An unexpected phone call from my brother Osa woke me from deep slumber. He had bad news! His close friend in Nigeria had just called informing him that our mother suffered a stroke that left the right side of her body paralyzed. A very cold chill raced down my spine as two things dawned on me. First and foremost, all her children are abroad so she was going through this nightmare without us. Secondly, there was a possibility that thoughts of the turbulence I was facing in my marriage might have invited the monster called stroke to her doorstep. Up till now she was so worried about my welfare and telephoned to check on me all the time. Tears became the order of the moment and stayed so till I broke the news to my younger sister Uyi who lives in the same city with me.
Trying to imagine her partially paralyzed was incredible. There was a wrestling bout in my mind between this picture and memories of the last time I saw her. She bubbled with so much life as she spent some months with us in the U.S. before escaping back home to her idea of “paradise.” Home is in Lagos City, Nigeria, where she lives comfortably in a big house with a housemaid, cook, gardener, driver and security man at her service. “There is really no place like home” she always says with emphasis on how stressful life is in America. Back in Nigeria, labor is cheap and so people can afford to hire others to do things for them. It was when I got to America that I was forced to accept total independence or die! Abandoning my sheltered world and transitioning into the American society was difficult in the beginning. On some occasions I called my parents and declared I was coming home because I felt I was missing out on so much in “paradise.” My Father always persuaded me to hang in there. He went to college in Toronto, Canada where he ate the pie of independence that remained in him till he went to meet his maker. During his lifetime, it was his dream to see his children taste the same pie at the appointed time. After accepting my fate I freely pumped gas in my car and changed light bulbs in the house without feeling awkward!
One of us had to travel to Nigeria to be with our mother. The question was who and how soon. Nigeria is thousands of miles away from Dallas, Texas, where my sister and I reside. It is sixteen hours by air. It was peak season for traveling so flights were fully booked and tickets cost so much. I had not been back to Nigeria for twelve years, my brother six and my sister four years. The timing was bad for us because we were coincidentally dealing with individual storms raging like mad dogs in our lives. I volunteered to go but turn of events nominated my brother. Showers of favor blessed him with a good deal on his airfare and an upgraded seat on a famous airline.
Reality set in as my brother Osa arrived in Nigeria. He received positive and negative shock. Our mother was worse than we imagined while there was so much change in the country. The original plan was to get our mother taken care of medically and physically till she was strong enough to travel to the U.S. some months later. On seeing her and getting back to us about her real state via telephone, we concluded he had to bring her back to America at all costs. To cut a very hectic story short, God opened a way where there seemed to be no way! Osa and our mother beat all odds till they obtained last minute seats on a flight coming to Dallas with a stop over in London. It was so sudden that they left without their luggage. As soon as they arrived in London, they called and informed us of their scheduled arrival in Dallas later in the day.
Uyi and I spent the morning preparing to receive our mother. I had a hard time mentally picturing what lay ahead. For one, I was scared stiff of hospitals because it hurts me to see people sick. This was my mother and I had no choice but to sweep my fears under the rug of fate. On the other hand, my sister was more than prepared. She had been toying with the idea of being a nurse and felt this was the best opportunity to determine if she would pursue Nursing or not. When we met our mum and Osa at the airport later that day, we were shocked to see how much she had shrunk. She was a far cry from the woman I saw off to the airport the last time she visited. Who could have imagined that the next time she came to the U.S. will be in a wheel chair? There was cause to glorify God because it could have been worse. When there is life, there is definitely hope!
The first few weeks were rough. We wore the cloak of patience and tolerance as we did everything for our mother. We did not know better because we ignored the obvious fact that she was half and not fully paralyzed. If she had to use the bathroom, we took her even if we were in the deepest realm of slumber. She was like a new baby in our helpless arms. I babysat her at night while my sister took care of her during the day. Slowly but surely, we were feeling burnt out and as soon as there was an opening, she saw a doctor.
Series of tests were performed on her and finally she was referred for Physical Therapy. Her first day in therapy was the beginning of the slow death of dependence in the life of my mother. The beautiful but assertive American therapist made my mother do some things we never imagined she could do with the presence of partial paralysis. The therapist made us promise not to assist her except it was necessary. I openly welcomed the idea with relief but inwardly doubted if my mother could cope. After all, before stroke everyone did things for her. Initial pleas for mercy from my mother fell on divided ears. I maintained my ground and insisted she did it herself. My sister, full of sympathy rendered a lot of help to our mother in my absence. When busted, she realized she was doing our mother more harm than good. From that point on, both of us unified to banish the tradition of dependence from our family for good.
We started by ignoring our mother’s request to be put on the next available flight back to Lagos, Nigeria. We were not going to help her escape to “paradise” because with stroke she has to do it herself or resign to the fate of paralysis. Knowing how social she used to be and how much she wanted to be the way she used to be she decided to cooperate. As our mother attended therapy on a constant basis, she saw some patients coming in without hands or legs but the determination to do things by themselves. She started to see the evil of depending on others to do things you can do for yourself. I suspect that this motivated her and with time, faith, and encouragement from everyone, she began doing things for herself. She mastered the use of her left hand and leg. She learned to groom herself without assistance, get up and into bed by herself, move around with little or no assistance, feed and dress herself and even attend church service with the family. To cap it all one day she laid her hands on the bestseller “The purpose driven life” by Rick Warren. She read it and cried like a baby. She said she learnt we should not make others serve us during our lifetime but we should focus on serving God!
Today, she has improved dramatically and has a brand new approach to life. She realized that her idea of “paradise” was actually hell because the ability to do things by your self is an invaluable asset. Although stroke is the worst thing any one can dream of having, in my mother’s case it drew our attention to many things. For one, it broke an age old tradition of dependence, taught us patience and tolerance, increased our faith in God, encouraged more unity in our family because of the close call our mother had with death, discouraged taking advantage of any situation and most importantly taught us to live every single day like our last day because tomorrow might be a different story.