Uche’s Blog

The Story of CHRISTMAS

The story of Christmas – of the virgin birth, a mother and child, a #birth in a manger, of the visit of the Shepherds and the Epiphany – connects deeply the fabrics of my root, faith and vocation.

I’m always in awe when I reflect on the story of annunciation to Mary, a betrothed virgin who was brave to accept the salutation of an unknown angel despite being aware of the attendant punishment of such pregnancy according to the law of Moses.

I think of the man Joseph – a Noble man of the house of David, the root of Jesse – who braved all odds to accept the concept of immaculate conception.

I think of the hospitality of the owner of the stable – who thought outside the box – to offer all he had left.

I think of the manger birth – an unkind place to have a birth; yet the kindest place to give the cleanest birth that changed the course and cause of humanity.

Finally, as a Judeo-Christian, I think of the connections and the fulfilment of all prophecies concerning the virgin birth – the birth of JESUS CHRIST the messiah. “For unto us a child is born…”

Merry Christmas 🎄

THE VALIDITY OF DREAMS

Exactly a year today, I had the honour of walking down the podium to receive a certificate for a PhD in Medicine – Clinical Epidemiology

It was a culmination of intense 2.5yrs of research in the area of my passion – Clinical/Database Epidemiology.

While I remain eternally grateful to the Commonwealth who opened my way by granting me a scholarship for my 2nd Masters in Applied Epidemiology, I am indebted to the University of Nottingham for my PhD scholarship which came just 8 months into my MSc course.

Today, I think more of the power of mentorship – a force which transformed a poor fatherless lad roaming the villages in Africa, only armed with his passion.

I remember my supervisors – Richard and Is – who didn’t see me as a student but as a fellow colleague to be mentored and given all needed platforms to excel.

Through them, I had 10 publications from thesis before defence; finished in record 2.5years, won nomination for the BEST research in Type 2 Diabetes in UK; and stood on many international scientific platforms to share not just my research but my story – a testimony of triumph.

They are the only men I will think of today.

Negotiating Healthcare

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The elderly lady leaned on the counter and bent over to speak to the Chemist-man. “Onye Chemist…” she said in her local parlance (a popular name for patent medicine dealers). “…mixituru m ogwu…” (Loosely translated: “please mix for me some drugs…”).

The Chemist man raised his head and greeted the elderly lady. He courteously asked her what she needed the drugs for. Before he could finish, the lady took it up from him and said…

“Biko (please), start with Bufren (Ibuprofen) Ten naira, for my arthritis; then you add aspirin five naira for tooth ache; and some anti-malarial drugs for 20 naira…”

Ugo, my cousin, was visiting home for the very first time. He has lived all his life in the United States and has yearned to visit Africa. It was obvious he hasn’t seen this sort of health enterprise before – judging by the puzzled look on his face.

We watched as the lady went on and on unhindered. Ugo stood in awe, overwhelmed by the knowledge that she knew exact names and quantities of all the drugs she needed.

He wondered if she was a retired doctor, nurse or pharmacist. She interrupted his thoughts with her last demand: “Ehe, biko don’t forget B-co (Vitamin B complex tablets) 5 naira oh…”

As she reeled out her instruction, Onye Chemist danced from one edge of the counter in his shop to another, picking each needed item in obedience.

He took his time to gather all she wanted, wrapped them all in a tiny rim of transparent nylon and handed it over to her.

She smiled, reached for the loose end of her wrapper and unfolded it. She untied the knot containing some dirty polymer naira notes.

She counted about 45 or 55 naira and handed to Onye Chemist who recounted and nodded in gratitude. She picked her walking stick and bounced out in glory.

“Her story mirrors a thousand more which play out daily in many Onye Chemist’s shops that litter across all the landscapes of our environment…” I told Ugo who was visiting home for the first time.

“…The pathway to hospitals here is often dotted by many twists and turns; bends and tangential junctions….”

I could understand his confusion as we left the Chemist shop.

I placed my right hand across his right shoulder in a brotherly but reassuring manner and told him that it is not surprising seeing people presenting to hospitals when a seemingly simple situations had gone sour.

“…Funny enough, these same people expect the doctors to perform some miracles. They also vilify them when things do not match their expectations. Just the typical ozu nwa bekee (White man’s corpse)…”

“What’s that?” Ugo quipped in American accent. “Please ask your dad when you get home” I retorted.

Photograph taken by author over Vienna, Austria.

The Slap of the gods – Uche Anyanwagu

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.

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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

R.A.N.T.I.N.G. 103 – Just be you!

Like a roller coaster ride, life has largely been – filled with ups and downs. Often times, we tend to believe that the grass is greener on the other side.

This is the story of my life. Life is a gift given to me. As I hold it today, it’s a present. Tomorrow, I will surely give it away.

While I carry on this precious present, let me share the true story of my life.

I have received both commendations and condemnations. Some made my heart merry, while others made it cringe.

Of the ones that made me glad, some did make my heart leap for joy like the “fetal” John The Baptist, while others made me wonder if I was truly deserving of it or they were simply being kind and courteous.

I am not perfect. I won’t pretend. I DO NOT desire to be. I can’t simply make it.

The only perfection I seek in my sojourn in life is to be better today than the man who stood in front of my 6-foot mirror yesterday – that non-competitive desire to constantly improve myself.

Of course, change can be positive or negative. At least,a recent story has taught us so. So, while I strive to grow my virtues, I am fully aware that my vices will feed of the crumbs too.

Now to those who say:

“I want to be like you”,

“I wish to be like you”, and

“I wish I were you”;

to those that even say: “I want to be like you when I grow up” even after they are already grown and better; I just have a simple advice: Just be you! I mean, you! Yes! You.

Just know that for many that reach out to, and desire to be, me, there are more that reject and swear never to have anything to do with me.

For each smile on my face, there is an ocean of tears.

For each mile gained, lie three lost in struggle

For each beautiful photo posted online are hundreds of others that failed that simple aesthetic test

Underneath my success story lays an iceberg of failures and unsuccessful attempts

For any glory I’ve shared, I have tasted shame and ridicule more.

For every love I hold, I have dined with rejection at a state-house banquet.

I have been judged and hated before being heard. I have also been loved before being seen

I once told a friend only if they know…

The tears masked by my smile,

The story behind my name,

The wars preceding my victories,

The ache bearing forth my leap

Oh I wish they can realise…

The journeys that lead to the destination,

The cross before the crown,

The depression enveloped by this expression,

And the shame that wrought the glory

They will they understand that the grass will ever remain greener on the other side of the viewer.

Last last, I leave you with two lessons life taught me. I hold these two lessons so very dear and true:

1. Life is selfish – it is yours and yours alone. Be you. Live it.

2. NONE of us will leave here alive. Carve your path and leave a dent.

Selah

Doctor’s Tales by Uche Anyanwagu – Story 2 – The Rope that Hangs

He reached out for the dangling ends of the rope of his kaftan trousers. He pulled the entire length out. Holding a small length of it in between both hands, he pulled it tight.

He smiled to himself and nodded twice. This smile was pale. His smile was fake – that kind that can only come from the facial muscles not anywhere near the heart.

He quickly twisted the rope to increase its strength and made two knots at both ends. He got a stool and checked an old iron lamp-holder fixed to the wall.He touched and vigorously shook it. The lamp-holder wasn’t strong enough for this adventure. Disappointed, he looked for the one opposite it but he got the same effect.

He dismantled the ceiling fan with a pen-knife nearby. Its hook seemed to be a perfect description of what he was looking for. He placed the pieces of the loosened fan by the corner of the room. He took another look at his room with his eyes intently gazed at a plaque of an award he won in school hanging on the wall.

This has hung there with so much pride to him. Today, it made no sense or meaning to him. He had come at wits end. It was over. He took another passionate look like someone bidding a final farewell to the room that hosted him. He ascended the stool and fastened his rope to the fan hook. He took a deep breath, pulled the noose round his neck, gave a loud laughter and kicked the stool.

Uche had battled with depression in the passing weeks and months. He had tried to brave it up but that did not help. He made attempts to share his mood and feelings with his peers but most laughed him up.

His pastor attributed it to spiritual attack. He went through a cocktail of praying and fasting sessions but none brought permanent succour. They later gave up on him. No one paid detailed attention to him. He couldn’t muster trust to reach out again.

He recalled how Ike, his best friend, scorned him over a past failed relationship. “There are many fishes in the sea…” he teased him. “…why kill yourself over this babe? You are a fine guy, intelligent and with a beautiful world before you” Ike did not take time to understand the pulse of his mood or reason underpinning it.

When he mustered enough courage to see a Psychiatrist, the label he would earn from the society weakened his steps. He, sort of, overcame this and dragged his feet – the longest walk of his life – to the Psychiatrist.

To his chagrin, the doctor felt he wasn’t sick enough to warrant his time. He really, in his own words, “… needed patients with real psychosis and not lily-livered, love-stricken/hungry young men”.

Uche left that clinic more depressed than he was when he stepped into it. “What a world…” he wondered aloud. His eye balls were engorged with tears. His heart was heavy that he could feel its weight in his chest. He severally swallowed the lump rising in his throat.

Sadly, none of his friends could notice that the once lively Uche was getting more withdrawn and a bit apprehensive with crowd.

His voracious appetite went south. Meal times turned to movie times – where he sat for hours keeping watch over his meal as it simmered to ice. He barely called home – his people felt all was well with him.

Uche was not just alone but lonely. He lived in a bubble – of loneliness, solitude, rejection, self-blame and pity. He lost interest in all that was once fair and true to him. He battled alone. He battled wrongly too. He could not cope with the unsolicited changes his world has suddenly undergone.

This battle was fought in his mind. This battle was lost within him and in him. No one knew what he battled. No one could understand the powers that built a ring in him to wrestle in. Piece-by-piece, they ravaged every piece of him and shred the strong fabrics that once held his rugged soul.

Uche was found two days later dangling on a rope in his room. It took the visit of a swarm of flies (like the Magi) to lead his neighbours to this reality. It was the shock of the entire neighbourhood. His car was still packed in the driveway and his flat housed the putrefying smell oozing from his still but decomposing body

Ike could not hold his tears. He shares so much in this guilt. As a doctor, he could remember all he was taught on this in school but failed to use this to save his best friend. He was dismissive and occasionally judgemental.

Now on a tiny rope hung Uche – a will that was once determined – strong, robust and resilient. As Ike watched, he could not believe that the thick muscular body of Uche could be sustained up high by a tiny rim of cloth.

Unknown to him, Uche became light the day his zeal to live left his body. Now, as light as feather, air suspends it.

The men cut the rope as Uche’s body slumped onto the ground. Ike reached out and placed his stethoscope to his chest – now stained by the fluid from his decomposing body. He knew it was medicine after death. I wonder what he expected to hear.

In place of a heart beat echoed the sound of a heartless world. Breath sounds were replaced by the loudness of a silent world. His pupils were fixed and dilated. His lashes even failed to cover his eyeballs and they waited to witness the sad end of their gallant host.

Ike ran his palm across both eyes and tightly closed the lids. He pronounced Uche clinically dead to the consternation of his neighbours and relatives.

“Uche is dead…” “So, Uche is dead, they all muttered.

Yes! He died of our neglect. May our judgement make him stand condemned before the Almighty.

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I am Uche Anyanwagu. This piece is dedicated to those battling with all forms of depression.

Depression is real.
Be unashamed.
Speak out.

Depression is real
Be non-judgemental,
Reach out

R.A.N.T.I.N.G. 102 – Wisdom of Jesus

Calabar holds a beautiful spot in my heart. Beside my hometown, it is my best Nigerian home. It was in this ageless city that I started my medical career a decade ago.

If I had known one-hundredth of all I know now, surely, I would not have left that city as an Aaron (if you know, you know)

Of all the memories I hold of this city stands out that of the 3- or 4-year old young son of my neighbour called Wisdom.

I love children so loving him came naturally. I guess he loved me more. I couldn’t say the reason until many months after.

When I started building my non-medical library, the earliest books I read (beside my medical ones) were mostly religious ones.

I started with the Holy Bible, then the Book of Mormon, the Catholic Bible (with the Deutero-canonical books) and many motivational ones from TD Jakes et’ al.

Ecclesiasticus is one of the books in the Catholic Bible that struck very pleasant cords in my soul. The book is also called the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach or the Book of Wisdom or Wisdom of Sirach.

Chapter 38 of Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach) is filled with wisdom. It was dedicated entirely to doctors and healthcare practitioners – with clear reasons on how and why we should approach them.

Verses 7 and 8 held so much wisdom that I chose to beam a bit of this on my little friend, Wisdom. I began to call him “Wisdom of Jesus”.

Unknown to me, Wisdom was so thrilled by the name. The father would later leak this to me as I gradually noticed his affinity towards me.

Whenever he saw or heard my voice, he would make moves for me to notice him. He’d lurk by his window occasionally, waiting for me to pass. At times, when I pretend, he would persist until I hail him “Wisdom of Jesus”

To my shock, one day, I overheard him quarrelling with his older siblings. He stood up to them and charged them to respect him cos he is wiser than them all. He boldly declared: “I am the Wisdom of Jesus”.

He wore that name as a badge. He wore it proudly. I would learn that he started writing it on his school books. He even tried to convince his peers that his name, Wisdom, is a shorter version of his real name.

I could sense his affection as I observed that my calling him that name was always followed by a beam of smile that mirrored an inner peace of mind. You could tell a happy child when you meet Wisdom after we had met.

On most occasions, I could literally feel his heart jumping into his “boxers” – I think such only comes with or from the Wisdom of (or from) Jesus.

Be like Wisdom, mbok!