I came home recently to see my aged parents.
I hadn’t been to Nigeria in over 12 years but of course like many of us in the diaspora, we are up-to-date on what’s going on in the country.
It’s good to be home, I missed it a lot. Good to see old friends and family again and Lagos has changed, too. I was so confused with Ikorodu road. Many changes, good changes. I am happy things are improving,
Not so happy though with the medical status. I think the government needs to shift focus and care for its people, people are the resources the government has. When you take care of your people, you enable them help build a better nation. That is one thing America got right.
Being a doctor myself, I appreciate the challenges of health care, the system and structure around it but really, it’s not rocket science.
When I came, I saw how my mother’s health had deteriorated, due to inadequate medicare then again, I realised that it’ s the love of her children, husband, family and friends that’s keeping her going.
She is surrounded by people who love and care for her and to all of these people, I will always be grateful, incidentally, this is where America missed it and Nigerians got it.
Here’s what I mean.
American senior citizens are mostly taken to homes by their families; it’s rare to find someone like my mum, who needs constant care, living alone.
If mum was American for instance, she would be in a nursing home, where she would be cared for. But you see, many of the senior citizens in these homes hate being there. They want to live with their families, be cared for by their loved ones but no one has the time for any old person.
And in some cases, when the senior citizens have terminal illnesses, their children would go drop them in special environments we call long term… they are taken there to live out their last days which many times can stretch into months and years.
This can be truly heartbreaking for many elderly people, especially when they realise, this is it.
You want to know what’s worse? Many times the elderly people are deceived by their children into going to these homes. They are told, ‘Oh, this is just a short stay for you to get better, we will come next week.’
Eight out of ten times, they don’t ever show up again until their father or mother or uncle, whoever they brought there, dies. I don’t know if that is cruel or if it’s just what it is, I’ve no right to question anyone’s values. It just happens too often.
That sort of thing can also happen here in Nigeria, I guess but more often than not, we surround our elderly with love, they live with us, and even if we can’t be there, there is often a cousin, an aunt, some family member recruited to take care of them, that is why though elderly people may not live long here, they live surrounded with people who care for them.
In America, they live longer, the quality of life is way better but family and love…well it’s not like we have here.
So, you find a lot of old people going into depression once they find out they have been dumped there by their families. I’ve watched many old people tell me, ‘Hey doc, you know who’s visiting today?’
I say, with the same amount of excitement to match his, “Tell me, Jack, who?’
He says, ‘My son and his family!’
He is all excited like a kid in a candy shop.
I go, ‘Yay! Good for you Jack!’
I know his son will not visit, not that weekend, not the next or ever.
And Jack, over the next days and weeks will begin to wilt. He will lose his spark; he would refuse to eat or take his drugs. Then it will sometimes be up to me to call his son, a family member to come visit him. Many times they promise to come, sometimes they do, sometimes not. Life is tough in America!
Like you know, I am also a licensed Psychiatrist. Ha, yes o, we foreigners never stop acquiring education and licenses; Indians, Nigerian, Africans generally, we don’t take chances, we keep going back to school to get one certificate or another…sister, that’s how to survive o. We are very versatile.
I am a licensed psychiatrist as well and when I have donned that hat, I can’t practice as a GP, so at the old people’s home, I do a lot of counselling, talk to them about their lives, children et al. people like Jack are common.
Now I met this old Nigerian, a Yoruba man at one of the homes. His kids left him there to die. But this old soldier refused to go, he’s still alive as I speak, well at least until I traveled home.
Every time I pop my head into his room, he just goes into Naija mode on me, begs me to buy him amala. Yes, there’s an amala joint, in fact, how do you want it? There are several amala joints in Chicago, don’t try us, o.
He would complain about the food given to him, claiming they are food for cats that make his stool watery. The man is such a joker. When I asked him why he was in a home, he talked long about several children, many women…he was a man who had lived, enjoyed his life and now…in a home. If he was in Nigeria, I think he would have had family around him.
Anyway, I would promise to buy him the amala but would often forget and when I came around again, he would wag his fingers at me, ‘Doki, omo buruku ni e o, (you are a terrible child) where’s my amala, now, you want me to die here?’
Uncle, no bi me bring you here, o. But he’s a jolly old fella, so, I would again promise, then of course one day I did. I finally remembered to.
He and several others are high points of my days at the home. I enjoy sitting with them, talking with them, and they love to talk, its therapeutic.
That’s why our aged here do better, they have people around them to talk to. Having people to talk to is healing; talking is good as I have enjoyed talking to you too.
Now, I must leave.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)