— — a short story — —
“… Prince, a doctor killed my child. My child is dead”
This was certainly not the response I was expecting when I chatted Cynthia up on WhatsApp to wish her a happy new year and check how she and her family were doing. I quickly picked up my kpalasa phone that lay on my centre table and dialed her number.
Cynthia (now Mrs. Fabian) and I share a camaraderie. We have been close friends for a few years, dating way back to the time we spent together in Igbaruku, Yagba-West local government during our national service year.
We had maintained contact ever since then, though occasionally. I worked in Benin and sometimes found it difficult to reach out to friends due to my busy schedule. Meanwhile, she had returned to Lagos on completing her service year and started designing and making trendy dresses for ladies, working from home as she always said she would. She had always been good with her hands and this had been a big passion of hers.
It was thrilled when she told me she was getting married last year, I could sense her excitement at the start of a new chapter in her life. Although I couldn’t make it to the wedding ceremony which held in Lagos, I sent her a little token along with my well wishes. The last time we spoke was about four months ago after she had her baby boy. I saw the baby picture on one of my random and rare login to Facebook. She sounded so happy over the phone, and despite the pains associated with motherhood she was enjoying every bit of it. To hear that the little bundle of joy had been snatched cruelly by death left this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. So many thoughts raced through my mind as I waited for her to pick up.
After a few rings, she picked up and said hello with a soft and gloomy voice. I could feel the pain in her voice and it felt strange. She was always an epitome of happiness, full of life and always had the best jokes to tell to lighten up the conversation.
I told her I was sorry to hear about the passing of her child, I also told her I was in Lagos and willing to visit if she would send her address. She obliged, and I hung up the phone.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling tired. I had slept late as I was working on a project. I wished I could lie on the bed till noon. I had to jump up and rush through some morning chores knowing I wanted to leave the house by 10am.
Sometimes I feel like I have to meditate, speak some words of affirmation and some physical warmup before jumping on the road in this Lagos. Transiting is physically and emotionally draining.
Cynthia stays with her husband at Sangotedo. I have never been to Sangotedo but google map tells me it’s about an hour and half drive from Surulere where I stay (I know enough not to trust that guy).
I was all ready and dressed at 10:15 am. I had a light breakfast of bread and watery tea before leaving, a throwback to boarding school days. My beverages were finished and I couldn’t walk down the street to get some at this hour. I put a call through to Cynthia to tell her I was on my way and she described the itinerary again.
I was already in the bus heading to Oshodi when I thought about how I would pacify a mother whom has been bereft of her one and only child. Such situations have always been uncomfortable for me. I usually lack the best words to say to a grieving soul. I feel like the lines “God gives, and He takes” and “God knows best” have become trite. This would not be what I’d want to hear if I were in her shoes. I’d want to know why God will give me a child he’d take in four months. Anyway, I had planned to reassure her that all would be fine, and that another child would come and wipe her tears away. I really hoped that this would perform the magic.
“… Prince, a doctor killed my child. My child is dead” still echoed in my head and I couldn’t make sense of those words.
Cars were nose to tail on the third mainland bridge. I was on the road for another two hours before getting to Sangotedo. I hopped on a bike that took me to Cynthia’s residence, №8 Akanu street. It was a neatly painted white duplex with climbing ivy crawling on the fence just like she described. I knocked on the gate and the gateman directed me in. I rang the doorbell and was welcomed and led in by a young man I guessed was her brother.
Cynthia was seated on the grey chaise lounge chair at the corner of the big living room. I walked towards her trying to ignore the architecture and flamboyance of the house. I greeted her and sat beside her. Her eyes were bulgy surely from the tears and pain. She replied me trying to fake a smile to say she was pleased to see me.
Just then I heard footsteps down the hallway. I turned over my shoulder to see a middle-aged bearded man walking down. I recognized him as Cynthia’s husband. I had seen him only in pictures. I stood to greet him and told him I was sorry about his loss. We shook hands then Cynthia introduced us. Mr Fabian seemed to have a very calm persona. He spoke like someone reading from a script, slow with loud punctuations.
“Was he sick?” I asked.
That was the best way I could paraphrase. “What do you mean by a doctor killed your child?”.
Cynthia was staring at the ground, her fingers interlocked and her elbows resting on her knees. I wasn’t sure she had heard me. After a few moments, she cleared her throat and started to narrate her ordeal with Dr. Abayomi.
Five days ago, Cynthia had noticed labored breathing and frequent cough in her baby. She called Dr Abayomi to inform him about the baby’s health. Dr. Abayomi told her to bring Junior to the hospital the next day. Cynthia got to the hospital at the early hours of the day. Fabian had dropped them as he drove to work.
New-seed maternity is a private Maternity hospital about 2 miles from Cynthia’s residence. Cynthia’s client and neighbor had recommended the hospital to her when she needed to start her ante-natal. It was easy for Cynthia to like the doctor and nurses who were very hospitable. If she had no urgent dress to make, she would sometime chill to chat with nurse Titi who always had a story to tell.
Cynthia greeted the cleaners and nurses whom she was very familiar with. It was the same hospital she had delivered Junior in. She requested to see the doctor at the reception and sat in the hall waiting her turn. After a few minutes, she was called in by the nurse.
She reiterated her observations to Dr Abayomi. He walked to her side of the table, observed Junior for a minute or two and went back to his seat, He scribbled some medications on a slip and offered it to her. Cynthia collected the slip, thanked him and went to the pharmacy two doors right from the consultation room. She bought the drugs and left for the house.
Immediately she reached home and settled in, she administered the drugs as prescribed by the doctor. Junior slept. She laid him in his cot that was in the living room and went to prepare lunch for her husband. A little while later she came into the living room to check Junior. He was lifeless. She tapped him again and again, calling his name. She jerked junior from the cot, picked her phone and was running outside like a mad woman while dialing her husband’s line…
They confirmed Junior dead at the hospital. Dr Abayomi had prescribed a lethal dose of beta-adrenoceptor antagonist and corticosteroid.
Iatrogenic illnesses and deaths usually go unnoticed. As Nassim Nicholas Talib puts it, “Doctors are statistically naïve; they have a hard time understanding non-linear dose-responses so they binarize”. That’s one part of the problem. Our cognitive bias to take action (action bias) makes us run to the hospital or take medications unnecessarily, and our doctors and pharmacist are ready to “cure” the healthy.
I got home about 8:18pm, went to my bed and waited for sleep to find me.