ON ONE MONDAY morning, not too long ago, two patients who came, one after the other, with nearly identical complaints, brought back the nostalgic feelings of my childhood. In my early childhood days, there was nothing like a television. The first TV Station in Africa, WNTV (1959) and later the first radio station in Nigeria, WNBS (1960). Often forgotten was the fact that both were started as commercial ventures. Thanks to the visionary leader and statesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This was several years before some countries in Europe had similar profit-making projects.

We more than made up for this with the wired radio, Rediffusion and night-time story-telling. Sometimes, we would gather around this amazing contraption to listen to interesting stories which conveyed either moral or ethical lesson. At other times our parents would be the storyteller. It was an informal way of teaching and preparing us for future challenges.

The first patient was a hospital worker who presented with itching in both eyes. She had purchased from the local chemist shop what she considered most appropriate for her symptoms. The second was a 28year old Youth Corps Member, (Youth Corper), I had seen two days earlier and given a bottle of eye drops with a strict warning to use it only for his left eye and not to put it in his unaffected right eye.

Both complained of blurring of distant vision and inability to read soon after applying the drops. The first patient escaped my wrath but I took it back on the corper. “Why did you put it in your right eye despite my warning?” I asked. “I only put one drop,” he said in an unrepentant voice.  “Have you heard the story of Ijapa (the tortoise), Yanibo, his wife and the medicine man (Babalawo)?” “Yes,” he replied. “Would you tell me the story?” I commanded, just short of being rude. He got the message. Here is his rendition of the story:

“Ijapa had been unhappy that his wife, Yanibo, had not been pregnant after many years of marriage. He went up the hill to consult Babalawo. Reluctantly, Babalawo decided to prepare a special potion for him to give his wife. “Ijapa, this potion has been prepared with special brew and ingredients. Your wife will become pregnant within an hour of drinking it. Please, I beg you, don’t you dare taste it. The consequences are serious and irreversible.” Ijapa thanked Babalawo, paid him for his services and left for home. On his homeward journey, the sweet aroma of the medicine was too enticing for him to ignore. He could not resist the temptation and he opened the sealed calabash. “I will only taste it,” he said to himself. He took a little sip. He found it delicious and irresistible! One more sip, then another and soon the whole content was gone! About an hour later, he watched in awe as his abdomen began to swell! Soon, it was like he was nine months’ pregnant. He was experiencing considerable abdominal discomfort and could barely walk. “I must go back and beg the medicine man. He must give me an antidote for this,” he said to himself.

“Ijapa was very sly. Hear him! “Babalawo, I have come to beg you to help me. On my way home, I slipped; the calabash fell and broke into pieces; the medicine splashed all over the place. I tried to salvage it but it was impossible. I wiped my face with my hands and a little bit of the medicine on my hands touched my lips. I didn’t want to contaminate the environment, so I swallowed it instead of spitting it out! Soon after, my abdomen started to swell. Now it’s almost bursting. Please help me!”

“Sorry, I cannot help you,” said Babalawo. “I had warned you not to taste it. There is no antidote for the potion. You have to go about with the “pregnancy” for life.”

“Sir, what is the solution for my own predicament? My ICAN examinations are just two days away,” said the youth corper, suddenly realising his folly! “You’ve already answered your question. There is no antidote! You’re lucky. Some have gone blind using this medication wrongly. I’m afraid you may not be able to read for the next fourteen days,” I said, authoritatively. Then I remembered, “Didn’t you say your examinations are starting in two days?” “Yes sir,” he said expectantly. “See me tomorrow. I may give you a pair of special reading glasses to see you through the period.”     


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