Lately, I’ve been picking up Nuella from school for Nneamaka, to keep her till her mother returns from her newest adventure – Learning interior decorating. Nneamaka had wanted to enroll Nuella for after-school care, but I was having none of that. Not when I can pick her up, and mind with her along with Gabby.
So, I pick up the two children and drive home, brooding in my thoughts and praying intermittently. The baby talk that usually goes on in the car whenever we are driving home from school is subdued today. That thing they say about parents’ moods rubbing off on their kids is really true.
I should pretend to be grim more often o, I think, chuckling to myself as I observe how Gabby and Nuella obediently stayed when they took their baths and had their lunch, a far cry from the usual chasing around before bath and coaxing before lunch. It helped matters that the lunch for the day is rice, which they both like.
I am getting dinner ready when my phone rings.
“Hello, how far?” I speak hastily into the phone. It is Ijeoma’s husband that is on the other end.
“Come and talk to your friend o! Come and talk to her! What kind of nonsense is this one nau?!” Ijeoma’s husband’s enraged voice makes me cringe, as though from a forthcoming slap with him standing before me.
“Chineke meh! What happened now?” I ask, alarmed.
“What does she mean by she doesn’t want to have CS? What is the meaning of that? She wants to render me a widower, abi? Or she wants to kill our baby?” he berates further.
“Calm down. Let the doctors explain to her nau,” I say placatingly.
“Which doctor again?!” he shrieks, making me take the phone away from my ear for a moment. “Which doctor does she want again? How many doctors will explain to her that she is putting both her life and that of our baby in danger? See, just come now and talk to your friend o! Heeen! Emerokwam ihe ojoo luo ya o! Why does she want to make me a widower at this my young age?”
“Ok, OK! Calm down!” I say, gathering my wits. “Hold on, I’ll come as soon as possible.”
“No! That’s not good enough. Come right now!” The order is sharp and brooks no argument.
“Uhm… Ok… Let me figure out what to do with…” I start to say, but the line goes dead.
“What?! Is this man for real?” I wail in protest. Then, I remember that he isn’t in a right frame of mind. He has a wife whose life is endangered by her pregnancy, and a baby he isn’t sure of ever seeing alive. I make a quick decision to take Gabby and Nuella along with me to the hospital.
I quickly throw on jean and T-shirt, and then go into Gabby’s room to rouse them from sleep, to meet them playing instead of having their siesta. My relief at not having to wake them up obliterated the thought that I should be angry with them.
“Where are we going off to?” I hear Nneamaka’s cheery voice as I hustle the children into the car.
“Oh! Thank God you’re back!” I exclaim with a heavy sigh. “Arrgh!” I choke out with a wince as my head hits the car roof in my haste to duck my head out to face Nneamaka.
“Ah! Easy!” she admonishes with a small chuckle. “Are you okay?” She glances concernedly at my head.
“Yea, I’m fine…” I say, absent-mindedly rubbing the back of my head, where I hit it. “You have to watch Gabby for me for a few hours, biko. You remember that my friend, Ijeoma – the pregnant one?” I am lifting Gabby out of the car as I talk.
“How can I forget her? The evil look she gave me that day in your kitchen is still boldly etched in my memory,” she says, chuckling.
I am unmoved by her attempt at levity, because I am not in the mood.
“She started bleeding this afternoon…” – I lift Nuella out of the car and slam the door shut – “They say it’s Placenta Abruption. Now she is in the hospital…” – I go round to the driver side, and open the door – “She does not want to have a CS…” – I enter the car and start up the engine – “I want to see if I can talk some sense into her…” – I close the car door – “So, please, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
And I drive off, leaving her standing there, with an astonished expression on her face and our children standing beside her.
I am out of breath as I dash into the waiting room. I ran all the way from the car park. I quickly scan the room; espying Ijeoma’s husband, I make a beeline toward him with brisk steps.
He sees me coming, and rising up, he starts moving toward one of the exits, beckoning to me to follow him. I follow him silently.
I hear Ijeoma’s screaming voice as we hasten down the passageway, before her husband opens the door to the room where she is in. He turns and walks away once I enter the room.
I stand at the door to make a quick observation.
Ijeoma lying on a rubber spread, on a bed, her legs slightly spread-eagled, her face and hair moistened with perspiration. A young nurse is comforting her while she wipes blood off the rubber spread. The bucket into which she is squeezing the piece of cloth is really bloodied.
“Ijee, how are you doing?” I ask, walking towards her with hesitant steps.
She breaks down in tears immediately she sees me.
I run the remaining steps towards her. Lifting her dampened head, I sit on the bed and place her head on my laps.
“Don’t cry, sweetie. Please, don’t cry…” I comfort her, wiping at her tears.
“It is very painful, Ada… Very painful…” she wails.
“I know. Let them bring out this baby, and save you all these pain, nnem…” I cajole, wiping sweat off her brows with my palms.
“I don’t want them to cut me open,” she says, breathing very hard.
“Yes. You told me that already, remember? But, consider your baby, your husband. Consider me too. If anything happens to you, you know how it will be for me. Nne, biko…”
“Ada, I am tired…” she says in a small voice, her eyes rolling inside their sockets.
“Mbanu! You can’t be…” I start to say, then, she felt limp in my arms. “Ijeoma!” I scream, alarmed.
I look up to see the nurse, standing with eyes wide as saucers.
“Don’t just stand there!” I scream at her. “Go and get the doctor!”
My voice breaks the immobility spell it seems she is under. She drops the piece of cloth in her hand into the bucket of bloodied water, splashing some of it on the floor, and quickly pulls the gloves from her hands. And she runs out of the room, leaving me to continue calling my friend’s name while shaking her still body and staving off my mounting panic.
A few moments later, five people in medical garb come barging into the room. A nurse deftly maneuvers me away from their patient, and one of the other white-coat-clad personnel sticks a thermometer under Ijeoma’s armpit, then, holds her wrist for some seconds, while staring at his wrist watch.
“Pulse rate, 30 bm,” he says, all business-like.
He places his stethoscope on Ijeoma’s stomach for a while, removes it and producing a pen-like object from his pocket, he depresses one end. A thin ray of light shines out from the other end; it is a pen torch. He then opens Ijeoma’s eyelids and shines the pen torch into it, first into one eye, then, into the other.
“Perrla,” he says.
Next, he pulls out the thermometer from under her armpit, and observes it for a moment.
“Afebrile,” he declares, placing the stethoscope yet again on Ijeoma’s stomach, and after some moments, he says, “Fetal heartbeat is seriously dropping. We have to take her to the theatre immediately.”
One of them pulls a gurney close to the bed, while the others surround the bed, ready to lift Ijeoma onto the gurney.
“Why is she still here?” the one closest to me says, as if they are just then noticing me. “Please, madam, you have to leave now.”
“You don’t need to cry, madam,” another doctor says to me when he observes my distressed expression. “Just keep praying for her. Is she your sister?”
I touch my face, and realize that tears are falling rapidly from my eyes. “Yes,” I sniff. “Yes, she is my sister.” And then, I turn to leave.
“Just pray for her,” the doctor says to my retreating back, reassuring words that cause a fresh batch of tears to streak down my cheeks. I know the situation doesn’t look good, and I can hear the foreboding cleverly masked in the doctor’s words.
Just outside the room, I see Ijeoma’s husband sitting on a chair, his head in his hands. I gingerly touch his shoulder, and he lifts his head. At the sight of his teary face, I burst into a fresh round of tears. My body shakes with the strength of my misery.
“We shouldn’t be crying!” I choke out, crying anyway. “She isn’t dead…. And she will not die… God will not let her die…” I cling to that conviction, wishing desperately for it to remain so.
“Mr. Godfrey Anachunam?” a voice rouses both of us from our slumber.
“Yes! That is me!” Ijeoma’s husband exclaims, jumping up from the chair.
I stand too.
“You can come in and see your baby now,” says the white-clad young woman standing before us – who I surmise is a nurse – with a small smile.
“Oh! Thank God!” I burst out, throwing my arms around Godfrey’s middle in an excited hug.
“What of my wife?” he asks, not as excited as I am, and putting a damper on my joy.
“She lost a lot of blood. She was losing more blood than she was being transfused. So, her body went into shock, and her vitals started crashing. Then, the fetal heartbeat was dropping too. We had to operate with the transfusion on-going. It was successful, but she is still unconscious.”
“Can you say that again? This time, in English language or Igbo,” Godfrey says impatiently.
“She lost a lot of blood and that caused her to lose consciousness,” the nurse begins again, unruffled by the man’s brusqueness. “So, we operated. Now, she is still unconscious, but your baby came out alive.”
“But she is alive?” he asks.
“Yes,” the nurse answers.
Godfrey exhales loudly, relief etched all over his features. “I want to see her,” he declares.
“Yes, you will, but not right now. You can see your baby though,” the nurse says, leading us out of the waiting room.
“Good evening, doc,” the nurse at the reception greets as we walk by.
Ah! I think, startled, as I glance again at the woman who’d been speaking to us. She is a doctor sef! And so young! And then I set my realization aside as we approach our first sight of Ijeoma’s baby.
GLOSSARY: Emerokwam ihe ojoo luo ya o – I did no wrong when I married her.
Written by Adaku J.