Mr Charles Olisa was frantic as he paced round the hospital hallway. A day that started as one of the best days of his life had turned into a nightmare. Feeling tired after standing for too long, he walked towards the plastic chair in the hallway, but changed his mind when a young nurse in blue tunic appeared.
“Nurse, please, tell me something, anything. Why is everyone keeping quiet?”
“Sir, you have been disturbing us. Stop it! This is not how it works. Go and sit there,” she pointed at the plastic chair. “If there is any news, we will call you,” she added, marching down the hallway.
This is why I hate hospitals. Charles Odili lumbered towards the plastic chair and sat down. He checked his watch for the time. It was 8 p.m. He sighed and began to tap the arm of the chair. It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
It all started eight months earlier. His wife, Abigail, had called him at work and told him to come back home. She sounded so excited. She had a surprise for him. Charles had to beat the Benin traffic and was able to reach his house at Ihama Road in record time.
“Honey, I’m pregnant,” she dropped the news as soon as he entered the house.
At first, Charles thought she was joking. “Please, say it again. Say it, slowly.”
His wife, Abigail, was a fair-skinned, heavy-set woman. At forty-two, her chubby figure still displayed the beauty she once had.
She smiled. “Honey, I did the pregnancy test this afternoon, and it came out positive.”
Charles carried her in his arms, full of joy. All his frustrations evaporated, and he felt a surge of energy –his inner strength had returned. Fifteen years without a child had almost ripped the couples apart. Charles’ family members had deserted him, because he chose to stand by his wife, and refused to marry a second wife. Tears of joy filled his eyes. Abigail kissed his tears. She recalled all the mocking whispers that soaked her nights with tears.
“I will always love you, honey. You have made my day,” Charles said as he put her down and crushed his lips against hers. The couple were in transports of bliss.
Eight months later, a beautiful Friday, to be exact, Charles got his long awaited promotion letter at his workplace. He came back early, and they began to celebrate with fried chicken, pepper soup and a bottle of red Andre wine bought just for the occasion.
Then Abigail began to complain of having trouble breathing. Charles led her to his weather-beaten Mercedes and rushed her to Golden Valley Medical Centre, a government owned hospital, in Benin. Every five minutes, he would meet one of the nurses to inquire about his wife, infuriating them in the process. He was restless and the only cure was an assurance that his wife was doing fine.
Thirty minutes after the young nurse had left, a middle-aged man in glasses with white tunic approached him. The name tag attached to the top of his tunic read ‘Dr Philip.’
“Does your wife have hypertension?”
“Yes, but she takes her medication at all times.”
“Her blood pressure rose to 180/120.”
Charles’ heartbeat began to race. “My God! What shall we do?”
“We need to induce labour now.”
“Alright, do it.”
“We have started. She has been taken to the delivery room. Please, come with me, sir. Your wife needs you.”
Charles followed him. As soon as he saw his wife, he knelt down beside her and kissed her hand. “Honey, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” His wife responded by tightening her grip on his hand. Minutes turned into hours and Charles began to drift in and out of sleep.
“Hold her right there.”
“Get me water!”
“The contraction is wearing her down.”
“Get me Labetalol now!” the doctor’s voice woke Charles up.
He quickly looked at the time. It was 10 p.m.
“Doctor, no matter what happens, you must save my baby. I choose my baby!” his wife pleaded in a panic-stricken voice.
“No!” Charles heard himself scream.
“The doctor wants to see you outside, sir,” one of the nurses said.
Dr Philips removed his glasses and wiped his eyes with a white handkerchief. He looked worn-out, and had to rest his back against the wall.
“We have a problem, sir.”
“Doctor, what is the problem?”
“Your wife has Preeclampsia,” the doctor said in a quiet voice.
“What does that mean?”
“It means her high blood pressure, and the excess protein we detected in her urine has led to a reduction in the supply of blood to the foetus.”
“The risk increased with her age.”
“What is the solution?”
“The solution is to deliver the baby without delay. At the moment, we can only do that through C-section. But the problem is that she is so weak and her heart rate is failing. We need time to stabilise her before we can do a C-section.”
“Oh my God!” Charles could only hear his own voice. “Doctor, please, do everything possible to save my wife and the baby.”
The doctor patted him on the shoulder and went back inside the delivery room. Charles followed him behind.
An hour later, the dark clouds gave way to a heavy downpour. From then on, each hour came back with its own report.
Charles was helpless as the medical team battled throughout the stormy night. It was the longest night of his life.
An hour later, Charles saw himself being led out of the delivery room by the two nurses. What is going on? he wondered as they took him to the doctor’s office. Dr Philip seated behind an Oakwood desk, writing on a notepad, a white bulb illuminating the office. The doctor stood as soon as Charles entered the office, and extended a handshake with a smile. “Congratulations, sir. You are now the father of a bouncing baby boy.” The news made Charles to break down in tears of joy, a big respite from a lingering trauma. Both men had a firm handshake as the doctor urged Charles, to have a sit, gesturing towards a soft easy chair facing his desk, “Please sit.”
Charles sat on the chair and heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir. You guys did a great job. Is my wife with the baby right now?” he asked the doctor who had returned to his notepad.
The doctor stopped writing and put back the pen inside an empty glass vase. “It was a difficult night, sir. I’m sorry to say your wife didn’t make it.”
Charles’ heart sank. He was dead to the world. All he could see now was his wife’s face on the day of their wedding. “I’m yours forever,” she had whispered as the man of God approached. “I will never leave you. “I will love you forever,” his wife was saying as she put the ring on his finger to the applause of their wedding guests.
He heard the doctor’s voice again, “She developed a lot of complications, most of which we told you earlier. We did everything we could to save both the mother and the baby, but only the baby made it, I am sorry to say.”
“No!” Charles screamed in agony.
Charles didn’t know when he stood up and lunged forward, scattering the contents on top of the doctor’s desk. The doctor’s eyes widened in terror. Charles saw himself pulling the fearful doctor across the desk by his neck, squeezing him tight.
“Help!” the doctor shrieked, as he pressed the alarm button on his desk. “Hold him down!”
“Don’t let him go,” Charles heard muffled voices saying two minutes later. Hands were holding him now. He struggled like a caged tiger but they overpowered him.
“Bring him out of the room before he damages anything else!”
“Hold him tight!”
Two hefty security men with rippling muscles finally held him and dragged him out of the room. Outside the door, Charles broke down in tears. They allowed him to cry out his pain.
“I want to see my baby boy. Show me my kid,” he demanded amid sobs.
They led him to a room at the end of the hallway. Charles almost stumbled when he reached the door. They had to help him regain his balance. The moment he entered the room, he sighted the baby where he was placed inside a nursery. Two nurses surrounded him. Charles approached the nursery, the eyes of father and son met, and the baby began to cry. Charles stared as his child with a painful smile on his face. Look at him, he thought, so innocent, so fragile, unaware of how evil and unforgiving the world he was born into had become.
The matron rushed to the baby’s side and began to sing him a song. Their eyes met again and, as Charles observed the large bright eyes and the round chin, reminiscent of his late wife, Abigail. Just then, many thoughts raced through his mind on the sad loss: God, why? What have I done to deserve this? Honey, how can I do this without you? How can I survive without you?
He felt lost, despite the broken yoke of fifteen years.