“Dear Eunice – If you could please return to Moffitt Health Center at your earliest convenience. You will need to ask for … when you go back. Regards,”
I stared at the email in befuddlement.
One of the things you need to sort out before enrollment is your medical clearance. We had been told to complete our immunizations especially the MMR before resumption or be prepared to have them at the school clinic along with other tests that would be carried out. I opted to have them all when I got to the school.
The tests were blood tests and a chest x-ray. The healthcare personnel who drew my blood samples was an expert. She was African American and I am not sure how much that influenced her ability to ‘see’ my veins and get what she needed in one go. (The next time I had to have my blood drawn, it did not go that smoothly.)
The x-ray was a bit awkward but when it was over, the personnel said, “yeah, everything looks good… you do know about the scoliosis, right?”
I nodded and dressed up quickly. I had been worried that my recent recovery from COVID-19 might have left some otherwise unknown injury on my lungs and that the chest x-ray would be the revelation of some long Covid signs. So, thank you, ma’am, for the scoliosis talk but that’s stale news.
I expected the results to be out in days and the process for class registration commenced immediately. Instead, I got that email from the International office. I was confused. Worried. Scared. I replied to the email and asked if the person could be more specific on why I was needed back at the health center. I got no reply and that worsened my anxiety.
Reaching out to Chidinma, I found out there’s a portal where I can view my lab results. My TB (tuberculosis) test had been flagged and I suspected that’s why I was needed. At that moment, my medical knowledge wanted to abandon me. I remembered the time I was rotating through the Infectious Disease unit in medical school. We were seeing many patients with TB and before I knew it, I had started coughing. I think I was sweating at night too even if that was because electricity was not always guaranteed. I got scared that time too but it eventually passed. Now, I was re-evaluating and wondering if it truly ‘passed’. Then I considered my immune system. The HIV test was negative. But, could the COVID-19 infection have triggered something? When I calmed down, I reminded myself that most of us from Nigeria might have latent tuberculosis.
“You have what we call latent tuberculosis. While it may never happen but if your immune system ever fails… we would not want to endanger others on the campus… it would also be dangerous for you… you will have to go to… we like to treat proactively…”
The healthcare person did not seem to be worried about me (and there really was no reason to worry) but I badly needed that meeting over. So…
I just kept nodding.
At the outside hospital I was referred to, I was given the option of three, four or 9 months of daily medication. I was given pamphlets on the potential side effects of the medications. I signed the consent forms. I was told about the monthly blood tests that I would be doing to ensure my liver and kidneys were still okay and not being shut down by the drugs.
“One of these drugs will cause a reddish/orange-ish discoloration of your urine…”
I recalled the number of times I had told some patients the same thing. An old image flashed through my mind; a urine bag full to the brim with this discolored urine, connected to a sickly, old man. I shook the image off.
“… You will also have to be coming here for refills. Come with $$ each time. Cash… preferably”
The only fun thing during that visit was checking my weight. But, I did not know when all the information and the implications of three months on a daily drug started weighing down on me.
I got back to my room and broke down. This was the first time I was ever going to be on such a routine and it somehow felt like a failure on my part. Even though this was preventive and temporary and the right step toward a safer health status in the future, it still felt like I was being punished. I am still unable to adequately describe the way it felt in that moment.
How would I survive? How would I combine this with settling into school? What if my liver fails? What if I miss one dose? And if my body starts reacting wrongly to any of the drugs? What will these girls say if my urine starts discoloring the WC?
I cried. Poured out my heart in my diary and resolved not to tell anyone, except the KnighT.
The instruction was to use the drugs some hours before eating but I was concerned about the effects on my gastrointestinal tract. I set a daily alarm to ensure I did not forget. The discoloration was not as bad as I had imagined. It also helped that the WC had an awesome flushing system. But, I was quite meticulous about ensuring things were sparkling white. Didn’t want to become an extra topic for my neighbors.
Now, the one thing I disliked was the impact on undies. I remember realizing I did not have the appropriate detergent to use with the general dorm washing machine and I did not have any detergent at all.
There were no shops at the ‘junction’. No small mart was attached to the security post of any house in the neighborhood. The dorm did not have a kiosk I could quickly get to to purchase three sachets of Ariel to use in the meantime. NOTHING.
Even if all I needed was a bar of soap, I would have to get to one of the big supermarkets, that is, Walmart and the likes. And ladies and gentlemen, Walmart was not the shop next door. If I employed my leggediz benz, it would take me about 40minutes to get there. I did not have a car. Public transport in Hattiesburg is a joke. The bus schedule was unknown to me and I had heard that it was not constant. I was still settling in, so, getting Uber rides was going to be eating into money I did not have. That left me with one option, getting rides from friends with cars. God bless Alyssa and Rae who in those early days ensured I did not ever have to wonder who to beg before getting a ride.
On my first day in the US when the ‘school bus’ came to get me, Ms. GB insisted on stopping at Walmart to get me a duvet and a pillow. I was initially not going to get the duvet because I thought, there should be a heater in the room and it couldn’t be that bad that the knitted cover made by the KnighT’s mum would not suffice. Thank God she insisted.
The heating system in the dorm is centrally controlled. You cannot regulate the temperature just for your room. I would probably have struggled with the cold room for weeks before getting someone to take me to the store.
This lack of immediate/close-by stores also meant I could not stroll out in the cool evening breeze in search of hot moi-moi and soft agege bread. That is, no ready means of getting snacks and for someone who was still adjusting to the meals at the dorm, having snacks as alternatives was important. It meant if I had not traveled with my first aid box/stash of common medications like pain killers and antihistamines, I would have had nothing to battle menstrual cramps and headaches with. It also meant not having people you form some kind of comradery with over haggled prices and convincing tricks to get you to purchase more than you planned to.
There is no forgetting the lineup of small shops on our Olokuta and Idi-Aba streets back in Abeokuta.
From Iya-Bash right at the gate of the hospital with her mouthwatering delicacies. I still hold a lirru grudge that she only introduced yam porridge later on, closer to my leaving the country. Then to the bakery that sprung up later on too which I never patronized but some friends had good testimonies about them. On to the fruit woman by the Olokuta junction from whom I would buy oranges, bananas, apples, and boiled groundnut. This other woman started selling roasted corn near her too and the combination of the two of them is why I could not buy myself a car and build a house in the village for my parents. Then, of course, there is the Igbo woman with the tiny shop from whom I got the occasional fried groundnut, palm oil, onions and sachet water.
I cannot leave out maisuya who would insist that the minuscule beef pieces and the disappearing quantities of vegetables were him being super nice to me and Debby because we were his good customers. We would haggle back and forth, insisting on him adding more and even threatening to walk away from everything if he refused. We did that only once. And I do not think we liked ourselves for that. He had become an important part of our occasional treats.
Of course, the pharmacy store where we spent our savings on both disposable and reusable facemasks, high-strength vitamin C and other medications was another highlight of the small stores at home.
What of the people we bought raw beef, chicken and smoked fish from? Or the woman who would only see us because we wanted to get a local sweet whose name I cannot recall? Or the shawarma spot that took ages to get your order ready and probably aimed at having you spend the night hoping and waiting?
Walmart is big. The employees are numerous but when you know you may not visit the place again till the next month and you prefer to self-check-out your loads of groceries, there is no relationship to be formed. None.