By Chijioke Emeh
“How are you today, Dr. Asa?” Dr. Sele asked, blocking the door as if he was waiting for the patient’s permission to come in.
Dr. Asa was lying on the hospital bed, staring at the ceiling. He did not respond to Dr. Sele’s question. After few seconds, he hummed as he struggled in his sick bed to turn around to look at Dr. Sele.
Dr. Asa had been confined to the intensive care unit of the State Teaching Hospital in the capital city for over a week now. While the two nurses who worked with him at Krama General Hospital ended up in psychiatric hospital, doctors and nurses panicked to see such a mysterious ailment. The skin of Dr. Asa who was a half-caste had darkened overnight to look like someone bathed in charcoal or roasted with fire, but it was not fire that burnt him.
“I am here to help you”, Dr. Sele said, stepping into the room. “And l need you to cooperate with me.” He moved closer to Dr. Asa who kept staring at him without saying a word. “Can you tell me exactly what happened?”
Dr. Asa dropped his head from the pillow to the bed, and closed his eyes. Suddenly, he shouted, “E eh!” And started to convulse and foam.
The medical teams saved him from biting off his tongue. The doctor injected him with sedative to calm his nerves, and the drug induced him to sleep.
Dr. Asa was the last physician to work in Krama General Hospital. Four of his predecessors had ended up the same way he and the nurses ended. “What’s happening?” The Government asked the Community.
The Community itself wanted to save its only hospital by all means. But fear was in the hearts of the Community leaders. ‘It is only a fool that treads where the spirits dread to tread’. This saying guided the way of life of the people. They never dared or thought of going near the dreaded health centre in the dark hours.
Krama General Hospital was given a new name, ‘The Haunted Hospital’. People rumoured far and near, within and outside the state of Niger Delta that the hospital was a terror and horror in the night. The speculation also was that living-dead occupied the General Hospital from dusk to dawn. The rumour later turned out to be true; the speculation as well became a reality. No one within the town and the neighbouring towns dared to go to the hospital in the night, not even in the case of emergency.
The problem was not only that Krama General Hospital was haunted, nor that the people were afraid of their own hospital; rather it was the only available and functioning hospital nearby in the little peninsula town of Krama. Besides, ‘is it not foolishness for one to abandon his land because it had grown weeds?’ The chiefs and the people of Krama sought for the remedy of their plight. The Community sought the help of the Government of Niger Delta state which the Government itself was reluctant to give for certain reasons until now.
Krama was a small peninsula town in the State of Niger Delta, somewhere in West Africa. The peninsula was the farthest town in the state. It had only one access road, and surrounded by the deltas of renowned River Niger flowing into the second biggest ocean in the world, the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite the oil boom of the state of Niger Delta, Krama was the only community in the state that had no crude oil, black gold as it was popularly called in Africa. Neighbouring towns around Krama believed that it was cursed for not possessing oil unlike most towns and communities in the state. The government of the state like other Africa states and nations who possess black gold give more emphasis to it than any other mineral resources.
The presence of Government in the Peninsula was not felt except the general hospital, and a primary school. The reason was that Krama had no crude oil. Government being blinded by the oil boom failed to realise other potentials in the land. The oil boom became a doom in disguise. Other resources that could generate more revenue were abandoned. Black gold was the main and the only source of State revenue. And any community in the State that did not possess it was at the mercy of the Government. This was the case with Krama Peninsula. The State ignored the town, but the notoriety of the ‘haunted hospital’ could not be downplayed. The fear was all over the State even in the Government House.
The Governor of the State summoned his personal adviser on Hospital Management and the Honourable Commissioner for Health to the Government House. The Governor and his two aids held a meeting in his office behind closed door. They sat in a round table and their sole agenda was the ‘haunted hospital’ in Krama Peninsula.
‘Krama’, the Governor said, ‘cannot be my headache now. I have more important agenda at hand. Certainly, not that cursed Community. The Government has built a hospital for them, and l can’t help it if they decide to abandon it. It’s their hospital. Let them do whatever they wish.’
‘With due respect His Excellency, but we can’t just ignore the pleas of the people…’
‘Why? Why can’t we ignore the community?’ The Governor interrupted his Commissioner of Health. The aids of the Governor were over polite like other political appointees not to offend the governor. They were more concerned about the security of their positions, than telling the leader the naked truth that might be a better solution even if it offends him, even behind a closed door.
‘But what do we do now, His Excellency?’ The Adviser asked.
‘Are you not my adviser? Why do I pay you?’ His Excellency remarked. ‘Do your job. Tell me what we should do.’
The two aids sat up in the armchairs where they were sitting opposite the Governor’s seat. They looked at each other. The Adviser was already sweating despite that the air condition in the office was on to its coolest point. His palms too were wet. Perhaps, the ash colour suit with white shirt and red tie he wore made him to sweat, or the hot weather outside. But the Commissioner was calmed. He wore a black suit with a blue shirt and no tie.
‘His Excellency let us give them a benefit of doubt. Send one more doctor to the hospital, perhaps, the last one if nothing good happens.’ The Commissioner pleaded.
‘Who again shall go there? Do you have anybody in mind? I do not have any other person in mind except you. Besides, are you not a physician? The Governor told his Commissioner of Health.
‘I have someone.’ The Commissioner said, as he sat up and adjusted his suit.
‘I hope he will not end up the way his predecessors ended?’ The Governor asked. ‘I cannot condone further lost of our physicians.’
‘No, Your Excellency. This guy is a tough guy.’ The Commissioner opened his briefcase, and brought out an office file. He stood up to hand it with two hands to his boss, saying. ‘This is his profile.
The Governor received the file. On its cover page, it was written at the top in bold and capital letters. ‘DR.BEN SELE.’ He opened it, and skimmed through the file. But the citation of Dr. Sele captured his attention. He read it out.
“Dr. Ben Sele is a consultant in Community Medicine. He has ten years experiences in Community Medicine. His skill of ingenuity in the field of Community Medicine has taken him into the hinterlands of Nkporo, Nguzu, Ebem and Ohozara… The laurel his colleagues in medicine gave him was to nickname him ‘the ‘ghost hunter.”
“But this time will the ghost hunter haunt down the ghost of Krama General Hospital?” This question filled the minds of many of Dr. Ben Sele’s colleagues in medicine.
Dr. Sele was posted to Krama General Hospital as the medical director and he was permitted to choose his assistants. He chose his usual two assistants who were nurses. To Krama, here they went, set out on Tuesday morning by 7:00am in the company of a driver and his two ‘able assistants,’ as they were often referred, Nurse Eliza and Nurse Theresa. They traveled in a white colour fourteen-seater ambulance bus. Krama General Hospital was written in red on both sides of the body of the vehicle.
The medical team arrived at dusk, headed straight to the palace of the Paramount Ruler whom they enquired the direction to his palace from the villagers. A letter had been sent some weeks back to the Chief prior to the arrival of Dr. Ben and his team. The palace was reluctant to welcome them, fearing the ‘haunted hospital’ would still haunt down the new medical team as it haunted previous teams.
The villagers went to their daily businesses. They never bothered, like they did in the past, to welcome the physician in mass with music, dances and celebrations with cultural display of troupes of masquerades. But this time the people were occupied with a better thing, besides it was Krama’s market day. The villagers headed to the market, except the Paramount Ruler and three chiefs out of nine chiefs of his cabinet were in the palace to welcome the health workers.
“I hope you will be able to help us?” The Paramount Ruler asked the ghost hunter.
“By His grace!” Dr. Sele said, smiling when the ruler admonished him to save not only the hospital, but as well save the people from scourge of cholera ravaging the community. The doctor had to battle on two fronts, to save the hospital and to end the epidemic which was his main mission.
Dr. Sele and his medical team settled in Krama General Hospital. He was the medical director and resident doctor. He recalled the two ward-maids, the gate man and the mortuary attendant who worked there before with his predecessors.
The hospital was cleaned, tidied up, and ready to welcome patients. The medical crew packed in into their respective residential apartments within the hospital compound. The community was still afraid to visit the hospital after two weeks the medical crew settled down. No patient was willing to visit the hospital despite the community was threatened with cholera after the terrible flooding of 2012. The people were compelled to visit there after the herbs failed to cure the victims. Cholera killed seven people in two weeks, an average of one person every two days.
The medical director visited the Paramount Ruler of Krama to obtain a permission to address the community and the permission was granted. The people gathered in the town hall of the palace of the ruler. Dr. Sele stood up to greet the people in local dialect which he learnt. The meeting was brief. It lasted about forty five minutes. He persuaded the people to make use of the hospital, instead of facing the sling hammer of cholera alone with herbs or travel far to the neighbouring towns.
“We have drugs and facility to cure your diseases. Don’t die in ignorance and silence.” He told them.
The people gave him the benefit of doubt and visited the hospital for treatment except in dark hours. The fate of the people in the physician and his hospital was strengthened when the epidermic was curtailed.
Dr. Sele still faced one concern after it seemed the people had come to trust him. No patient visited the General Hospital in the night, even at the point of death. Two men and one child had died of purging stomach in a week. They were not taken to the health centre in the night when the illness was severe, but waited till daybreak. The victims died in the night.
The other day a young man died in a bike accident after drinking too many bottles of beers. He rode in the night, and hit the iron pillar of Krama Bridge. Instead of the people to rush the lad to the nearby Krama General Hospital, they took him to a patent store. The store keeper advised them to take the victim to a hospital. The injury was beyond his expertise. When he recommended the General Hospital, the people said, “If only you will take him there yourself.”