By Ken-Calebs Olumese
It is my singular honour to perform this unpleasant duty of paying tribute to my young, pretty and precocious niece, Dr Chinyere Ofure Aneziokoro, who died in the United States on May 31, 2006, from breast cancer at the unripe age of 40 years.
I wish to thank her parents, emeritus professor of medicine, Anezi Okoro and Dr (Mrs) Ese Aneziokoro, who initiated the idea of establishing a foundation, the Dr Chinyere Ofure Aneziokoro Foundation at the College of Medicine, University of Benin in her memory. I also wish to thank the authorities of the university for bringing this idea to fruition.
Chinyere was born on April 17, 1966, three months after the turbulent coup of January 15, 1966. She had her secondary school at the Federal Government Girls College, Abuloma, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and her university education at the Bendel State University, Ekpoma.
She proceeded to the University of Nigeria’s College of Medicine, Enugu where she got her degrees in medicine in 1988. She had further studies in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine in the UK and United States and practised in both countries.
At the time of her death she was an Attending Physician at the Infectious Diseases Section, Department of Medicine, Loyola University Medical Centre in Maywood, Illinois, USA. She was also a leading expert and fellow in infectious diseases who was respected throughout the United States.
She was a member of the Nigerian Medical Association, Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, British Medical Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America, American College of Physicians, Glasgow Medical Society, UK and the American Medical Association.
She got married to Dr. Chukwueka N. Ikedionwu on July 16, 1994. They are blessed with two children, Nnadubem Chigozie and Chizelum Nneoma.
While Chinyere was growing up, we admired her brilliance and dedication to her studies and wondered what she would choose to be in life. We knew that with her early signs of being a child prodigy and with her early dedication to her studies she would be eminently successful in whatever she would choose to do.
When she chose Medicine our joy knew no bounds. Medicine is an interventionist course between life and death. As a famous American writer Mencken once said: “One of the chief objects of Medicine is to save us from the natural consequences of our vices and follies.”
It does save us sometimes; sometimes it doesn’t because Medicine’s success comes from the doctor’s knowledge, the patient’s obedience and God’s intervention. The relationship between a doctor and a patient is intriguing.
The doctor asks the patient what is wrong with him (patient). The patient tells him (doctor) what he thinks is wrong. After that the patient also asks the doctor what then could actually be wrong with him (patient). It is then the doctor’s duty to piece together the information he gathers from the patient and factor it into his diagnosis and treatment.
The doctor serves as the Middleman, the intermediary, the problem solver between the patient and death. If his prescription is right the patient survives. If it is wrong the patient may die. Death and Medicine are in a long drawn mortal battle for survival.
When Medicine fails, death wins. When Medicine succeeds death loses; it retreats but that retreat is very temporary. Some kind of Pyrrhic victory for the patient for no victory over death is ever permanent because death is the boss.
When my niece chose Medicine I knew she chose mercy; I knew she chose humaneness; I knew she chose humanity. I knew that we had a doctor in the house and that we would not have to go to the petty medicine seller for treatment or to indulge in self-medication. We knew that we would be saved from sickness worries because when people are sick they hang their hopes on the expertise of the doctor and if you have a doctor in the house, as we did, your confidence was boosted tremendously.
But we didn’t avert our mind to the fact that a doctor is as human as the non-doctor. That a doctor can be sick, that a doctor may fail to get a cure for his sickness, that a doctor can die.
The reality dawned on us when our niece had breast cancer and she could not cure herself and could not be cured by other doctors. She died. It dawned on us that all persons, doctors and non-doctors, are equal in the presence of death.
Chinyere, an expert in infectious diseases died 14 years before the arrival of COVID-19. If she had lived longer she would have been one of the frontline soldiers battling to kill the spread of the virus, which ravaged the world and changed the way we work and live.
It is sad that she did not live long enough to put her expertise at the feet of the world at a crucial time such as this. But we take consolation, call it cold comfort, that she lived a very fulfilling and fruitful life in the short time that she lived and made those that she loved and those that she didn’t even know the centre of her gravity the subject of her exertions and the beneficiaries of her love.
We can comfort ourselves by saying that since Chinyere still lives in the hearts of those who love her, she is not dead. She is not dead because she is not forgotten.
•Ken-Calebs Olumese, Guv of Niteshift Coliseum, is uncle to Chinyere Aneziokoro