personnel. “Ok,” she said at the end of the conversation. “Thankfully, it’s working today. So head on over there, and you can check back in another two weeks. If you are also interested in taking the tests for your liver and kidney, you can talk to Finance and confirm the amount and do that also.”

“Thank you, doctor,” I said.

Soon, I was headed over to Finance. The grouchy lady there seemed busy and kept asking me if I was a normal patient or HVF. I eventually asked her if the same information was available at the VI office, and she said yes. I gladly left and went to the lab for my count. Eventually, I left and soon found a taxi, and was headed back to the office before Mr. Mbaka began to palpitate.

There was the heavy lunch hour traffic that characterized the Island and I was able to make it back to the office by about one-thirty. Some colleagues smugly asked how the interview went. (That was the working story for them) I reported to Mr. Mbaka that we had done the scan and I would go back in the next two weeks. He grunted and asked that I should remind him, and that I should follow up on the overflow of mails I had not attended to.

I settled down and got to work. I was not in the slightest bit concerned about my CD4 count. I was hardly ever sick. Apart from the occasional headache, I was solid as an ox. I ate well and rested accordingly. There was nothing to worry about. I carried this belief over the fortnight and with me as I made my journey back to the clinic.

I set out earlier this time. Doctor Kitan had recommended that I get there early enough so that I would be one of the first and I could make it back to the office on time. I was not as lucky with my taxi driver and we ended up spending some time in traffic. I got there early enough, and fortunately there were only four people before me. One I could remember from my last visit and the other three were an elderly lady, another young lad and an Alhaja. If we moved at a steady pace, I presumed I would be able to make it back to the office by noon. Mr. Mbaka was not very excited about this visit of mine as it fell on a very sensitive period in the office.

However, I observed that it took almost an hour for the first patient to come out of Room 2 this time. I wondered if it was a one-off and perhaps it was a first time patient. But this also happened for the next. I began to get irritable by then. Apparently, the Alhaja was too, and voiced the complaint. The nurse looked sympathetic but unsure what to do.

“If I had known it was Doctor Okeowo taking HVF today, I would not have come o,” the nurse grumbled to no one in particular. “She likes to take up time, like we don’t have anything else to do today.”

I smiled weakly. The prospects of getting back to work by noon seemed far dashed now as the Alhaja eventually entered. I was determined that I would not spend much time when it was my turn. I was also certain I would not be coming back here in a while as my CD4 count would be well above 500.

 I also intended to give this Doctor Okeowo a piece of mind.

I mumbled a greeting and took my seat before handing over my card.

“Name please,” the doctor said.

It is on the card. If you look at the card, you will see it!

“Temidire Durotimi Cole,” I answered.

“Hmmm…Mr. Cole… what do we do with you?” she asked herself as she stared at the computer.

Which nonsense is this one saying now? Do with me as how?

She was interrupted by the intercom. It was the lab scientist who explained that the first patient, who had waited endless hours to receive her CD4 count results and eventually left, had a count of 171 and needed to be called back. Doctor Okeowo asked her the lab scientist to try and reach the patient and ask her to come back immediately.

“I’m sure you are wondering why I was asking what to do with you,” she resumed with me. “I am staring at your CD4 count. It is 471, and I am wondering whether I should put you on the ARVs now or if we should wait. What do you think?”

“471?”

“Yes. Don’t worry, I get you. You are probably wondering to yourself, you look healthy, you eat correct food, you face little stress besides the one that comes with your job. So your CD4 count should be high…”

“Yes… it should be…”

“Temidire, these things do not work this way. You can be perfectly healthy. No signs of ailments, and you check and you’ll see that the count is 100. It happens all the time. We see it every day. The way you are feeling health-wise often has little or nothing to do with your count.”

“Wow… I had no idea. Er… I am not ready to start the drugs. I will like to take some time, six weeks maybe. Let me try and get it up.”

“Okay. And then we will do another test after that, and if it is 499.5, we will start the drugs, deal?”

“Deal.”

“So let me ask you, what do you want to do with the rest of your life, Temidire?”

I sighed. Before long, I found myself opening up to Doctor Okeowo. Right there. I told her I hated my job and although I was seemingly good at it, I was bored with it and longed to do something more impactful with my life. Something as cliché as working in an NGO dedicated to Gender equality or building schools in impoverished areas in Lagos.

She smiled.

“Hmmm…really nice. In fact I just may be able to help you jumpstart that dream of yours.” She pulled out a weathered book in her locker, while scrolling through her phone. “My friend told me about this school in Ketu. It is dilapidated and we have been trying to get funds to fix it. I have not been able to do it, but I feel like you should go and see it for yourself. Maybe it is something you can do. I also got wind of some fellowship that will train you on restructuring primary schools in Africa. You can apply for it. Maybe, just maybe, you will get it and begin this new chapter you so much desire.”

We chatted for another thirty minutes or thereabout, and then I understood why people spent so long in Room 2 with Doctor Okeowo. She gave you time and attention; talked with you about your dreams and fears, hopes and best ways to adjust to your new status. It was as easy as talking to Josh or Daberechi. We bonded and shared jokes like old friends. I cussed when I eventually looked at the time.

I grudgingly peeled myself off the seat. “I am afraid I have to go now. I hate to but I really must if I intend to keep my job.”

“Ok, Mr. Cole. So we have six weeks. Make it count. I want you to eat healthy and take things easy. Read the book I gave you and apply for the fellowship. Buy some supplements – Selenium and Immunace are particularly good, they have been known to boost counts for most people. Remember, if it is less than 500 by a fraction, you are going on the drug!”

I laughed. “Okay, ma! Thank you, doctor. Thank you for your time…” I said as I stepped out.

She smiled back. “Just doing my job.”

Despite walking away with not the best of results, I felt somewhat lighter and optimistic about the road ahead.

Written by Temi-D

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10 Comments

  1. Dennis Macaulay
    August 11, 07:39 Reply

    Another powerful entry!

    I like how you demystify this thing!

    Thankyou

  2. black
    August 11, 10:22 Reply

    I particularly enjoyed this episode for two reasons. First, it scares u shitless about how healthy a person can look while carrying the virus which will make you stop and use protection when next you’re about to do the wiggle bam bam, it impresses upon you the seriousness of HIV/AIDS and then it reassures you that having the virus is not the end of the world, you can get help and still live a happy fulfilled life. Well done Temi-D. I’m rooting for you 110%.

  3. JOJOARMANI
    August 11, 11:36 Reply

    Hum!… Mehn been healthy and having HIV is something else… Just yesterday i found out a cousin of mine, a married lady has HIV and shes pregnant..u can never notice no shit…. All this issue of the virus keeps me wondering everyday… Nsogbu dikwa!… No Condom? Thank you very much!

  4. Peak
    August 11, 12:07 Reply

    Brill read as expected. Mr Mbaka is just precious. I can’t remember the last time I heard the word “akpola” lol. This journal reminds me everytime why safe sex shouldn’t be an issue to take lightly. Well do Temi D, wishing you all the best in ur journey towards the new you.

  5. Dubem
    August 11, 14:35 Reply

    The things we have to go thru to keep our statuses under wraps. I pray for the day speaking about HIV and its treatment would be like malaria. Where both positive patients and the community around them aren’t driven by a fear that alienates one from the other.

  6. Mandy
    August 11, 14:41 Reply

    Temi, your sense of nobility is admirable. You’ve got a job that pays well enough for u to undertake private HIV treatment, and you’d much rather build up impoverished schools in Ketu. Wow

  7. iamcoy
    August 11, 15:01 Reply

    Temi great job… since this is written retrospectively I can predict you beat the 500 mark.
    That said I wonder why the figure keeps being marked up, I recall when it was raised to 350, now 500?
    Simba and Francis, any help?

    • Francis
      August 12, 01:02 Reply

      @iamcoy The goal is to have as much people as possible on HIV meds. In some countries, they practice test and treat I.e. once positive irrespective of your CD4 count, you’re going on drugs. They’ve also discovered that CD4 tends to rise faster if you start meds early enough before the CD4 crashes below 200.

      @Temi thanks for another insight into what it feels like dealing with HIV. In my experience CD4 and viral load don’t go hand in hand. In fact last week I saw a patient with declining CD4 levels who was always complaining and stuff. We did an urgent viral load and the thing was <20 i.e undetectable. CD4 doesn't really tell you if the meds are working or not, the viral load count does that way better.

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