I’ve seen him several times walking the streets, his unkempt hair and yellow eyes, his sometimes clean, sometimes dirty but always rumpled clothing.
He, at one time, became a signpost of sorts around Ilupeju. “When you get to the traffic light at Coker, you will see a mad man around, turn the next street and that’s where I live…”
On the days his clothes were clean, it was easy to almost walk into him; for you could mistake him for another pedestrian trudging the streets of Lagos; there usually would be no need to cross to the other side of the street to avoid him as he approached you.
So when, like the Ancient Mariner he stopped you, to ask for money, you would look at his face, his pathetic expression sometimes giving off pity, many times failing to hide his shame.
“Please aunty, give me whatever you can afford, I will be grateful, I am hungry.”
His English is impeccable with the faint rumour of an American drawl to his accent.
“This one was ‘born well’,” you would say to yourself, “probably raised abroad or sent to study there, before he began to mess round with drugs.”
Then something in you rebels against giving him the money he craves.
He would soon spend same on drugs, of what use will that be to either of you?
But I have learned not to judge too harshly.
Because but for the grace of God, I could easily have been one!
I don’t know this man’s story. I know mine, though.
Years back, I watched my mother suffer days of migraine attacks. Nobody seemed to know what triggered it or the cure. At one time, she was asked to stop eating certain foods, at other times she was seeing a collage of doctors, all prescribing drugs and lifestyles of one form or another. Finally, Mother ended up at LUTH with a neurosurgeon and after a battery of tests; there was nothing to be found as the trigger. The attacks stopped but not because of any particular drugs, only because the doctor thinks she might have outgrown it.
I didn’t know I inherited that horrible illness from mother; in time, I also found out it ran in the family as a few cousins began reporting the same painful symptoms. For me, it began with long spells of eye-bulging throbbing that left me half paralysed in pain from the age of 14.
I would slip into blackouts and come out wondering what hit me. It didn’t occur to me to report to my parents because, half the time I was away at school; and when I got home, it was inconsequential; I was young and clueless.
The blackout episodes petered out as I grew older but not the long days of migraine attacks; one day, while studying for my A’ Levels at Ogun State Polytechnic, I was living with my paternal grandma in Abeokuta, the migraine began.
Grandma at first reasoned that it came on because I was studying too hard; she warned me off staying up late to study with lamps but I knew it wasn’t that. For days, I suffered; the one-sided headache, nausea, stiff neck, hurting shoulders and hatred for anything bright.
I had gone off food and was groaning in the dark, willing the pain to go after downing several tablets of Alabukun, that horrible tasting pain-relieving white powder grandma gave me.
Grandma became perplexed, she had never heard of a headache that survived Alabukun. She then determined it was a spiritual attack; she called in an Imam, now, I wasn’t even a practicing Muslim but if the man held a cure, I would take it.
Imam came reciting several verses of the Quran and asked me to wash my head in it.
On a normal day, a sceptical me would have laughed and walked away.
On this day, I gave consent.
Still, no show!
Over the years, the migraine got bolder and would steal or take my joy for months, two months, sometimes three months or more…nonstop throbbing, nonstop pain, nonstop doctor visitations, tests, nonstop drugs and trial drugs from Atenolol to Cafegot, to Sumatriptan to Amitriptyline, to Cataflam to Tramadol, Propranolo, Inderal, to Soledal…name it, I tried them all; while I was raising my kids and building a career.
After going from specialist to specialist and none could determine a reason for the trigger or cure; I ended up at LUTH to see a neurosurgeon like Mama.
I’m still waiting for a cure but these days I log on to the internet; and it has become my consultant. I have learnt a lot from it – I’ve learned to manage it; I learned to have a life, despite the pain. I have learned not to be dependent on drugs because there are always side effects to these drugs.
I got thinking, during those desperate days, what if I had been offered cocaine or marijuana or some strong drug with the promise of a cure? And what if I liked ‘the cure,’ and how it made me feel?
What if it relieved me and made me feel whole and pain free?
I would have had more fun days with my kids instead of snapping at them when they made noise or shutting off the TV for days because I just couldn’t stand to see it or even listen to it.
What if this drug just made me ‘normal’ again after suffering months in limbo of pain? I would have been a better person with less mood swings because I would have been permanently hooked on what I consider, ‘help from above’.
Now, aren’t these the deceptions of drug addiction?
Drug addiction doesn’t come as something bad or repulsive or as something capable of stripping an individual of his dignity; it has no appearance of evil.
It’s why kids these days don’t know what kind of fire they are playing with; when they sniff codeine and mix herbs for monkey tail.
It’s why parents aren’t even quick to notice when a child is hooked on drugs until it is too late.
It’s why people think they can be hooked and get off it by sheer will power.
It’s why it’s killing a generation of our youths!