He places my hands at the tail end of his spine; his skin is warm, hot even. I rest the weight of my whole body to my hands. I press hard as he instructs me, then I dig my fingers into his skin for a few minutes as though I am trying to forcefully ripen an avocado. He pulls his trousers down a few more inches and cajoles me to press even harder. He looks more frail than usual, in fact more skeletal. I fear I will crack a bone but he wants me to go harder. There are lumps that trail his spine, I know this is a bad one and his body is taking a thorough bashing.
Robbie walks into the room to see how he is doing. All three of us are still pressing and kneading tirelessly, we stop in intermissions to crack our fingers and stretch our arms hoping he doesn’t notice. Gomez muffles again, but at Robbie this time.
“My back, my back”, he says, it’s like a silent scream and I think we aren’t doing enough.
He is turned over to lie facing the ground and Robbie lunges with both knees on his spine. With a slight rustle in my voice, I tell Robbie to be careful. He laughs and reassures me not to be worried as it is all part of the practice.
Gomez yells again “Pray Pray”. Now the words become more coherent, it’s as though his jaw has been unlocked and the prayers make me teary eyed whilst I try to suspend them from trickling. It reminds me of a priest reading out one’s last rites before they become euthanized by the pain. I start to wonder whether he thinks every crisis may just be his last and somehow, I’m certain he does.
A few weeks later, the bout of pain is over, and I ask him to take me through the anguish. He tells me it comes in three stages. The first starts like a heavy weight crushing your entire body, so heavy that it seems like it cuts the air supply to your lungs and every part of your physical being, starving your bones of blood. Then it follows suit with the fever, a dry mouth and it appears as though a piece of shrapnel or a jagged blade has been lodged in your spine and someone keeps twisting and turning it around over and over again. Finally, you are paralysed by the pain but your body tastes every single splinter of it.
“What does the medication do” I ask “Morphine, Oxycontin, and Codeine, they just make you high but you still feel the pain” he says. “The meds are a sort of distraction”, he explains but your body just has to go through the war because you can’t escape. Still you hope the next one can give you some time to prepare even though you aren’t.
My friend Isioma is like Gomez too. She says her children aren’t allowed to see her when the pain starts. They wouldn’t understand she tells me. Unlike Gomez, she wouldn’t let anyone touch her. She likens the feeling to sawing ones bones till the pain sends you into a daze where you hang on the fringe of consciousness but the agony rages on. Ade had both her hips replaced and spent a few months at a geriatric ward. Sometimes she thinks her parents were a little cruel to do this to her. She knows that something is being done to her bones, but hers, she describes resembles grinding.
A few years ago during a routine blood test, I joined the statistics when I discovered I was one of the 25 million people carrying the gene that made my friends go through this sort of agony and Gomez, Isioma and Ade are just a few amongst the estimated 4 million Nigerians living with sickle cell disease.
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This is not fiction
Photo credit: //www.lifebeforedeath.com