The Boy With The Golden Ears

When l arrived at the hospital, l met the nurses and did the necessary registration for the day. Then l waited. I waited, and waited and waited. When l got unsettled by the unusual long wait, I asked the nurses when it would be my turn to be attended to.

The Boy With The Golden Ears

By Adeola Aderounmu

Adeola_4years_old

Adeola Aderounmu

In 1986 as a 14-year-old boy, I took the bus and went to the General Hospital in Lagos for an ear operation. It was supposed to be the end to a series of visits and appointments at the hospital. When l was born, my ears were not ready. The defects were so obvious that my ear tunnels were usually loaded with yellowish fluids.

My childhood memories would be totally incomplete without the agonies of my mother who sat and watched my infant head decorated with 2 defective ears.

I remember my childhood, during the primary school days. I was always loaded with cotton wools at home and sometimes l took them to school. Soon l learnt how to wrap cotton wool around a broom stick and stuck them into my ears right and left.

On so many occasions we ran out of cotton wools. What did l do? I turned to the cover of my BIC pen. The lid became my best companion for several years. If l didn’t have anything on me, l had the lid of a blue, black or red BIC pen.

I stuck the object into my ears and excavated tons of fluids from them. When l found cotton buds later in life, l used them. They were valuable, like gold.

When l look back now, l am so grateful to my mother for all the efforts she put into cleaning my ears. I can remember she warned me against the sharp objects. Sometimes she just looked at me with pity because in my case, it was similar to living with someone with an addiction.

I mean with my ear problem, when the urge to put in something into my ears surfaced, there was nothing in the whole world you could do to stop me from inserting any available object into it.

I am also grateful that l wasn’t classified as a handicap because Nigeria could have destroyed me totally in that sense. I was lucky not to be categorized as someone who needed special education because of my hearing difficulties.

Prior to that day-the day of the operation, l’ve learnt to wake up at 5 a.m. in the morning, joined the bus and made the journey from our home in Festac Town to the General Hospital situated at Ikeja. We, that is my mother and l usually get off the molue buses at the PWD bus-stop and then trek beside the bridge all the way to the hospital.

It was an inconvenient journey. It was not totally safe because it was always still quiet with few people on the way by the time we walked beside the bridge towards the hospital. My estimation puts the journey at about a 40 km stretch, maybe 50. It could take an hour and a half with at least 2 or 3 bus connections.

On the day of the operation, my mother let me made the journey by myself. She would come after me later on. I don’t remember the sequence that led to the decision but if you are a mother of 6 children, you soon learn to make them independent at the appropriate age.

I would imagine now that l had won my independence by the time the doctors decided that l would be operated to correct my ears.

When l arrived at the hospital, l met the nurses and did the necessary registration for the day. Then l waited. I waited, and waited and waited. When l got unsettled by the unusual long wait, I asked the nurses when it would be my turn to be attended to.

The response l got was a shock, one that l will never forget.

This is the hospital l have visited several times with my mother. I had become a regular customer. In fact, one day l got a tiny piece of fish bone stuck to my throat whilst eating some delicious meal. I could not sleep that night and my mother had to take me to the ENT.

I knew the Ear, Nose and Throat department at the General Hospital in Ikeja like l knew the palm of my hand.

When they told me that they couldn’t find my file and the documentation that stated that l would be operated on that fateful day, l thought it was a “simple” mistake of misplacement. I thought they would find it and my ears would be operated.

When my mother arrived she was very upset. She gave me a correctional slap to express her anger. I cannot remember any other day before and after this fateful day that my mother had slapped me. She never did.

As a child l was very confused.

The nurses could not find my files. Who should have been slapped?

Now when l think back about the entire scenario, l can guess a few reasons why my files were missing.

One, the nurses were probably in shock that a boy showed up for his own surgery. Where was my mother who could pay the tips so my file does not go missing on this important day?

Two, from another perspective, were they expecting that my family would have made advance contact and advance payment prior to the day of the operation? How well did my parents realize that such opportunities must be “assured” by keeping a tab on the nurses and doctors to avoid disappointments?

Why did my file go missing on the day of the operation?

Three, did the doctors chicken out because they were incapable of carrying out the operation? The last statement is quite unlikely because my memories portray an array of competent, professional doctors with tools and instruments checking my eardrums, ear infections and throat as an out-patient.

Still, why didn’t the doctors remember my appointment? An operation should not be something that one should just forget like that? Why didn’t the doctors come to the waiting-room to look for me? Did the nurses tell them that l was no show?

What actually went wrong? My mother slapped me because she found me sitting calm and collected despite the scenario of likely missing my one-in-a-life time opportunity of correcting my defective ears. She probably knew at once that the chance will never come up again.

Many things must have gone through her mind when she arrived to hear the latest bad news about my ears. They easiest avenue to let go of her frustration was the slap l got. She probably thought l just got there and sat down without making any effort?

What can a 14-year-old do when the old nurses had thrown away or hidden his medical files?

I can’t remember ever getting angry at my mother. She was my god. She was the woman who taught me almost everything-how to read, how to write and then how to cook. My mother taught me humility and perseverance even in the face of difficulties and adversities.

So we went home. There was no operation in 1986. I continue to insert everything into my ears to take out the fluids and to “scratch” my ears when they itched. At some point, l used sticks and brooms to pick out dirt that are fastened to my eardrums.

I thought l had become an expert of my ear. If l was an ear doctor, l would be the best in the world.

I remember one day when I was picking my ear with a broom stick and suddenly somebody ran into me. I bled from my ear and of course that was also another opportunity to insert more things to bring out the blood. My addiction was hopeless.

I have been living in Sweden since 2002. I continued to suffer regular ear infection because of the vulnerability of my eardrums. So one day when l visited the doctor, he recommended an operation. I mean my ears were tested over a period of time and the results l saw were heartbreaking.

I have been straining myself almost all of my life to hear what people say.  The results l saw showed the threshold for normal hearing and my hearing. I have been deaf!

In 2007, 21 years after the nurses at Ikeja General Hospital botched my scheduled operation in Lagos, I finally did my ear operation, in Stockholm. One of my ears was already gone at that time! After the operation it became the better of the two. This means that in the real sense of it, the ear that was better before my operation in 2007 was itself gone! They were just deaf to different degree.

The operation was done at Danderyds hospital in Sweden.

At old age, which is fast approaching, l guess l know what my biggest challenges will be.

I have a bad hip from playing football in my teens and will definitely not be able to walk well. I can use some help. I will also be almost deaf on both ears. I will get some hearing aids but their usefulness for my deafness will be interesting to discover.

I decided to write elaborately on my deafness because it exposes a lot of problems in public health in Nigeria. I don’t know how my case was handled as a toddler. Could l have been operated as a baby and healed for life? That is probable.

But with time, I became aware that despite the availability of good health system in Nigerian up till the 1980s, there were lapses in the system that made it difficult to correct my hearing defect. That part was unfortunate.

An operation was botched. One friend told me my death on the doctor’s table was postponed! But I trusted the health system in Nigeria in 1986, even though the nurses were mischievous.  I blame the botched operation on the nurses. I think they were insincere and that is so sad to remember now.

What is the present state of health care delivery in Nigeria? In one word, disaster!

Nigerian politicians and policy makers must think about the citizens and work hard to ensure that health care delivery system is improved and adapted to the demands of a fully-blown rural and urban populations. The ordinary citizens must be given the benefits of affordable health care system where life is a priority.

As a teenager, I risk my life and travelled the miles. Then l walked the roads to the doctors in Lagos, Nigeria. I am the man with the golden ears.

If any Nigerian politician, including the president, wishes to travel abroad for medical reasons, they should be barred from doing so. In a country of more than 170m people, politicians who cannot deliver should be dismissed. They even deserved my mother’s correctional slaps.

aderounmu@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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