Waking up on the 17th of January 2015, I wouldn’t have believed if by premonition, I was told, I will save a soul and be involved for 8 hours in the life of a young man lying almost dead on a busy road in Lagos.
Ozumba Mbadiwe road is one of the connecting roads that link Victoria Island with the luxurious Lekki Pennisula in Lagos Nigeria. A recent reconstruction on the road by the State government has further increased the level of traffic on this road. While walking towards Kofo Abayomi conjunction by Oniru bus stop along Ozumba Mbadiwe to board a commercial bus, I was shocked to find a young man lying in a helpless state on the median. As I looked and tried to ask questions, none of the people around was willing to say anything meaningful and other passers-by walked along. As if the man was invisible. In a mood of shock and impulse, I stopped to give the man’s helpless state a thought. I noticed he had sores all over his body. His legs were invaded by flies that tried to leech on the fluid sipping from these sores.
With the scorching sun burning, this young man laid on the road looking dead. I decided to cross over to see for myself as no one was willing to answer the many questions that bothered my mind about how this man got to that spot and was left to be in that helpless state. The smell oozing out of him and the condition in which he was did not at first allow me move so close to him but the option I was left with was to call the Lagos State Emergency number of 767 and inform them of a man lying on the median along Ozumba Mbadiwe road. This was 2pm and traffic was at its peak. Motorists and pedestrians stared at me as though I was shooting a NollyWood movie. The emergency service promised to join me on that spot because I told them I was there standing by him.
After about 20minutes and no sign of any ambulance approaching, I called the General Manager of my radio station Mrs. Funke Treasure-Durodola to inform her of the incident and the likely possibility of its been announced on our station to facilitate quick evacuation of him to a place where he could get medical attention. As at this time he was battling for breath as his Adam’s apple was pumping as if it would burst. I was scared but could summon courage, meanwhile onlookers from all sides of the road were staring at me, doing the unthinkable. After about 30 minutes, I was called from the studio and put on air, live, to give an on the spot report of the encounter.
Meanwhile I was still believing and expecting the arrival of an ambulance from the Lagos State Emergency Service. I made a second call and was assured that an ambulance was on its way. It never came. As I looked at this young man lying on the median and battling to survive with all the flies sucking on the sores on his body, I resolved that he won’t die as the a man I encountered in 2012 who fell down while trying to seat on a motorcycle but help came too late and he died.
I bent over to see if I could ask him a few questions because I noticed he was trying to move but he was too weak. He told me his name is Emeka and I asked if he could give me the phone number of anybody I could contact but he was too weak to utter any meaningful word. By this time one hour has elapsed and it was getting to 3pm, many passers-by had watched and left in amazement, wondering what my interest could be in the whole episode.
I was shocked when a man who looked like a private security officer walked up to me that his boss who was standing on another side of the road was calling me. I ignore the beckoning of the security official as I tried to scoop any information from Emeka. Minutes later, he came back and repeated that his boss wanted to see me. I turned and looked across the road to see a man in his middle aged beckon on me to come.
I crossed the road to know why he was calling and at this time I noticed a large number of people steering at me.
The man (who I can’t name) said he’s been watching the scene and he appreciated how I’ve been making efforts to help the man. He asked what he could do to assist; I told him I was waiting for the ambulance from the state emergency service. I was surprised to know that he too had called the emergency service. He asked again what we could do as an alternative to save the situation. I suggested that we could take him to the hospital and he immediately agreed to foot the bill. He asked if I was ready to take it upon myself to ensure that the man got proper medical attention.
I was to travel to Umuahia, the next day. Uncertain of how long this will last, I was worried but I couldn’t resist the challenge I got from this man who volunteered to pay medical bill for a seemingly desolate whom we both met barely two hours ago on the street. We went upstairs to his office, meanwhile lots of eyes were on us wondering what our conversation was about and waiting to see the outcome of our interaction. He gave me some amount of money and told his staff to support me in getting a taxi to take me and helpless Emeka to the hospital. He gave me his business card and told me to keep him informed of anything that comes up.
I went back to the median with his staff and the security man to get a taxi. Another drama ensued as people began to say all sorts. Some insinuated that Emeka could be an Ebola victim and that perhaps was why he had sores all over his body. Honestly, they were not wrong. I had my fears too. But I brushed aside the thought. The very surprising commitment of the man got me fired up. This guy must be saved. Some other folks wondered what my interest was in the whole matter. I overheard a woman insinuate that we might be related, if not “why was she so concerned”, she said loudly.
We (me, the security guard and a taxi driver) asked for assistance from the onlookers to carry Emeka into the taxi as he was too weak to stand up and walk. His injury laden body makes carrying him very difficult for just three people. No one answered our pleas. The three of us had to figure out how best to do this, and we did.
Laid in the back seat of the cab, I asked the driver to take us to the Military Hospital at Falomo. As we drove to the hospital, my mind was blank and it never occurred to me that health workers across the country were on industrial action. As we got to the Military hospital we were informed of the strike action and there was no bed to admit him. The doctor available stared at Emeka and I with utmost disgust.
When we could not get assistance from the Military Hospital, we tried the Air force hospital at Onikan which was a few minutes’ drive away. At this point Emeka has started to put up some inordinate attitude and the driver was becoming discouraged.
At the Air force hospital we were greeted with a more hostile reception from a female nurse, who told us they were on strike and would only admit Air Force staff.
He is no case
The next option was the General Hospital on Broad Street. We got there and saw doctors offering skeletal services and an emergency case from an accident was just brought in. I approached someone whom I assumed was a medical doctor and told him I had a patient that needed to be admitted. He asked for the patient and I took him to the taxi where Emeka was and after looking at him he asked me who he was. I told him I picked him on the street and he needed medical attention.
He told me health workers were on strike and there was no bed available to admit Emeka.
I begged the Doctor that Emeka needed medical attention because of the wounds on his body, and he told me Emeka “was not an emergency case” and that there were other patients that needed more urgent medical attention than Emeka.
I persisted and begged him that the wounds on Emeka’s body needed to be treated` to enable him get relief but he insisted that there was no available bed. He gruntingly advised that I should try other hospitals.
As we were talking, I met a female doctor and explained the whole episode to her. She followed me to the taxi to see Emeka. Upon observing Emeka’s funny disposition, she made me realize that he is a psychiatric patient.
My heart sunk
Then, we both went into the hospital to see if we could get a bed to admit Emeka, as we were trying to improvise using some waste cartons to make him a bed.
Meanwhile the other male doctor through the look on his face was wondering whether I had cajoled the female doctor into giving us required assistance. When he noticed that I was getting some attention from the female doctor, he came forward to repeat his statement that there was no bed available to admit Emeka. Being a senior colleague to the female doctor, whom I came to know as Dr. Amosun, she felt threatened and had to back out.
I was a bit confused and the next thing was the driver telling me he couldn’t move on any longer with me. He demanded that I should pay him for his services and carry “my brother” with another taxi.
I told him Emeka was not my brother but someone I saw on the road that needed medical attention. He told me that was not his business. I tried convincing him to follow me to the next hospital. He refused.
I went to a taxi park outside the hospital and bargained with a new taxi driver. He followed me into the hospital. As we approached the taxi Emeka was inside and he saw as Emeka was acting psychotic with the wounds all over his body and the flies leeching on him, the taxi driver started shouting that I didn’t tell him he was coming to carry a mad man.
I pleaded with him to assist in carrying us to the hospital and he asked if Emeka was my brother and I replied in the negative. He said this was a problem; I pleaded and was able to convince him to carry us.
I bought bottled water for Emeka and Dr. Amosun directed me that we should either go the Federal Psychiatric Hospital or the Military Hospital, both at Yaba. I thanked her for her effort and requested for her phone number. I was thrilled by her professional commitment to save another life, amidst her very hectic day with the few hands available at the general hospital
Discharged a month ago
As we drove to the Mainland, Emeka started asking questions and became restless after drinking the water. We almost had an accident as we were approaching Adekunle junction from the Third Main Land Bridge. Emeka was dragging the seat belt of the driver and disturbing him as he drove. I got angry and yelled at him to behave. He was calm for a while and became restless again as we headed towards Sabo. During this mild drama, when we slowed down in traffic people were staring at us and wandering what was happening in the taxi. The driver got so angry that he promised not to go anywhere else after we got to the Federal Psychiatric Hospital. Emeka was becoming so restless that I could not control him any longer and was getting frustrated.
When we arrived the Psychiatric Hospital we were greeted with the same story of health workers strike action and here, there was no doctor available to attend to us.
I pleaded that we needed a bed and Emeka wounds needed to be treated, all to no avail.
I then asked for anybody that could join me in carrying him into the hospital because the driver was too pissed off to touch Emeka. A psychiatric social worker, James, with gloves approached and helped to carry Emeka.
James looked at Emeka intensely; he said your face looks familiar.
Hearing that from another total stranger in the desperate bid to save Emeka’s life gave me hope and courage that something great was about to happen.
The social worker kept insisting that Emeka’s face was familiar and Emeka too replied that James looked familiar. I kept calm and watched the two as they tried to reconnect and confirm their acquaintance.
After some discussion, James recalled and explained to me that Emeka was a patient at this Federal Psychiatric Hospital but was discharged and handed over to his family because of the nationwide health workers strike.
According to him, Emeka was looking much better and decent when he was discharged just about a month ago, when the industrial action commenced.
He tried to enquire from him what was responsible for his current state and injuries all over his body. Suddenly, we all came back to reality as James confirmed that no doctor was available to treat or attend to Emeka. I asked what could be done and he suggested making enquiry to see if any psychiatric doctor could attend to Emeka in a private hospital.
After some phone calls, he was able to get through to a doctor that agreed to attend to Emeka and directed we take him to a private hospital at Surulere. But he charged N250, 000 for a month with an initial deposit of N70, 000.
I contacted the man that volunteered to pay his hospital bills and told him about the latest development. Unflinchingly, he promised to pay and told me to ensure Emeka is admitted after which I should come and collect the money.
With all that transpired at the Federal Psychiatric Hospital, the driver now became very compassionate and promised to work with me. “There is something about Emeka that we will end up with a good story afterwards” he said.
So we all headed for Surulere with James, Psychiatric social worker.
N500,000 to treat him
When we arrived the Fareed Hospital at Gbaja close off Akerele road in Surulere, we met a woman in her fifties. James told the woman that we were directed by a doctor to bring Emeka to her hospital and she told us to go get him.
By this time, James had given Emeka, his tee shirt to put on. All along he had only a torn boxer short on. When the woman saw Emeka, she shouted at us to take him away, that he is a mad man and smelling.
She chased us away and now claims that she didn’t have any bed to admit him. “You will have to bring N500, 000 before I can attend to this mad man” she added as she sent us out of the one-storey building.
Emeka started crying in pains as we carried him downstairs, wailing that “I don’t want to die.”
He was very calm but distraught and begged us to help him as we carried him back to the taxi.
The taxi driver was shocked that we were rejected in a private hospital.
This was the fifth hospital we had gone to and it was about 5pm. Confused, we (James,taxi driver and I) now started contemplating another option. The continuous support of these men – whom we are all strangers to one another, was all I needed to quench any thought about giving up.
‘Surulere’ means patience is virtue in English language – and it is our present location- it played out here in real life.
Waiting outside and James trying to make more calls to folks in the psychiatric world, Emeka was coming around and a lot more coherent. He told me his family lived somewhere in Aguda, here in Surulere.
He named a particular Catholic Church as his parish with his family house close to the church. So I thought we should go and locate the church. With a prayerful heart, we set out to Aguda believing we would be able to locate the address and his family.
We got the address and saw the guard man. We asked for Emeka’s family and the man said there was no such family in the 3-storey building. We then urged him to follow us to the taxi to help identify Emeka, after looking at him; he said his face was not familiar to him and that the entire tenants in the compound were new residents. He claimed to have started working there about a year ago.
By mere providence, I approached another man standing in front of a building close by and asked if he could help identify someone and he followed me to the taxi.
After looking at Emeka intensely, he shouted that Emeka’s family used to live in the house where we were but they parked out some years ago to another part of Lagos.
He revealed to us that Emeka has drug history as a teenager and that he went to one of the best schools in the neighborhood.
I asked him if he could help us trace his family, but that was impossible. He requested for my phone number, that he will get in touch with me when he locates them.
This was very depressing but somehow, I was even more convinced now that we were going to Emeka’s home.
I then stressed that as long as he has confirmed to me that Emeka’s family once lived there, that I won’t leave without locating his family or getting a clue about their new location.
Meanwhile, a small group of onlookers had gathered around us and another man was able to identify Emeka. Fortunately, one man told us that Emeka’s aunt lives close by and told us to follow him. As at this time, we were able to establish that the family had a major business venture in the area before their relocation.
Fred and I followed him and we heard him explaining to another man that we were trying to locate Emeka’s family. The man said he has Emeka’s aunt phone number and started calling her but she was not answering her call.
All of a sudden, someone beaconed on me to come from where Emeka and the taxi driver were parked.
When I got there, an elderly man in his sixties was making a call and after a while gave me the phone. As I was trying to comprehend what was happening, I heard the voice of a man on the phone that said he was Emeka’s father.
His father said he has been looking for Emeka for about a month and was glad to hear I found his son. He called out his address and begged us to bring Emeka to him.
That was the best news I have heard since this whole encounter started. We thanked everyone and set out in search of Emeka’s father’s house. To me Surulere really lived up to it’s name.guess what I mean !
Meeting the Family
With a bit of clarity in our thoughts, we stopped along the way to buy Emeka some new clothes. Due to the wounds on his body, it was not easy for him to wear them without groaning in pains. When we got to the address, we met Emeka’s father and his younger brother.
Emeka was now too restless and was talking uncontrollably. His father was happy to see us and asked if there was any hospital we could take him to. Fred then suggested the Military Hospital at Yaba which he said had a psychiatric ward. While the younger brother joined in the taxi, the father asked me to ride with him.
As we drove to the Military Hospital, the father thanked me and said he didn’t believe he will see his lost son today. He narrated how Emeka was discharged from the Federal Psychiatric hospital Yaba due to the strike, and he was planning to travel with him for the Christmas celebration. But one day Emeka tricked his younger brother and told him he was going to church and never returned home.
They waited and believed he would return home but for about a month, he has been missing.
When we got to the Military Hospital at Yaba, they told us that there was no available bed in the Psychiatric ward as all the beds were occupied.
Due to the nationwide strike action by health workers, lots of patients were being admitted at the Military hospital. We were told to come back on Monday when there will be available bed in the psychiatric ward to admit Emeka. Emeka was in so much pain as he lay on the bench outside the hospital.
His father then appealed to the doctor to offer some treatment that would help in reducing the pain. After lots of pleading back and forth, Emeka was administered some drugs to calm him down and reduce the pain. He was then registered and a card opened for him.
By this time it was past 9pm and I had to leave, so I could go home and prepare for my trip the next day. Also the driver whom I now came to know as Baba Azeez had left but I collected his phone number and promised to visit him.
I left the hospital at 9:30pm and got to my house by 10pm.
What a day.
I finally called the man who got me the first taxi to take Emeka to a hospital and told him how the whole episode ended.
He was so glad and insisted for a proper appreciation.
Also Emeka’s father and brother called and thanked me for helping to save Emeka’s life. According to Emeka’s dad, “you are a different version of the good Samaritan.”
But in all that happened that day, two men greatly encouraged me in this my unbelievable stunt. They are the man that volunteered to pay Emeka’s hospital bill and James, the social worker at the Federal Psychiatric Hospital Yaba. Not to also forget Baba Azeez the driver, who was initially irritated but later became very compassionate and insisted on following us to the end of the whole saga.
Emeka is now admitted at the Military Hospital Yaba and he is responding to treatment. I’ve visited him and he remembers me.
“Hey, you are the Good Samaritan that rescued me from the street” he said cheerfully to me on the first day I visited him.
His refreshed and healing body and soul bring profound joy to my heart.
I am happy that I NEVER WALK AWAY because according to Emeka’s father, Emeka would have died if no help came to him.
If you were the one, Will you WALK AWAY?
Writer: Tina Armstrong-Ogbonna is a passionate journalist and public relations professional, that is changing the world step by step. She freelances for CNN iReport and is also a blogger on developmental issues. She blogs at teenanews.blogspot.co.uk, she tweets as @Ogaugust451