Sally Bonn-Ohiaeriaku

© Copyright 2024 by Sally Bonn-Ohiaeriaku

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

I ran into her at the hospital and I could see the loss of her husband affected her greatly. Grief was so unkind to her that a month after his funeral, she became a patient at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) in Enugu state. Her children were abroad and she needed a caregiver. She was my best friend so I chose to do it. I moved into her home and we found solace in ourselves. I could not help but notice the deterioration of her health.

One day in the dead of the night, I felt a grip on my nightwear. I thought my dream had metamorphosed into reality. I jerked back to reality. Call the Doctor she said as she took in big breaths. I searched for my phone and rang her doctor. He picked up after the third ring and asked that we come quickly to the hospital as he was on Night shift. Dr Ugo had prescribed some medications for her the last time he saw her but he warned her of the downside of the medications. The side effects could cause more harm if not properly managed and I think the drugs were doing just that.

We have a deeply rooted systemic healthcare challenge in Nigeria. There are next to no available ambulances. Ignore what you watch on Nollywood. We left for the hospital in our car. Luckily for us, the driver lived in the boys' quarters. She administered first aid to herself. She was a retired nurse after all. On the way to the hospital, my special demons as I called them appeared. They had their names because most times we sat and discussed. “You are going to lose her too” they taunted me as they danced. These alien friends of mine were being mischievous. I was not going to let my hallucinations get the better of me. I screamed as my body shrieked. This time I had an audience. I was jolted back to reality by a big slap on my back. The fear in her eyes as she asked how long this had been going on. I shook my head because I could not utter a word. I crouched at one corner of the car. In my vulnerability, I found unexpected strength in her embrace. There was a decline in my mental health which was why I was at the hospital the day I ran into her, seeking answers for myself. You must see a psychologist she whispered. She was whole for a moment. It was as if my episode had healed her. I thought I was the stronger one but even strong people break down too. I the caregiver needed care.

After her doctor was done with his check-up, he referred me to a psychologist and her to a therapist. The dosage of her medications was reduced. She asked if that would reduce her symptoms and he said we must hope for the best. I knew I needed to see a mental health expert, but it was not a topic discussed in most homes on this side of the world. Good health is not only the absence of physical disease and a complete state of mental well-being. Stigmas tied to mental health in our Nigerian communities make it hard for people to access these professionals. We need to build healthy communities and make it accessible to all. I knew that I could not be strong for others if I was not well mentally. Anxiety and depression cannot be filed away to be dealt with another day. In therapy, I realized that I was affected by her husband’s death and the way he died. The psychologist helped us to understand this.

He was very sick but not for too long, he did all the tests UNTH could offer yet there was no concrete diagnosis. He died without knowing his ailment. I was present with her. After his death, the doctors said he had a neurotic disease and called it a fancy name I could not remember. On his death certificate, he was declared to have died of a different disease. The health care services in this part of the world, you just have to wish and pray to not be a statistic of the many medical researchers conducted by international and local health organizations while hoping for the best miracle possible.

When we returned home, she threw all her medications and chose the traditional medicine path. We explored alternative treatment options, shifting towards a holistic approach. She booked her first session with the therapist and has been going ever since. There was a big change in our diet. I was concerned at first but she is better and healthier. During joint therapy sessions, they claimed grief took a toll on us and we had “sympathy death syndrome” another fancy phrase but this one I could remember because of the bond we shared with the deceased. There is an all-round great improvement in our bodies and mind.
One Sunday evening, we pondered if she was misdiagnosed just like the deceased was. The brain drain as a result of emigration due to the poor economy and political situation in the country has taken the best of the Nigerian doctors. I saw my therapist regularly because I could afford it even though expensive. I joined forces with like minds to create an accessible community of mental health experts and supported where I could. I preached mental health awareness every day. There should be no stigmas attached to health.

Another anniversary of his death and the children returned from abroad. They complimented us that we looked fine if they only knew what we went through but for our determination and perseverance. It was not easy but we did it and are happy and healthier for it.


The Nigerian movie industry is just like Hollywood is to the USA

Boys quarters in Nigerian parlance is where guests who are not part of the family live. It is different from the main building

Sally Bonn-Ohiaeriaku is an Igbo, Nigerian. She is deeply passionate about art particularly writing, poetry and photography. Her non fiction work “Disruption” appears on The Manifest-Station.net and her poem “Breaking the Cycle ( Escaping abuse)” on Discourse Literary Journal. She loves to volunteer with NGOs in her community in her spare time.

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