“Mummy, why can’t you hear me?”
Little Alex lay on the hospital bed, a sorry sight, with his skin clinging to his bones and a deathly pale look on his face. The discolouration of his skin gave him a ghost-like appearance and he was barely conscious of his environment as he lay there struggling for dear life.
The mother could not take it. It was too much suffering to watch her child in this state. She kept by his hospital bed day and night, oblivious of all human necessities like a bath or the need for food. She couldn’t help thinking how this was the kind of situation that mothers prayed against everyday.
Little Alex suffered spasmodic seizures that seemed to ravage one side of his body – the left side – and each time this
occurs, the tears running down the cheeks of the mother poured faster and hotter on her cheeks and the sadness she knew at these moments was unspeakable. The doctor had declared that little Alex had fallen into a coma only the night before, and the mother was informed at sunrise that there were no signs of improvement.
The Children’s ward of the hospital was a sprawling room of beds, occupied by children suffering varying degrees of illnesses, and mothers (and a few fathers) sitting or standing by the bedsides with looks of resignation, defeat, hope, determination, faith, fear, and contempt on one face. The doctors and nurses took their rounds occasionally, leaving some bedsides with outbursts from the waiting mothers while the rest yet unattended grew very weary. This was the everyday scene at the children’s ward of the Federal Medical Center in Lagos. Occasionally, with considerably high recurrence, a silence falls over the ward and only one or more voices can be heard, as if outside the silence, screaming and crying violently. This usually means that one of the many sick and dying children is gone, hopefully to a place of no suffering and agony, hopefully, to eternal peace.
Little Alex had started seeing images of a confusing nature since the day before. He now understood that nobody could hear him, that his mother was in pains. He could not understand why his brothers and sisters were not there or why his dad never stayed back. What baffled him more was this new presence, of strange ‘beings’ who stood at a distance, looking at him, inviting him in a way he could not explain. They were there again today, and their effortless invitation seemed to have gained more urgency. He felt he needed to accept this invitation and go away with them. He felt himself drawn to them.
That night, Alex’s mother felt the worst she had felt the past three days and looked down at her son who spent the night trying to reach for something close to his left ear, never quite getting to it. It left a gaping hole in her stomach that seemed to lurch at her innings. The ward was always quiet at this time of the night, the quiet pulsated by the outcry of a child in anguish at times.
Before sunrise, Alex came to in his mind’s eyes. Once again, there were the ‘beings’ but his time, they seemed to be tugging at him with an invisible chord and he knew he had to go with them. He looked at his mum, for the last time. She seemed to have spent the whole night staring at his heartbreaking figure on the hospital bed. He tried to reach for her without success. He rose and noticed that his feet were suspended…he was flying, or more appropriately, floating, away. The hospital ward became a blur and he tried to mouth the word “mum” before all consciousness was sucked out of his suffering body and pale flesh, into the unknown.
Little Alex died of meningitis that morning.
The mother thought first of how the initial diagnosis had been malaria at the hospital where he was first taken to, typhoid at the next until the doctor at the Federal Medical Center exclaimed at the glaring case of meningitis when he was taken there. 80% of children who suffer from meningitis never recover if it is not treated early, and if they do, they rarely recover fully.
That day, it was the solitary voice of little Alex’s mother that rang out in the ward at the wee hours of the morning.