It was a hot evening on November 7th 2017, and I was seated outside, enjoying the cool breeze with some members of my family under the mango tree in our compound. I remember this vividly as it was around the time I’d just dropped out of the university. I was 22 and fed up. I was also thinking of what to do with my life next, as my parents had given me a deadline to come up with my next plan – or they’d make the decision for me.
And then, all of a sudden, I was struck with a familiar pain that made me leap up from my seat and rush out of sight of everyone else to the gutter in the backyard, where I vomited. It was an acute pain at the right side of my torso. It was a pain I’d been suffering for quite some time, but which I’d been managing because it hadn’t become anything I couldn’t handle. I tried to suppress it, but the more I tried, the worse it got.
I left the house at once to the pharmacy. My temperature was also starting to run high. The pharmacist told me I had malaria but that he had no idea what the pain was about, insisting that I go to the hospital to check it out after he heard that I’d been having it for quite some time.
On my way back home, as it was wont to do, the pain reduced and eventually dissipated. I was able to carry on with my life the rest of the day, and when it was nighttime, went to sleep. But then, in the middle of the night, it returned and I found it very difficult to sleep. There was no way I could know that this was officially the beginning of a nightmare.
I was up all through the night till past 6 AM before the pain stopped throbbing through me once again. I was finally able to get some sleep and when I woke up later in the morning, I was feeling better. I carried on with my normal activities for the day, and then night came. Exactly 10 PM and the pain returned, even worse than it was the previous day, this time extending from my right side to my back. I couldn’t hold it in any longer and then I started crying. My cry woke my mom up, who in turn woke my elder siblings. One after the other, my bedroom filled up with family members who were wondering what my problem was. It was at this point that it was agreed that I go to the hospital the next morning. And then, realizing that there was nothing they could do, everyone soon went back to their various rooms, leaving me alone once again. I bore the pain, staying awake till past 6 AM, when it stopped and I was able to sleep.
When I woke up, like the previous day, I was feeling better. I went to the hospital that was close to our house, and did a series of tests. Tests that revealed nothing. And right there in the hospital, inside the air-conditioned ward, I was feeling cold. And the pain came back. Not as viciously as last night, but it was there. I told the doctor about it and he said that my body might be readjusting to the environment. He gave me a prescription of some painkillers to buy, which I did. When I took the painkillers, the medication worked and the pain was gone.
After a couple of days, it came back, worse than before. This time around, it was night and day. I also noticed that my body had picked up the smallest cold in the atmosphere and this was triggering the pain. I had to go to a different hospital, did another battery of tests and yet, nothing was found to be the problem. By this time, my family had started to really worry. My life seemed to come to a full stop as I was now remanded to my bedroom, clad in four cardigans and bundled under the bed sheets, no matter how hot the day was.
As the days passed by, it was as though the pain had broken through the barriers that held it at bay before. It worsened and stayed persistent, and sleeping became a thing of the past for me. Days turned into weeks, and weeks became months. Each night, I would walk about the house, going from room to room, looking at how my siblings were sleeping soundly and snoring peacefully, all the while appreciating what a luxury sleeping had become for me and wondering when (and if) I would ever get this kind of sleep again.
I began to dread the nights, since that was when the pain was at its peak. And whenever it was nighttime, it would always feel like centuries had passed before daybreak would come. I became the prayer point of everyone I knew, both family and friends. By this time, we had visited more than twelve prominent hospitals, and yet, no solution had been found.
The game changed when we decided to visit Joseph Medical Centre in Gowon, a visit I would come to regret very much, because after another series of tests was conducted and nothing was found to be the problem, the doctor called my mom aside and ask her what my relationship with people was and if I had had a serious quarrel with anyone. Because, he said, my case might be spiritual. My mom of course believed him. (In hindsight, it surprised me that no one in my family had even arrived at this conclusion before the doctor mentioned it) We got home and my mom started asking if I’d had any falling out with anyone, even when I was in school. I said no. The questions kept on coming. The queries had officially changed from “What is wrong with you?” to “Who did you offend?” The only thing the queries achieved was to stress me, which in turn worsened my health condition.
Mom began taking me to the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration for prayers. We would recite rosaries and do novenas in the house while praying for protection against whatever evil spirit that was fighting me. My younger brother however wasn’t about this life. He would object to what my mom was doing, insisting that this had nothing to do with any spiritual nonsense, and that no doctor should have planted this sort of seed. That the much that doctor should have said was that he didn’t know what my problem was and recommend me to another doctor. He urged me to stay positive and continue looking for other doctors, other hospitals.
I was referred to the general hospital at Igando. Another battery of tests was conducted, and still nothing. They gave me painkillers, which only served as a minor reprieve. Each time I went back there for my appointment, I would keep meeting different doctors who would give me prescriptions for painkillers and pain patches and several other drugs. Nothing was working. I began to get disillusioned, and refused to go see any more doctors since none of the ones I’d seen had anything new to say.
But as long as there was life, I hadn’t lost hope yet. I was online one day and was chatting with a friend, when I asked if he knew of any doctor I could talk to. He gave me three names and I settled for one of them who was based in the North. I contacted him and we talked at length, with me bringing him up to speed with all that had happened and my doctors’ reports. He was able to make some treatment suggestions that none of the other doctors had made, but since we were distant from each other, there was only so much he could do. I took to his suggestions and got a little better.
But my pain was just going nowhere. A full year had passed at this time, a year during which I hadn’t been able to sleep as soundly as I used to. There was no hope for a cure in sight, and finally, I began to resign myself to my fate. There was just no fight left in me.
Then in November last year, my parish priest called one day, saying he would like to refer me to a hospital in Abeokuta. He asked if I could make the trip and I said yes.
I left Lagos the next day with my sister to embark on the two-hour journey to Abeokuta. We got to the hospital and got to meet the doctor in record time. Again, I was asked to conduct these tests that I’d become very familiar with. And expectedly the results were the same. Oddly, I found myself becoming very disappointed and I realised that, unknown to me, I had actually gotten my hopes back up with this hospital visit. When was I going to learn? It had been a year and no one had been able to diagnose me. Did I really think this one was going to be any different?
The doctor noticed my disenchantment and tried to reassure me that everything was going to be alright. She took me to her office and we had a small conversation. She asked me about my life and lifestyles. I wasn’t honest in some of my responses and I figured she knew this.
Eventually, she said that I was suffering from nerve pain and that it had nothing to do with the spiritual. Upon hearing this diagnosis, I felt a rush of relief. Finally, what I was suffering had a name. it was no longer a series of random nothings. It was now something: nerve pain. I asked her if there was a cure to it and she said yes. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt as happy as I felt that day in that office. Finally, my suffering had an end in sight.
I was given a prescription of medications to buy, with a strict warning that I adhere to the medication because only dedication to it with no breaks in the routine would ensure my getting better; this happened after my sister told the doctor that I had a history of not finishing medications.
We got home and I broke the news to everyone. They were all so happy.
As an encouragement for me to take my life back, my parents had, earlier in 2018, made me take JAMB again. And I got admission into the University of Lagos. As I resumed my education, I was taking my medication as prescribed. Before they finished, I went back to Abeokuta, to the pharmacy attached to that hospital, to buy a fresh batch of the medication. I was feeling alright. There was no sign of the pain. My life was returning to normal.
After the strike was called off this year, I resumed my academic activities, settling nicely into my new environment. I’d finished my medication and I was fine.
And then, I wasn’t. The pain came back. With an almost teary franticness, I looked for my medication all over Lagos and I couldn’t get it. The sunny normalcy I’d been enjoying so much crashed and my depression began coming back. I called the doctor and fixed a date when I would come for an appointment, which was the week of my matriculation.
The day came and I went there, feeling the pain stretching all over my body, this time on both sides and my back. I was in fresh hell. However, by the time I got to the hospital, it had reduced. But as she, the doctor, was examining me, it came back with a full force, causing me so much discomfort that I was pacing up and down her office while holding my sides as I answered her questions. I couldn’t sit still.
At some point, the pain got so acute that I began to cry and scream at her to do something. This was when she decided to admit me. I was rushed to the ward and placed on admission, then sedated.
I slept all through the afternoon and woke up in the evening. I placed a call to my family, telling them what was going on. While I was on the call, the CMD came by to see me and I had to disconnect the call. He asked about my well-being, and we talked a bit about random stuff. Then he had to leave to attend to other patients.
I stretched out on my bed, intending to catch some sleep. But all of a sudden, it felt like someone was hammering nails into my chest and I started screaming, calling for my doctor. The CMD rushed in a moment later to meet me out of the bed, clutching at my chest, still screaming. Nurses dashed in while the doctor was busy trying to get me to calm down. Some patients observing from the sidelines began muttering prayers. This commotion went on for over fifteen minutes, and finally, I was held down on my bed and sedated again. I calmed down as whatever they injected in me took effect on me.
I woke up the next day to see my sister at my bedside, along with two doctors who were standing. They all seemed to be waiting for me to wake. We exchanged greetings and I went directly to the point, asking the doctors what happened the previous night. I had never known that kind of pain and certainly not in my chest. My doctor was the one who answered, saying that I was still suffering from the nerve pain, which we would have to now work on with other alternatives. She said she believed that all this was possibly a result of some emotional stress on my brain, triggered by an experience I hadn’t dealt with properly.
I said OK. At this point, I would settle for any course of treatment – but what about last night and the chest pain? She replied, saying that I’d suffered multiple heart attacks.
Multiple heart attacks at twenty-three years of age!!!
I couldn’t believe it. I blurted out that I was too young for that, that it had to be something else. The CMD was the other doctor, and he spoke up, confirming what my doctor said. This revelation was getting me worked up and I was becoming restless, and they had to calm me down.
I asked what the next step was, and they began talking about ECG tests and other batteries of tests. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I mean, I had seen stuff like this happen in the movies and heard of it happen to other people. But it felt so surreal that this was now my life. My body being discussed in such medicalese.
To deal with the emotional stressor, I was scheduled to see a therapist the next day to embark on my alternative treatment for the nerve pain. After everyone left and I was finally left alone, I let my mind wander to the past, to that experience my mind flashed to when my doctor talked about something emotional that I hadn’t properly dealt with.
The next day, I was up and preparing for the therapy session, which was to begin by 10 AM. As at 9:45, I was all set. But I was still thinking about what to say. I called a close friend of mine and updated him on what was going on.
And he said to me, “It’s time for you to speak out. You need to see this as an opportunity to tell your story.”
“You can’t be serious,” I objected, even though I suspected that this was what I should do. “I can’t go into a room filled with strangers and tell them I’m gay,” I added. “It’s just not possible.”
“The only way you are going to have any chance at healing is if you utilize this therapy well,” he insisted, “and that means being honest about who you are and about the trauma you suffered.”
I was still resistant to this idea and said, “What if I told the story like I am straight instead of gay?”
“No,” he said. “Tell it as it was, as it is. You owe yourself this. Unless you don’t want to get better.”
I responded by joking that I would hold him responsible if anything goes wrong. Then I disconnected the call and went out to the hallway. I was directed to the room where the therapy would happen, and when I walked in, it was to see that indeed, it was room filled with strangers. I counted sixteen people, plus two doctors present. I was obviously the youngest in the room. Introductions were made and I announced that I would like to be the last to speak. I was visibly nervous and the chief therapist agreed.
Turn by turn, all the other talked. About their lives. About whatever they figured their problems were. About how they were handling it all. And as I listened, I was running myself ragged with thoughts about how I was going to tell my story, if I wanted to tell my story.
Finally, I decided to just say it as it is. The worst that could happen would be their bigotry coming to play and me treating their fuckup right there and then.
Soon, it was my time to talk and I said I would like to ask them all a small favour. That I wanted them to react naturally to what I was going to say, as it would help me gain the needed confidence to continue. They agreed.
So, I started. “Like I said before, my name is Dillish. And I’m gay.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Written by Dillish