I toyed with the idea of taking ibuprofen last night before sleeping, but I discarded the idea because I do not want stories, in case I am actually pregnant. So, I took paracetamol, and found the remnant of the pack of pregnancy test strips I bought two years ago, when I was trying to conceive before having Gabby.
I am seated on the edge of our bathroom tub and flipping through the events of last night in my head while I wait for the required three minutes to check the strips. Yes! I used three. Just to be certain.
“Wow!” I say out loud “Two strips on all three counts!”
Smiling, I get up and stare long and hard at myself in the bathroom mirror, trying to see what has changed in my body. I am happy, even though I was hoping to get a job first or wait until Gabby turns twenty-seven months (whichever occurs first), before getting pregnant again.
It’s just as well, anyway, I think to myself, shrugging. He’s already twenty-three months old.
I park my car along the road and walk into Blessed Assurance Hospital and Maternity. I needed an out-of-place hospital to run a confirmatory test before breaking the news to my husband. More so, I did not want a place where I’ll be made to wait till forever before I will be attended to.
Reminiscing on good old days and how I got to know of this out-of-the-way hospital, I keep moving, straight to the laboratory, to ask after a friend, Amara. Ijeoma brought me to this place when I believed I was pregnant, a month after my wedding. And I wasn’t. Then, the next month. And I wasn’t either. Then, the third month that I decided not to come and check, I heard it in the rumors that I was pregnant.
I walk into the hospital building and pause to gather my bearings. They have reshuffled the structure. The place I know to be the laboratory is now the hospital kitchen. They did not have a kitchen back then. No one in the kitchen or around it – obviously patients – could direct me to where the laboratory is. So, I decide to go and make enquiries at the lobby. I walk into the lobby, making straight for the nurse/receptionist to ask for directions.
“Good day, madam,” greets the nurse.
“Good day. Please, how do I get to the lab?” I ask.
“Are you looking for someone, or have you been scheduled for a test before now?”
“I’m looking for someone… Amara,” I reply, smiling.
“We don’t have any Amara working at the lab,” she says.
“Hmm… Ok…” I say, thinking fast. Amara might have changed jobs. Why didn’t I think of that! “Uhm, ok then. I want to run a test. How do I go about it?”
“The doctor has to see you and schedule the test. So, you have to register, and have a file opened for you…”
“Do I have to do all that?” I protest, foreseeing a long day ahead of me. “Can’t I just get to the lab, tell them what I want and pay for just the test? You know, like an out-patient?” I ask, flashing what I hope is my sweetest smile.
“No. It is the hospital’s policy,” she replies, smiling back apologetically.
I stand there for some seconds, trying to decide what to do next. Then I remember that I got a card the last time I was here. “What if you already registered like two years ago?” I pipe up. At the questioning look she gives me, I proceed to explain, “I was here two years ago, and I had a file opened for me. Could the file still exist?”
“Yes. Do you have the small card?”
“No. I think I misplaced it,” I say, a tad sadly.
“Can you remember the file number, written on the card?”
Seriously? I scoff in my head. Aloud I say, “No.”
“I can trace your file, if you can remember, at least, the date or the timeframe that you opened it,” she says, trying to help. Or trying not to lose a potential patient.
Fifteen minutes later, after my supply of hesitant information dug out from a fractured memory, she straightens from the file cabinet and crows triumphantly. “Here it is!” She is brandishing a file like a trophy, and smiling like she actually just won it. The trophy, I mean.
I find myself smiling too, like I’m happy and proud of her for winning this particular trophy. “Good! So, what’s next?” I ask.
She reaches down to the table behind the counter and lifts a sphygmanometer and a stethoscope. With those, she checks my blood pressure, then, asks me to stand on a scale by the wall. I do that, and she takes my weight. 66kg. This is good, and bad. I think to myself. Whatever is ailing me has made me drop two kg in two days. Good, because I want to drop the pounds, and bad, because illness isn’t the way I want to do it.
“You will see a doctor, then he will schedule you for the test,” the nurse says, scribbling on the piece of paper she attached to the file.
She slaps the file shut when she is done writing whatever it is she was writing, and hurries off, toward a door marked ‘Consulting Room 1’. She rushes out almost immediately, still clutching the file, and with a smile, she points to an empty chair in the lobby. “Sit down and wait just a little bit,” she says, hurrying off again, this time into the main hospital area.
I sit down and look around me. There is an elderly man sleeping with his head thrown back over the back-rest of the chair he is sitting on, and he is snoring. There is a plus-sized, dark and fresh-faced woman, sitting beside him, probably his wife, who is reading an old magazine, oblivious, or not caring about the precarious angle the man’s head is in.
There is another woman, and a little child – a girl of about five or six years old, named Chidera. I know her name is Chidera, because she has been running all over the lobby, touching things and making them fall, and each time, the woman, probably her mother, would holler: “Chideeraaaa! Nwatakiri a sef!”
This time, the little girl has climbed on one of the empty chairs and is pulling at the painting hung on the wall. I look at the woman who is supposed to be minding her; she is focused on her phone screen with rapt attention. I wonder what she is watching that has made her unmindful of her charge. She is probably waiting for the painting to fall so that she can shout at the girl once again, and then probably refocus back on whatever it is that is more important, that is going on in her phone screen.
There are also two guys in the room, discussing animatedly in thick Nsukka dialect. Their conversation is the only source of noise in the lobby, that is, apart from when Chidera throws something on the floor, and her mother yells her name.
I look at Chidera again; she is really bent on pulling down that painting. I think about drawing her mother’s attention, but I am suddenly surprisingly tired and out of breath. I lean back into the seat and, closing my eyes, I try to concentrate on steadying my breath.
“Mrs. Ada…” someone calls out gently beside me. I open my eyes, realizing with a small jolt that I was almost drifting off to sleep. The nurse is sitting beside me. “The doctor will see you now,” she says with a smile.
“Ok. That was fast.”
“Yes, today is ante-natal clinic, and all the doctors are busy. I managed to convince one of them to see you, since you are not here for antenatal. If you were to wait, it will take a longer time.” She gets to her feet, and waiting for me to do the same, she says, “Let us go now.”
We walk down the hallway, towards a bevy of women in various stages of pregnancy. The sight makes me think of Ijeoma with some nostalgia. I feel just a little pang of sadness that my friend and I are at odds. The nurse leads me down this hall together, and we chatter as we walk. Then, I spy someone who looks a lot like Ijeoma, someone chatting animatedly with another pregnant woman, just as Ijeoma would. I smile, in spite of myself. I remember her phone call yesterday, and I wonder if perhaps I am taking things too far. Yes, she had been out of line that afternoon at Kumac, but Ijeoma has always been like that, barbed tongue and all. And she had said she was tired of not being in talking terms with me. That is the closest I have ever heard Ijeoma come to apologizing to anyone.
Maybe I will call her back when I get home, I think to myself.
“Ada, is that you?” A very familiar voice calls out.
And as though my subconscious had called her forth, I stare, bowled over, as an equally surprised Ijeoma rises from her seat beside the pregnant woman she was talking to and begin to make her way toward me.
“Ah! Ijeoma…!” I exclaim, uncertain whether to give her a hug or not. “Is this where you now do your antenatal?”
“Yeah,” she answers, her face moving swiftly from pleasantly-surprised to indifference. She must have remembered that she is supposed to still be at loggerheads with me. “I thought it wise to register at a closer clinic, just in case,” she says neutrally.
“Madam,” the nurse cuts in beside me, “you have to go in now, the doctor is waiting.” She tugs at my hand gently.
“I’ll see you later,” I say to Ijeoma as I follow the nurse into the room marked ‘Consulting Room 3’.
The doctor keeps scribbling in the file, as I explain to him the way I feel. He never asks a question, except the first which prompted my narrative. By the time I am done explaining, he grabs a writing pad with printed forms for sheets. I watch as he fills out the form. Then he grabs another pad, this time, one with blank sheets, and scribbles something, really fast and illegible on it. He tears out the pages on both pads he has written on and hands them to me.
“This,” he says in a tone that is just shy of a mumble, as he points at the form with prints, “you will take to the lab. Let them run these tests on you. You will wait for the results and bring them back here, or you can go and come back tomorrow for the results and see any doctor on duty.” Then he points at the blank sheet with illegible scribbles on it, saying, “And this, you will take to the pharmacy. Let them give you the drugs written in there.”
“Call in Chioma Okpala,” he says, closing my file and dropping it with the heap on the floor at his feet, before grabbing the next file on the heap by the side of his desk and flipping it open.
“Alright, sir, thank you, sir,” I say, picking my hand bag off my laps and rising to leave.
I am already headed towards the lab when I remember that I did not ask him to schedule me for a pregnancy test. I look at the form, trying to decipher the handwriting and see if he scheduled it anyway. I couldn’t.
Oh well! I think to myself. I’ll just ask them at the lab to do the test for me.
It is 1.30pm already, and I am driving out of the hospital premises to go and pick Gabby up from school. I’d concluded my tests. The pregnancy test came out negative, and malaria and typhoid came out positive. I was given a bag full of medication. My head is beginning to ache again, and I can’t wait to get home to my bed.
I did not see Ijeoma again when I finished. She’d probably finished and gone home, I think. I will still call her when I get home.
“Winifred!” The head teacher for playgroup in Gabby’s school calls out when she sees me approaching. “Mummy Gabby is here.” And then, she turns immediately to conclude her chat with the woman standing before her and holding her baby in her arms. The head teacher is giving the mother advice on what food to try out for her daughter who apparently isn’t a good eater.
When I come to stand a few meters beside them, the woman turns to me and says, “Sorry, you are Mummy Gabby?”
“Yes,” I answer.
“Oh my!” she gushes. “Your son is very well-behaved and friendly.” I am smiling with my heart full of pride, when she adds, “He likes my daughter so much!”
The laughter bursts out of me, a welcome release from all the tension accumulated at the hospital. My mirth is apparently infectious, because the other woman joins me.
“I am serious nau,” she says in laughing protest. “Anytime I come to pick my daughter up, your son follows her to the door and will keep waving to us until we leave.”
I laugh some more at that. Just then, Winifred leads Gabby out of the building to me. I notice that he is distracted. He is coming to give me a hug, but his eyes are on the little girl in her mother’s arms, whose name I’ll find out later is Emmanuella.
Written by Adaku J.