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Dying in silence 3: A story on tuberculosis

Dr. Akin-Onitolo A.

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continued from episode 2
At school, I was strange because I was wearing a mask, the type the man at the hospital wore. Like cloth folded into four parts, it blocked the air from my nose and mouth and made breathing an unfamiliar exercise. Even after the nurse taught us how to wear it, with the elastic ropes around my ears, mother still made me tie the ropes to make it firm, making it worse and confirming what I already knew – she was angry I took the cough.
I had thought it was over. But when I began to forget my torture at the hospital, mother assaulted me with medicines; white round tablets, and red/yellow things like stout pieces of rope, that made worms crawl up my stomach as soon as their smell climbed out from their sachets, before I even had to swallow them. They made my urine turn to blood.
“How are you feeling?” brother Tiwa asked me, the first person to show some concern since I got this sickness. My bones stuck out sharply and my eyes were sinking into their holes but I felt somewhat better and my sweating was much less.
I was going to cry as I looked at him and said, “nobody wants to talk to me,” my sob made faint by the annoying mask. He was sitting close to the door while I occupied grandpa’s former place and I imagined how my face was white like powder and my ribs like counting bars.
“Sorry eh, it would soon pass,” he said and I wondered how he could be so sure. Dele had joined my treatment. All the others – mother, father, my siblings and cousins had to use medicines too because they had been ‘exposed’ but it was only the white ones.
Initially, every one of my classmates wanted to touch my mask and wear it to see if it fit that they all knew the inside of it within the first few days. Then we had a talk on a Monday assembly and everyone at school began to avoid me. “So it’s a sickness?” “No wonder she’s coughing.” “Don’t sit so close.” They whispered loudly as if the sickness had somehow plugged my ears too. Suddenly, my seat partner had a new friend at the back of class and I was alone in front, a dozen pair of eyes drilling new holes in my lungs aside from the ones they said my sickness had already caused. My sickness was Tuberculosis (TB) and I was not allowed to give it to the other children.
Mother was not very happy in the first place about my getting the cough from grandpa, she complained everyday about how much the medicines cost, the monthly hospital visits were another burden. So when the cough eventually went away, I was glad to hear her say, “you cannot continue the medicines, it’s only Dele that’s left.” Delight exploded in my heart as I rushed to inform everyone that I was now normal. No more masks. No more drugs. No more hospital visits. I could now play with the others in class. Then mother out a leak in my bubble of happiness.
After four weeks of my much coveted freedom, she returned from Dele’s monthly hospital visit to announce that the nurse said the TB had not completely gone and I might have to begin again because the medicines had not worked for at least six months. I ran all the way to the shop where brother Tiwa apprenticed with warm tears coursing down my face. Instead of the bicycle I wanted, I got a cough and it had refused to go away.

Note – It is necessary to complete treatment regimens for whatever infection, not only Tuberculosis (TB) as this prevents the infecting organism from developing resistance and thus becoming more difficult to treat.

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Dr. Akin-onitolo A. is a graduate of the University of Lagos whose mission is to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) using health promotion and improved health literacy. She is an MDCN (Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria) certified doctor who had her elective at King's College London. Hugely interested in travel, meeting people and generally being creative, reading and writing fiction are a few hobbies you could find her engaged in during her spare time. Catch up with her on Twitter @Akinonitolo and Instagram @t_onitolo