I am a physician living and working in Nigeria.
My uncle and aunt both died from diabetes. My family thought there was something supernatural to how they died. My aunt, who was the first child among her siblings, died in her mid fifties. Then my uncle, who was the next oldest, died two years later, also in his mid fifties. It was rumored that my father was the next to die. So, when he got to fifty, my mother began long episodes of prayers and fasting, hoping to ward off the mysterious, deadly phantom.
I learned about the cause of their deaths in medical school. When I asked my father what his siblings were treated for in the hospital, he told me the doctors said they both had a “sugar problem.” With that revelation, I took him to the hospital to have his sugar monitored. Luckily for us, it was normal and he was certified diabetes free.
Fast forward six years later. It’s 2019 and I’m a medical officer working in a teaching hospital in Nigeria. I take calls in the Accident and Emergency unit on alternate Fridays. In the hospital where I worked, diabetic emergencies are the most common medical emergencies. Most patients show up with gangrenous and toxic foot ulcers that make the blood sugar more difficult to control.
I ask those patients why they haven’t sought out medical treatment earlier.
“Him march poison,” they say. What they mean is that the patient stepped on an evil charm that ate his foot. That means the family took him to a church for prayers, or to a traditional healer for a spiritual cure. Meaning, they’ve brought him to the hospital as a last resort, probably to die. Some hardly make it to the next morning. The ones who survive hesitate to have the affected foot amputated because they can’t afford the surgery.
This is what it’s like in my country.
Not long ago, I attended a creative writing workshop in Lagos. The workshop was being run by a prominent author, Teju Cole. Along with teaching us the art of reading and reviewing stories, he encouraged us to use storytelling as a medium for provoking awareness and change. He asked us, “What would you like to change right now?”
“Our misconception of disease in Nigeria.” I replied.
“Then write about that.”
I got back to Port Harcourt, and thought about the best way to gather stories from diabetics. It was no use talking to the ones who presented to the hospital because they were distressed. So, I made a call for submissions of non-fiction stories from diabetics and people affected by the impact of a loved one with diabetes. I offered prizes to the best three entries, and promised to feature the best story on one of the largest storytelling blogs in Nigeria. I posted the call on two major websites, promoted the call on social media, and waited. I got about 50 stories, including entries from Kenya and South Africa.
On World Diabetes Day, I highlighted excerpts from selected authors, and promoted these on social media. Up until that point, I thought what I was doing was just sharing stories. But, when people began sharing and commenting on the posts, I realized that I had succeeded in creating awareness on a level that a health rally or a health talk forum would never have. The posts I made were life scenarios of Nigerians living with the impact of diabetes on their finances, relationships, health, and religious beliefs. That’s when I decided that publishing a book of the stories would have an larger effect.
I was able to sell a good number of copies in Port Harcourt. However, I haven’t had much success promoting it to the international community, which is why I’m grateful for this platform. If you are interested in knowing more about the people who shared their stories, you can get this book on Amazon Kindle or Kindle Unlimited.
About the Book
This book is a collection of fifteen stories from Africans living the diabetic life. It is about superstition and amputations, herbal remedies and fake pastors, ignorance and poverty. It’s about hope, loss and sugar.
Dr Ifediba Zube writes from the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital Nigeria. She has been published on Expound Magazine of Arts and Aesthetics, Kalahari Review and Hosftra University’s Wind Mill Journal. She is also a freelance content writer. You can engage her content creating services on www.ifedibazube.com
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