Friday, July 10, 2020 9:11 pm
By Tunde Asaju
To God alone who determines when and whether a man lives or dies. And to the following people – Dr Motunrayo Adetola
Dr. Garbs Ahmed
Dr. M. L. Schwartz.
On 5th March, after suffering from breathlessness and intense death grip of my lungs for at least two weeks, I went to see my physician Dr. Schwartz. He has been our family physician for ten years and has provided pro bono service for all of us for the last five years of very testing times in Ottawa.
It was to be a very ‘normal’ visit until after taking my vitals, he made me sit down and fiddled with his laptop as he announced – I am sending you to the Civic Emergency Unit!
‘What?’, I half shouted and half whispered.
‘Yes,’ he answered adding, ‘you will take this letter and they know what to do’. He handed me a two paragraph letter. I had driven myself to the clinic without even bothering to tell either of my two resident children.
I drove to the #Civic where, after about an hour of waiting and formalities, I was examined via ECG. I could jump out of the hospital except that the guy who administered the ECG told me to go down to another cubicle. I was thinking of where to find money for groceries! Next thing I knew, I was on admission. Every time you walk into the emergency without health insurance, you’re looking at $820 minimum! If you’re admitted, you’re on-your-own.
One specialist after another and five hours later, I drove back home. My trouble had just started. I still had immense difficulty breathing, my chest contracted very painfully and with every minute I felt that finally the end had come.
Two days later, I was told the results were good. The ECG guy had said I was as fit as a horse. But the symptoms continued and with every morsel of food I ate, it seemed my lungs pumped like an inflated balloon. I couldn’t even pray!
Days through this and Dr Ahmed called. He asked me for the symptoms and I reeled them out. He told me it seemed I had esophageal reflux disease. He brought me medication that I was to take for three weeks. He kept monitoring. The drugs helped but there were more symptoms.
I felt cold inside but you could boil water on my external body temperature. By this time #Ottawa and #Canada had locked down as Covid-19 was ravaging the world. I had difficulty sleeping because I couldn’t breathe well. I feared eating because it bloated my tummy.
I sent a message to Dr. Adetola, who has been a friend for years. He called back and I narrated my pain to him. In his usual calmness, he asked to know what inhalers I was using. I sent him a snapshot. He immediately recommended a switch. I couldn’t access my doctor and the inhalers are not OTC drugs. To my surprise, he asked for my vital information and called the Ottawa clinic where he used to work to see if they could find me a sample inhaler pro bono! I got two in the first instance and later an additional four – free of charge. By conservative estimation and in comparison with the one I was using, that’s about $1,500 free medication, nínú ọ̀gbẹlẹ!
He also called my pharmacy to requisition a medication that changed my heartbeat. By this time, I couldn’t even use a face mask as I was basically white due to lack of oxygen. I asked my daughter to pick up the meds. She did and I started off. Within hours, my breathing improved and I was monitoring my vitals on and off.
I was eating now and could share my pain with my wife and my children. Then, I would wake up and feel like I’d been beaten all night, no pain, just chronic fatigue. I had stopped exercising. Climbing even the stairs had become tasking exercise and I had cut off from even the lactose free milk and coffee addiction that I had picked up. I couldn’t even drink tea!
Then, I noticed my feet swollen as I constantly sat and regularize as I slept. If you know me, the worst anyone could do is make me sit down idle or sleep even when I had nothing doing.
I called my hibernating doctor and explained my symptoms including what I presumed was anaemia. He asked me to return to the Emergency unit again! I complied. This time, he ordered x-ray.
I had the x-ray and waited for results. A doctor came to examine me and to tell me that x-ray results were good. I asked to take the Covid test. He was shocked and asked why? I told him I was in emergency and might as well know. He counselled against it but I insisted. He ordered for the kit and I did the test.
I was told to hibernate. I told them I’d been hibernating since March. I asked to do groceries until my results came in 24 hours. The hospital advised against it, so I drove home and locked myself in.
I tried to go online for my result but I entered the wrong code twice and I was locked out. While at the shower a nurse called to give me the good news – test is negative. I felt relieved, except for the fatigue and bloated feet.
I called my physician again. This time, he requested to see and examine me. Poor guy retires this August, and it’s hard staying infection free in a pandemic that targets us, the older folks. He did his examinations and again handed me a long piece of paper for lab tests. Very few labs were opened without appointments and the rules were brutal, but I found one and joined the long queue.
Two days later, doctor called me. All tests good –
…he reeled them out and I didn’t know what to say or do. I thanked him.
Today, after weeks of trying in and out, I finally made 15 kilometres on my bike. It’s surreal. I thought it’d never happen again. I thought it was just moments till I was casualty like all the others, after all we’re all awaiting casualties. I had a will and wrote down the password to my gadgets for my children. No long thing!
I thank Dr. Adetola immensely. If he hadn’t changed my inhaler, I wouldn’t have made it. He went above and beyond the call of friendship to render pro bono consultation and incredible phone follow up despite an incredibly busy schedule.
This Doc who never wears his titles either on his shoulder or in his demeanour is a fountain of knowledge. Plus, he never stops expanding those frontiers, picking up chains of degrees along the way and being socially engaged too. An incredible man of God, not like those ones who fleece the flock. May God grant you immense wisdom and grace to keep up. No need to ask you not to change, it’s not in you to be anything but better. Those gifted hands will always be used by God to breathe life to hopeless situations. Mo dúpẹ́ o.
Dr. Garbs, okay, I won’t break our many pacts, but God sees you and knows the works of your hands. They often ask me how I survive in another man’s land for this long – they’ll never know until its time to know. Kẹẹ pẹ ó pẹlu ayọ̀, ìdùnnú ati ìbàlẹ àyà.
I hope Dr Schwartz would be free to have friends among his patients after retirement. The Asaju family is indebted to you.
I give thanks to my wife who kept up with me even when I was so low I didn’t want to talk to anyone. To my twin brother, Walter Hammond (Gaelle Hammond), you have a kind-hearted good man as husband. I am proud always to be his brother. To Bayo Emm and family, in death I lost one but God gave you as replacement. To Eshiemokhai Michael, words are never going to be enough even while going through the loss of your father. Ugo Kejeh, my brother from another mother who adopted me into the Ikwerre lineage and follows and nurtures me uplifts me when I’m down.
A year ago, I lost Pius Adesanmi. Silly boy decided to beat me to eternal seniority with death. I feel your hands from up there Payo. Most of the people you linked me with are eternal gifts that keep giving. They are loyal, great and dependable humans.
From taking breaks after climbing stairs to biking 15 kilometres non-stop under a pandemic, God is not tired of me yet. As Umaru Dikko once said, I have a program in your computer. I want to beat the story of success and I put my fingers on the pen of your directory.
Let the summer begin, masked up, socially distanced, pockets filled with sprays and hand sanitizers, mask in the ready. A pumping heart strengthens the lungs and the bones. The pains don’t heal as they used to when I was 25!
I have shared this on deep gratitude, the transformation is HUGE! I hope this encourages someone asking God, is it time? Don’t give up. I’ve got lot more mileage to cover, God being there for me.
NB: The beauty of cycling for me is putting my bluetooth headphones on, and listening to the Bible. What a way to reunite with God and bring Him along my paths. Let the lockdown continue.
-Tunde Asaju, multi-lingual journalist, social critic, writes from Ottawa, Canada