Ugo was excited to hear the story of this uncle whom he never met. He died when Ugo was 5. He only learnt of him through pictures in his adolescence and through the stories his dad told him.
Let us call his uncle Dave. “Dave was hypertensive but he never knew. He never checked his BP at any day, neither did he seek any medical attention for what he obviously did not know about. So, Uncle Dave carried on with his life as if all was well.
One night, he had dinner with his family as they always do. He shared some folk tales with them. As his manner always is, he never finishes such stories without adding one about his gallantry during the Nigerian-Biafran war.
If it is not about how he was engaged in a guerrilla war against the federal troops at Uzuakoli sector, it is about joining the famous Colonel ‘Air-raid’ Joe Achuzia in a successful ambush to decimate the advancing Nigerian troops at Abagana sector.
Uncle Dave was a great story-teller who always painted a heroic picture/air around himself.
Anyway, in the words of Professor Chinua Achebe, “…no story is innocent”, therefore, Uncle Dave was always at liberty to blow his stories up to unimaginable proportions. After all, just like dreams, none of us witnessed the Nigerian-Biafran war.
That night, after the usual meal-time stories, Uncle Dave went to bed. He rose around 3am to urinate. As he moved outside, Aunty Rose, his wife, waited close to the door.
After a few seconds, she heard a sound. Uncle had fallen. She ran outside and met him lying on the floor soaked in his own urine and mud.
His left limbs were paralysed. He could neither feel nor raise them. Aunty raised alarm and we all ran outside terrified. We met uncle on the floor. His speech was now slurred and his mouth deviated to the right.
Uncle could not tell us the story of what happened but his wife said he complained of a slight headache when he rose to leave the house.
“…it is a slap from the gods…” said Okenye, the eldest man in the compound. “…let no woman one touch him. This is a clear case of spiritual attack from the gods…”
Most of us retreated with fear. No one dared to risk a slap from the gods.
“Errhmmm, please get me palm-kernel oil…” The eldest lady in our compound went into her room and got an old brown bottle half-filled with congealed palm-kernel oil with some aging mould on its surface.
She gave it to Okenye who used his index finger to clear the mould, took a lump and rubbed it in his palm. He instilled the liquid into uncle’s eyes and mouth.
Uncle managed to swallow the liquid as instructed but kept choking on it. We carried and laid him on his sofa as Okenye continued his unending rituals.
After several hours of this fruitless venture, his church members were invited. As they arrived, they began their own prayer-feast – waging war to exorcise the evil spirits that took hold of him.
As these went on, Uncle became unconscious. “He has entered into coma…” tearfully pointed his daughter. The entire limbs could not move again. He could not feel any pain or touch again.
The earlier rituals and prayer sessions by Okenye and the church had failed.
At the instance of Uncle Dave’s cousin, we later moved him to the hospital. Uncle was now in coma and was immediately admitted.
There was no intensive care unit (ICU) so he was admitted in an ordinary ward. They quickly inserted a urethral catheter and fixed a cannula and connected it to ‘drip’.
Uncle was able to sustain this coma for the next 24 hours before he dragged his last breath. We were all so shattered and sought answers.
Unknown to us, Uncle had hypertension and never checked. His BP so rose to a high level that made him suffer a stroke.
“He was not killed by anyone being fingered by your kinsmen. He died of a stroke. We have no CT scanning machine to scan his head but his history suggests he could have had a vessel rupture in his brain due to hypertension…”
What?!!!!! We all screamed together.
“… He must have had a bleed which caused him to be paralysed until he entered coma…” continued the doctor.
“…Only if you had come within 4 hours of his fall, only if we had a CT scan to scan him on arrival, only if we had a neuro surgeon and a well-equipped theatre, he would have been saved, He would have been alive too”
“How do we know if someone has hypertension or stroke…” My aunt queried hastily.
“The symptoms of hypertension are headaches, chest pain, blood in urine, etc. Most times, it may even have no symptoms at all. So checking your BP regularly is also important…” We all nodded.
He continued, “…for stroke, please always look out for the tell-tale signs. We call it FAST signs.
F stands for Facial drooping, A stands for Arm (or Leg) weakness, S stands for speech difficulty or slurred speech, while T stands for Time to seek help (immediately at the hospital)…”
We were all perplexed because we saw these much but could not act as we were drowned in the sea of superstition.
He continued: “…Others include confusion, trouble with speaking, sudden blurred vision or trouble in seeing, loss of balance walking and others…
…You must arrive the hospital in less than 4 hours if you have these signs for any meaningful intervention to be effective.”
Ugo was perplexed as I shared this story with him. He could not compare healthcare here with what he had known all his life abroad.
I also told him the story of my patient whose blood sugar had gone bonkers. When I told him that we must commence insulin immediately to help him, he could not take it.
He requested for some time to reflect at home. This was understandable because he had to be on insulin for a long time.
I was rather shocked when he called a few days after to negotiate if he could have the insulin for only a day or week. I refused. He shifted it to a month yet I refused. He kept shifting the goal post as I remained unyielding.
How much more can we negotiate our life for death?
Ugo stood, looking at me, as if I asked to seek his answer.
I am Uche Anyanwagu. I now know that Hypertension is a silent killer. Check your BP regularly.
Stroke is not caused by jazz. Seek help once you see these signs. Act FAST
Pic: Astronomical clock in Prague, taken by the author