Isio Knows Better is an attempt to capture the shocking and highly entertaining conversation within myself. The conversations between my mind (the sharp witty one), my soul (the lover and the spiritual one) and my body (the playful one concerned with the more mundane things of life). She is the eternal referee between the caustic mind and the sensitive soul. This is Isio. So, here’s to making private conversations public.
My eyes were burning with tears I refused to shed. I lay my head on my travel pillow and squeezed my eyes shut, willing the hurt I felt for another human being to magically heal him. But my ears couldn’t unhear what it had heard. Other passengers, irritated by the elderly man who was having a dramatic episode that is peculiar to people suffering from the more advanced stages of dementia had said things like…
“Someone should please shut him up.”
“Bring the handcuffs!” One air-hostess cried to another who hurried off to do her bidding.
“What is wrong with him?! Nigerians sef!”
“Someone should kick him hard he will be quiet!” Another offered scathingly, his greatest bother being that the old man’s cries of confusion and pain bothered his precious movie time. He had said this as he angrily adjusted his headphones.
I felt sad. Really sad.
Others had suggested they gave him a shot of a consortium of tranquilizers; some others suggested that they slap the delirium out of his skull; one ignorantly explaining to others who didn’t know what dementia was that adult dementia was similar to autism in kids. Another was wondering why he was having an episode, after all, she knew someone who had dementia but didn’t make a ruckus- but only ate and slept peacefully.
In all this time, the elderly man had been restrained and held to the floor, and half a dozen men had gathered around the galleys for a better view and a few more people stood on the isles. Just looking and gossiping about the man. I could see a bit of his feet from my seat on the plane.
Whoa! Mankind. So much for our empathy.
This man was someone’s father. Someone once called him beloved. He was once someone’s son. When he was born, someone held him in their hands and wept for joy. Someone once gave him a glorious name and blessed his future on his name-day. He was special to someone. Or at least, he once was.
And yet he lay there, in anguish and in pain. It wasn’t his fault that his memory had failed him, that his nervous system and motor skills were shutting down while he still lived. His brain was processing data that his mind simply couldn’t comprehend, and he, who was once a man- strong and proud, now lay on the floor of an airplane, thrashing around, whimpering like a scared child, struggling to be free, crying for a semblance of things, people, sounds that he once recognized. He longed for a safe place. And he wept bitterly. He wailed. I could hear his distress. I could feel his confusion. It broke my heart. My eyes burned with tears I refused to shed. So I squeezed them shut.
One of the air-hostesses had announced over the P.A that any doctors amongst us (the passengers) should please come forward. We had been advised to remain seated and to fasten our seat-belts while seated. I wanted to go to him but I couldn’t. I wanted badly to comfort him like he was my own. To tell him that I understood what he was going through and that it would be okay. To hold his hand through the hysteria and the spasms. I wanted him to tell me about the people he knew and what he loved, knowing that his recollection of a safe place – however far back his memory had receded- would bring him more comfort than the recommended cold-steel I could imagine were now binding his wrists.
I am sorry, but it just hit a bit too close to home.
So much ignorance about certain illnesses. Some of us Africans believe that dementia caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and other ‘exotic’ diseases like autism, epilepsy, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, bipolar disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, amnesia and even cancer are simply white man’s diseases- that it doesn’t concern us.
We are blakkies, we no dey get dos kain tins. Afterall, the so-called amnesia na only for oyinbo films we dey see am na, abi? Na dat sickness dey make all those Telemundo soap operas sweet well-well.
Well, you would say that, until one of them (let’s say Dementia) hits someone you know and love dearly. And you watch them waste away before your very eyes- slowly, painfully and surely. Or worse, if it hits YOU. I am sure you wouldn’t enjoy imagining hearing someone recommend you hot kicks and heavy slaps while you are gripped in the horrible but powerful delirium that has possessed you, one that is no respecter of persons or places or etiquettes but lowers you to your knees (indeed your belly) thrashing uncontrollably and begging for something you can’t seem to remember..
If only you could shake it off- but you can’t.
If only you could take back some of your power- this was your body, God’s temple – but this disease won’t let you.
It came like a thief in the night, it did.
But unlike a decent thief, it didn’t just seal from you and leave you in peace, it takes from you and leaves something behind. A gift of certain slow death by a disease science has no cure for. Every day you lived, you would lose an irreplaceable piece of yourself…
Your ability to move on your own…
Soon you would not be able to lift a spoon to your mouth.
Fainter and fainter your voice would get until you would not be able to speak. Nor feed yourself. Nor laugh.
That is what it does. It makes you helpless.
An hour later the man was finally calm. We were still 39,000 feet in the air and 8 hours away from our destination. Somehow I had un-squeezed my eyes and through the old man’s pain had written this article even though it evokes raw and painful memories for me.
I may not have been able to heal him, but I will share their stories. Pain is pain, it is ugly and no one should have suffer so badly.
I will remind people who are in good health to be grateful. It is not by your power that you are standing on your own two feet. Nor is it by your magnificence that you are not wasting away in some hospital bed. That is a luxury some people would give up all of their earthly possessions for. Organs fail, diseases rage, people die. But you are here. So show some empathy for those who are not so fortunate.
It could have been you.