The first time we met, Mr Emiko was the vibrant fellow, he made jokes of everything and promptly labelled me too young to be an intern. “What’s this world coming to?” he asked unashamedly.
I could not have been offended as his silliness was the least bother on my mind. And it was not the first time, nor did I expect it to be the last time a client would think or say such a thing. It was what I got for being barely five foot tall and weighing less than a bag of flour, my reward for skipping meals in my hustle to ensure that they got the best care available in a government hospital.
The others in the consulting room laughed kindly at his jokes. Or rather pitifully, as one would when a grown man is reduced to carrying a pregnancy one knew he would probably never deliver. The price for alcoholism. I almost swore to lay off alcohol at that time but the cords that bound us were thicker than a horsetail.
“Mr Emiko, how are you today?” I asked with false cheer.
“How else can I be?” he replied, his bony shoulders rattling as he laughed alone. And I wondered if he was not already having some brain involvement. There was nothing funny about having liver cirrhosis at 58 years, when your first child has just begun to find her footing in a huge accounting firm. And the fruit of your labour was just ripe enough to eat.
I measured his ballooning waist, walking around him in a circle to effectively get my tape measure from two centimetres above his belly button and back. 108. It was 95 two weeks ago. He was certainly getting worse.
“Are you maintaining his salt-less diet?” I addressed his wife whose eyes were mirror reflections of my thoughts. Fear. Loss. Anxiety.
“Yes, yes. No salt at all.” Her words were halting and she seemed unaccustomed to being spoken to. I imagined the possibility that she was a village wife with the barest education, unclear about her husband’s illness but could not ask. Why? May be fear or was it custom? It was obvious Mr Emiko was a shadow of a towering personality.
I flipped through notes from five years before, the case file smelled musty. He had been diagnosed nine years earlier when he began having the symptoms – swollen feet, protruding belly, losing weight, yellowing eyes. It was all there. The tests that showed it was a liver problem, the history of a habit that was slowly choking the life out of him.
Live by the bottle, die by the bottle. The pain in my chest stung like salt on an exposed wound. I knew I would cry myself to sleep again. This one was too much for me.
Note: Liver cirrhosis refers to shrinking of the liver which could result from chronic use of alcohol, hepatitis B or C carrier state, and some other conditions, with accumulation of fluid in the feet and stomach, jaundice, stomach pain, vomiting blood and a host of other symptoms. The ultimate treatment is liver transplantation which is not yet available in the country.