My evening began the same way my morning did – in a cab. This time, I was leaving work and heading home. I got in the first cab I saw but I didn’t register immediately that it smelled like burning tobacco. I pulled out the cigarette I couldn’t smoke in the morning and again I politely asked the driver if he’d mind my smoking.
“Ah smoke your thing. You no smell my own as you enter? Na as I Wan carry you I off am sef” He retrieved his box of Benson and Hedges and pulled out a burning cigarette from it.
I thought about the healthy cab guy from earlier in the day who frowned at my smoking in his car or smoking altogether. He seemed to have a problem with everything from smoking to womanizing. I compared him to the smoking driver. They were probably about the same age except that this guy was wheezing a little bit when he talked and he appeared to be more wrinkled than the fellow from the morning. Could the universe have been trying to tell me something? What are the odds that the cab driver that takes me on the opposite end of my morning ride was of a very opposing persuasion from the morning guy? I sparked the stick of Benson and Hedges and took a long drag, and in what felt like an almost choreographed sequence, we both exhaled.
I decided to allow myself to enjoy it, this shared indulgence with a stranger who is probably twice my age. The contrast didn’t stop. In the morning I had to listen to the driver talk about how great his life was thanks to his lack of indulgence and also his pastor’s theory about how each cigarette stick subtracts 5 seconds from your life. This time the ride was quiet. I didn’t even feel like I had lost 5 seconds, except for when a garbage truck pulled up beside us in the traffic. I cannot understand why we insist on rickety smoking vehicles on our roads in this country. In fact, I would argue that constant exposure to the carbon monoxide emitted from those trucks’ exhausts on the road have a higher chance of killing someone than two packs of B&H daily but I’m no doctor.
My cigarette was done in no time but I resisted the urge to ask him for one of his. I don’t even smoke cigarettes and the only reason I had the one stick was that my friend had left it at my bedside and I had just felt like smoking it for the hell of it (no pun intended).
For the rest of the drive, I contemplated my health and just how fucked a sick person is in this country. You see, on Easter Sunday I had gone to the hospital in a panic to have my ear checked out. I was certain something had crawled in there and was boring a hole in my head. First I rushed to the general hospital close to my house but they were closed because it was being fumigated. So I rushed to the federal staff hospital a little farther but their ENT department was out of service. “Please I have something crawling in my ear” I had said desperately. The doctor in the Emergency room had confusion written all over his face when he responded “We have some ENT guys errr…They’re here but they’re on residency, and they can’t treat you. Just go to National Hospital. Let me not start what I don’t know.” I did not bother clarifying anything. I left for National hospital and at the time I was surprised not to have seen blood dribbling from my ear.
I ran through the Emergency door into an almost empty lobby. There was a young man with a stethoscope around his neck “Doctor I think something is in my ear. I can feel it crawling” I said hysterically. “Crawling?” I saw what looked like a smirk glaze across his face. My eyes narrowed on him in contained rage. His stiffened and his voice went cold in response. “Find somewhere and sit down. when we finish with the patients we have, someone will look at it. Let me call the ENT. I looked around the empty lobby. I wanted to ask who he was attending to and why he couldn’t be bothered to at least check my vital signs but instead, I asked where to sit. There were no chairs in the hospital’s lobby. “Just carry the one by the door. He was not looking at me anymore as his eyes were fixed on his computer. I walked over, carried the chair and sat down. Fifteen minutes passed. No ENT. After the first half hour, I was convinced I’d leave that hospital deaf in one ear -a conviction that was heightened when I saw the doctor stand up and walk all the way out of the hospital premises. “This guy was supposed to call the bloody ENT,” I thought to myself. He came back after what felt like 20 minutes and said “I’ve tried his number but it did not go through oh. Just be patient I’ll keep trying.” Just be patient? This was not how the emergency room operated in the movies I had seen but I guess they don’t make good movies anymore. I could have been going into cardiac arrest, I could have had a poisonous insect digging its way into my brain and this incompetent dim wit was more concerned about enjoying a cold La’Casera and some snacks while watching god knows what on his laptop. I thought about all the stories I’ve heard of people dying in Nigerian hospitals while the doctors were busy gisting or fiddling with their phones. While he was gone, a nurse came out from the maternity ward and I had relayed my complaints to her and she also promised to find an ENT practitioner before disappearing back into the ward. When she came back out she met the doctor and asked him if I had been attended to. “I have been calling but the number is not going”
Ah how come? Let me try. She took the number from the table where the contact lines for practitioners on the call were displayed. One dial and she got through. “You called the wrong number doc. She’s on her way.” He just shook his head and said “kai Na war oh. Sorry.” The nurse pulled the blood pressure machine and the thermometer close to me and checked my vitals. “your blood pressure is a little above normal” she said. How could it not be? I had spent the last two hours in a filthy hospital with an ass of a doctor who had no care in the world (pun intended).
Another half hour passed before the ENT doctor arrived. She looked like someone who’d just been pulled out of bed, irritated. She sluggishly led me upstairs through the dusty filing corridors, past the IVF lab and into the ENT room. I sat on the examination chair while she turned on the air conditioner and cleared her desk of some trash. For some reason, it smelled like death in that part of the building and for a moment I wanted to vomit. She stuck a metal rod with an LED light at the tip in my ear and a few seconds later she said “Nothing”.
“what do you mean?”
“I said there’s nothing in your ear. Your ear is fine. Do you use cotton buds?”
“No, I don’t. But I can feel something crawling in my ear!”
“there’s nothing there. Your eardrum is intact. The ear is even somehow clean.”
“So am I suffering from hypochondria or what? because I can swear there is something in my ear”
“there is nothing in that ear.”
I could sense her irritation growing so I kept quiet while she scribbled, no, WROTE three long paragraphs in my file. Then she scribbled me a prescription and said “go”.
I am still not sure how that crawling disappeared but then it did. I went back home and only two days later there I was in a taxi cab smoking something that’s sure to kill me and I am still not entirely convinced that I don’t have a poisonous insect living inside my head.