A tear dropped from his left eye as he thought about Anna again. How could she be dead? How? Anna, the best sister anyone could ever have. Anna, his only sister … who made so many sacrifices to ensure he went to college and become the man he is today.
What is this life?
“Tea or coffee sir…?” Munachi – the air hostess – asked, snapping him out of his reverie. He dried his eyes and gestured towards coffee. He nodded his thanks as she gave it to him and went about her business.
He took a sip of the scalding hot beverage and didn’t even flinch. All he could think of was Anna and how he wept over her cold dead body. He had flown to Monrovia immediately he was told that she was seriously ill. The doctors had initially refused to allow him see her, saying it was unsafe, but one look at them and they obliged. Patrick was a big man. In Liberia and other African countries, big men always had their way.
That all seemed like years ago though. He had given her a quick burial and was now on his way back to Nigeria. He took another sip of the coffee and this time he felt as it burned his tongue. He let out a tiny whelp and dropped the mug. It shattered, spilling its content everywhere. He quickly made to pick up the shards, but cut his forefinger in the process. He put the finger in his mouth and sucked the blood as Munachi came to his aid.
“So sorry sir,” she apologized. “Are you alright?” she gestured towards his forefinger. He nodded, stood up, and went to the restroom.
The cut wasn’t too deep, but he had plenty of blood in him, so the red liquid flowed. He picked up a Kleenex and pressed on it. It became bloodied in seconds. He dropped the tissue in the toilet bowl and collected another. After the third Kleenex, the blood had almost stopped flowing. He pressed the knob and watched as the toilet flushed. He did not notice the tiny drops of blood he left on the knob. He turned on the tap, washed his hand and turned it off. He did not notice the blood he left on the tap head either. He dried his hand and left the toilet. Munachi had cleaned up when he got back to his seat. She offered another cup of coffee but he declined and, suddenly cold, he asked for a blanket instead. She obliged him – some of the perks of not flying economy class.
Bishop Samuel Ndah of Royal Diadem Ministries had gone to Monrovia to minister at the Liberian branch of his church. It was a power packed 3 day crusade that ended with miracles, signs, wonders, and some extra dollars in his off-shore bank account. He was going to Australia in two weeks to set up another branch there.
The ministry was seriously moving. The Lord is good.
He used the toilet a few minutes after Patrick did. Of cause he washed his hand thoroughly. One of his favorite quotes was ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, and as a Bishop of Christ, he always practiced what he preached. When he turned the tap head to close it though, he did not notice the drops of blood his fingers collected. He ate Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chips a few minutes later; chicken so good he licked his fingers afterwards, and washed it down with a bottle of the cold orange juice Munachi served him.
Two other business-class passengers used the toilet during the 165minutes flight.
Patrick was sweating when the plane landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. He was sweating and shivering slightly. Munachi wanted to call the airport paramedics but he refused. He explained that he’d just buried his only sister and the past week had been hectic. It was probably fever with a shot of jet-lag. She obliged, called Aisha, her colleague, and they helped him disembark. He almost fell when they made to leave him on the tarmac. He steadied himself and told them he was fine. They left him and went back into the plane. He sort of staggered to the customs area and gave the immigration officer his passport.
The officer scrutinized Patrick’s travel papers and returned them to him. The Liberian was walking into the arrival lounge when he collapsed in a heap. It was like a joke. For a few seconds nobody reacted. Then somebody yelled and all hell broke loose.
“What happened to him? Who is he? How did it happen?” Everybody seemed to be asking at the same time as a small crowd gathered around Patrick. Jemila, an Airport security woman pushed her way through and asked everyone to back off. She checked his pulse and proceeded to give him CPR. She was doing the mouth to mouth resuscitation thing when paramedics arrived and put him on their stretcher. They took him straight to the Airport clinic, while somebody checked Patrick’s wallet for his ID. They found he was a Liberian and worked in the Liberian Embassy. They called the consulate and informed them that their countryman had collapsed in the Airport. The Liberian high commissioner immediately had him transferred to First Consultant Clinics, a private hospital at Obalende.
Dr Abdullah Isah, the Chief Medical Officer of First Consultants Hospital had just begun a complex 7 hours marathon surgery on a 13 year old boy’s lungs when Patrick was wheeled in. After the successful operation, he had taken a 6 hour break. When he came back, he started his usual ward rounds with Dr Abiye – the doctor on duty. They got to the Liberian’s ward and Dr Abiye gave his boss the man’s case file. A quick glance at it and he had an idea what was ailing the man. He pulled Dr Abiye to one side and told him in confidence what he suspected was the cause of Patrick’s ailment.
Dr Abiye’s jaw dropped. “Jesus,” he exclaimed. “Jesus!” He had been at the waiting room when Patrick was wheeled in. He had checked his vitals and placed him on drips and stabilizers pending when a proper diagnosis was carried out. He had been in close contact with a probable carrier of the deadliest disease on earth at the moment. “Jesus!”
Dr Abdullah immediately had Patrick quarantined in a private ward. He also had every member of his staff who had been in close contact with the Liberian quarantined in another ward. He didn’t want to start a panic so he didn’t say why he was taking those measures. He just instructed the other staff not to go into those two wards without face masks, surgical gloves and disposable gowns. He called the Lagos State Ministry of Health and informed the receiver he might have a case of the Ebola Virus in his hospital. He was transferred to the commissioner of health himself who asked what had been done so far. He brought the big man up to speed and was told to maintain the status quo while the minister of health himself was informed.
Unfortunately Dr Abdullah was working with smart people. Someone put two and two together and the word ‘Ebola’ was mentioned. Less than twenty minutes later, the normally full waiting room was almost empty. Family and friends of patients who heard the rumors came and retrieved their wards. Non-Medical staff who didn’t want to risk being around a virus that dangerous suddenly became ill and asked for permission to go home. They had no plan to return until it was safe to do so.
The three nurses and two porters who were on duty when Patrick was wheeled in had gone home to their families before Dr Abdullah made his analysis. In the midst of the chaos, nobody remembered them.
Someone tweeted about the incidence, someone else retweeted it, and in minutes, the news went viral.
Ebola Virus was in Nigeria.
Munachi woke up with a nagging headache; very unusual because she almost never fell sick. She glanced at the clock, 7:19am. How did she wake up this late? She was supposed to be on the 11am Kenyan flight, and by Lagos traffic standards, she was late.
She jumped out of the bed, then fell right back in. Her head felt like someone was pounding yam in it. She waited a few minutes, then stood up again, slowly. She went through her morning routines at that pace and was ready to leave by 8:30. Nduka, her cabman had been waiting for her since 8am, the time she’d asked him to come.
“Nne, ogini…?” he asked her in igbo, when he noticed how much pain she seemed to be in.
“Onwe gi,” she replied and forced a smile, as he collected her bag and helped her into the car.
They were halfway to the Airport when she knew for certain she would be unable to fly. She called her supervisor and told him her condition. He almost yelled at her bad timing. Aisha had called in sick earlier and he had only just gotten her replacement. But remembering how hardworking Munachi usually was, he told her to go to a clinic and treat herself.
Munachi asked Nduka to take her to any good pharmacy around so she could get drugs. He found one soon enough, drove in, parked, and helped her get into the building. His phone rang and he went outside to answer it. He was negotiating fares for a trip with another customer when people inside the Pharmacy started screaming. He craned his neck to see what was happening and saw Munachi sprawled on the floor. He ended the call and rushed in.
“Wetin happen…?” he yelled to no one in particular. “Aunty Muna, ogini…?” he cradled her in his arms. “Aunty Muna….” he shook her. No response. “What happen’?” he looked up and asked again. Before he could get any response, the owner of the Pharmacy came out of a side room and asked him to bring her in. He lifted her up and took her in, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. He laid her on the bed and left the medics in the room with her. “Wetin happen?” he asked the nurse at the counter.
“She just fell down o,” the visibly shaken woman replied. “She was telling me she had headache when she suddenly fell down. Is she your wi…” she looked him up and down “…is she your madam?” she asked, immediately concluding he couldn’t be such a beautiful lady’s spouse.
He followed the direction of her eyes and noticed the blood stains on his shirt. “Blood…” he muttered. “Where this blood come from?” The nurse pointed at the spot Munachi had lain a few moments ago. There was almost a pool where her head had been. Nduka started sobbing. A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived.
Munachi died on the way to the hospital. The official cause of death was ‘Intracranial Hemorrhage secondary to head trauma from a fall with associated skull fracture and scalp bleeding’. Nobody asked why she fell in the first place. Nigerian Doctors were on strike. The few who were available had too much work on their hands.
Nduka, the pharmacist, the cleaner at the pharmacy, the paramedics and the mortuary attendants – about 8 persons – were in direct contact with Munachi’s body fluids.
Jemila was breastfeeding her five month old son when she felt like going to the toilet again – for the 4th time that morning. She passed the baby to her mother-in-law and went to relieve herself. When she came out she complained to mama who said she’d concoct some herbs for her before she returned from work at the Airport. Mama and her bitter tasting herbs she thought. She made a mental note to buy Flagyl en-route.
She never made it to the Airport.
She was collecting the purge-stopping drug from her local chemist when her eye caught the TV news headline, ‘Liberian man in Lagos being tested for Ebola’.
“Please turn the volume up”, she told the Chemist. He did. The clip went on to chronologize the Liberian’s arrival at the Lagos Airport, his collapse and subsequent transfer to a hospital at Ikoyi area. It added that from all the symptoms, he was infected with the deadly virus, and they were only waiting for official confirmation from the lab that it was indeed Ebola. Even before Patrick Sawyer’s picture was displayed on the screen, she knew it was him. She didn’t hear the chemist shouting “Iya Jumoke, your change, your change…” when she rushed out of the drug store. She whipped out her phone and dialed her husband.
“Hello … daddy, there is a problem…” she started when he answered at the 3rd ring.
In the 11 years they’d been married, Mr Paul Shaibu, a professional caterer and cook at Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, had never heard those words from his wife. “Kilode…?” he asked, walking out of the kitchen.
“Remember that incidence at the Airport I told you about? The Liberian I gave first aid?”
He did. “Yes. What’s wrong?”
“I made a mistake. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to look for a medical kit and collect a protective barrier before I gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. It is recommended that we do that to prevent cross infection, but he had a pulse, yet he was barely breathing. If I had delayed he might have died, and…”
“Mummy, calm down. Kilode…?” he cut her short.
“I just saw the man on TV. They said he has Ebola virus.” Silence at the other end. “Hello, daddy…”
“I’ll go and pick Jummie and David from school,” he began, in the calmest possible voice. “Just go to Ebony and wait. I’ll tell Dr Ugonna we’re coming. I’ll be there in 30mins.”
Paul was a numb robot when he took off his apron and walked out of the Hotel. He now understood why Jemila had been purging earlier that morning. Purge … Diarrhea …one of the symptoms of the Ebola virus. If she had it, then he had it. They’d made love the previous night. And the night before that. If they had it, then, unless a miracle happened, their 3 children, including five month old Paul Jr had it too. And his mother who had been with them for the past two months…
Paul did not hear the people yelling at him to get off the road. He did not see the Cement Truck nor hear the blaring horns either. He did not feel the impact. He died before he hit the ground. Later, when his body was deposited at the mortuary, the morgue attendant noticed some strange rashes around what was left of Paul’s lower back. He ignored it. Him don die be say him don die
After 40 minutes at Ebony Hospital, Jemila tried Paul’s number. It didn’t connect. She called mama to know if he had come home. She said he hadn’t. She called the school, they confirmed he hadn’t come to pick the kids yet. Something had happened. She felt it. She was standing up to leave when her phone rang. The caller identified himself as a Policeman and asked her to come to the Lagos Island Mortuary to identify the body of one Mr Paul Shaibu.
Her screams were heard from miles away …
One of Bishop Samuel Ndah’s most notable attribute was his strong baritone voice. On Thursday, when he woke up, he could barely speak. He had only experienced sore-throat once in his life and it surely didn’t hurt this bad. Nor did it come with weakness of the muscle and troubled breathing. He asked his wife to call his pastors. The devil was at work. That evil being didn’t want him to minister at tonight’s special service. But he was going to, whether Satan liked it or not.
The pastors came, held his hands and prayed. His condition deteriorated.
He was taken to a private hospital some hours later. The doctors are yet to realize he might have the Ebola virus. They’re still giving him treatment for Influenza.
Patrick Sawyer died and it was later confirmed by the Nigerian Government and WHO that he was indeed carrying the Ebola Virus. 30 people may have been in contact with Patrick Sawyer from the Airplane to the Hospital in Obalende. It could have been more, it could have been less. The Lagos state government is still trying to track them down.
Munachi infected Nduka and a host of others. Nduka mourned for a while, but man must wack. He still drives his cab around Lagos; he has a wife and baby back home in Anambra, and a girlfriend in Okota to take care of. He doesn’t understand why his joints and muscles have been aching him since…
Aisha, Munachi’s colleague, thinks she’s constantly weak because she is pregnant. She also thinks the rashes on her body are because she changed cosmetics. She and her banker husband have no idea…
Jemila’s children were infected. The older ones shared meals, toys and other facilities with their friends in school…the friends have friends, who have families ….
Bishop Samuel Ndah is un-quarantined and has been receiving hundreds of visitors daily; faithful members of his church who greet him with a kiss on his Episcopal ring…
This story is fiction. Patrick Sawyer is indeed the first known victim of the Ebola virus in Nigeria, but other characters exist only in my imagination. Real locations have been used to make the story as realistic as possible.
One nagging question remains though: are these scenarios not possible?
Could you know someone who knows someone who currently has the virus?
I’d have abandoned my awesome new job and carried my polythene bag back to Portharcourt, but if it is in Lagos, is it not only a matter of time before it gets to other parts of Nigeria?
This is not meant to start a panic though. It is to create awareness that this virus is real and amongst us.
I appeal to the Nigerian government to take this menace seriously. As I write this, there are no equipments to diagnose the virus. There are no centers to quarantine and care for victims. There are no specialists to supervise the control of a possible epidemic. And striking doctors’ demands have still not been met.
I appeal to the Nigerian Medical Association to call off their strike. Two wrongs have never made a right. And right now, if an epidemic breaks out, you’re the only hope we have. Please put your heads together, and agree on something positive for the good of your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children that make up this entity called Nigeria. Once Ebola is taken care of, I’m sure the whole Nigeria would gladly go to strike with you guys.
To everyone reading this, Ebola is real. The symptoms are Fever, sore throat, headache, weakness, joint and muscle pain, chest pain, Diarrhea, rashes, troubled breathing and bleeding from the skin. There is no known cure yet. To reduce risk of infection, wash your hands as often as possible with sanitizer or soap. Always wash your fruits and vegetables before cooking. And finally, avoid contact with people with suspicious signs or those from places where there has been an outbreak.
Chidi @Chydee Ace Okereke.