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Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford

Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford

Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford is a writer of Ghanaian descent. She helps run therapeutic creative workshops for people recovering from and living with stroke, dementia and other debilitating conditions. Her work has been published in Toaster for Smokey Laughter (Inscribe/Peepal Tree) and The DreamCatcher Magazine. She is currently working on a storytelling booklet with an accompanying CD.

 I Knew a Storm was Brewing

I knew a storm was brewing when the restlessness began. Apprehensions and rumblings rippling my usually calm repose.

“We’ve conducted several tests and although they are inconclusive, that is not to say nothing is going on. However, at this time, we can find nothing wrong, we believe it’s time for you to see another specialist…”

My worst fears had been realised. I knew who this proposed specialist was going to be.

Never mind that I am extremely fatigued, accompanied by unexplained pain, multiple variable connective tissue crisis after another. Digitisis, a symptom synonymous with sickling infants and not adults. Hot and cold flushes, could I be peri-menopausal? Crippling abdominal pain. High temperatures and Malaria like fevers causing delirium. Inconclusive, huh? In my confused state, I’m lucid enough to contribute what I believe is a valid opinion. There is one test they have omitted to conduct, because they tell me that it is a disease that does not affect people of African origin. The test for SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus).

Their countenances say it all, how could I possibly know what is wrong with me? Certainly a woman of African descent does not have the wherewithal to discern anything other than what she is told. And a non medically inclined individual at that. She needs to be informed. The on-call clinical psychiatrist is at my bedside. I am informed that I have deep seated guilt anxieties brought about by my marital status or lack of it; hence the psychosomatic symptoms. Therefore a dose of Zoloft/Prozac taken for a trial period of four weeks should set me on a journey of recovery. Doses will be tweaked at the follow-up outpatient clinic in five weeks.

Further advice from the said clinician: “Take yourself out on a Friday or Saturday night, re-establish a social life and that will precipitate healing. Just be sure not to mix alcohol with the medication.”

Clarification from self: “In other words, a good ‘humperdink’ will release my pent up emotions.”

A ripple of laughter ran through the assembled team as they congratulated themselves gutturally on how quickly this one had picked up the message they were trying to get across. They coughed and cleared their throats intellectually and launch into ribbons of medical spiel. The medical students looked on, almost as smug in their stance as those that were teaching them. I was nothing but another case to them. One that they did not really need to trouble their heads about.

I slipped into a reverie, reflecting on how I’d ended up in a hospital bed when I should have been facilitating a workshop titled - Harmony among Colleagues is Conducive to a Productive Workforce. I was thrown off the “First Bus” - Leeds to Huddersfield X6 route - at 8:56am that morning, between Heckmonwike and Brighouse. The bus driver assumed that my slurred speech was an indication of inebriation. When I arrived at casualty, although I could not keep my eyes open, I could hear properly. “30-something or 40-year-old female, abrasions on the right cheek; incoherent and disoriented, unable to give name or address. Possible alcohol poisoning.” I remember chuckling to myself and thinking, I’m a teetotal Jane Doe. The paramedics had also been very rude. If objects within my line of vision had kept stable, I would gladly have punched the dragon breath woman who had made condescending remarks about the perils of inhaling tipple or fairy dust so early in the morning.

She went on to say, quite disrespectfully, that it was the likes of me who wasted tax-payers’ money. She had to do her job, therefore, she had no alternative but to come out. I cut my eyes after her as best I could under the circumstances. A manoeuvre I’d not advise anyone to attempt especially when feeling profoundly dizzy.

I was aware of the impending gale from the furtive glances cast my way by the medical team in the Accident Emergency department. Then my head began to conduct itself in a most peculiar manner. It became an accordion. It expanded then contracted, expanded then contracted. My surroundings began to spin faster than a Ferris wheel. A painful jab in my arm and blessed night descended on me. Not, however, before I had DEPOSITED the best PROJECTILE MISSILE of vomit right into the bosom of the obnoxious paramedic who had alleged that I was an alcoholic druggie. I hoped that this taught her not to pass judgment on anyone who seemed a bit unsteady on their feet and wrongly presume that they had been sniffing at the small bottle or snorting coke.

My attention returned to the present. My ears had picked up on something that had been said quietly.

I managed to raise myself onto throbbing elbows and addressed the team in a deadly quiet and coherent tone.

“Have any of you thought of seeking help or speaking to someone about your illusions of self aggrandisement?”

I had the stage now. It was up to me to give my best Essi, mind, not Oscar, but Essi winning performance.

“What gives you the right to assume that I am in this hospital bed because I would like to be on a drug trip? AND MY NAME IS MS CASELY-HAYFORD!! NOT AFRO-CARIBBEAN WOMAN OR HER TYPE! I articulated a syntax of choice expletives in a very polite manner I might add; but, my bladder decided to betray me then. I did my best to exhibit a dignified and sweeping flounce into the ladies room. But this is a bit difficult to achieve when you have to propel a drip stand at the same time as attempting to preserve your naked nether regions in the non fashionable hospital attire.

I knew a squall was blowing when the phlebotomist came with several phials for my blood. It’s amazing how much fluid a butterfly needle can let out of one’s veins. My poor arms and groin were sore from the assault of different sized needles. Now, someone answer me this; if my body was not in crisis, why on earth had my veins collapsed?

It took a young South African doctor to inform the consultant that he believed I may be having a ‘sickling’ crisis or else having an active Systemic Lupus Erythematosus episode before investigations to that effect were begun. It transpired that I was highly anaemic, which accounted for the wonderful accordion trick my head was doing. The other factor was that I had Meniere’s Disease. As a result, I’d had a particularly bad vertigo attack. Hence the staggering, and slurred speech.

For four years, I had walked around almost believing I was a hypochondriac and that there was nothing really wrong with me. From General Practitioners to hospital consultants dismissing my symptoms, to work colleagues and managers who thought I was a slacker, I eventually began to wonder whether I was going slightly insane. I have had people suggest how I should dress, how to wear my hair and what kind of shoes or boots to put on. All I ask is that someone show me the rule book that has a specific dress code for those who use walking sticks and ride wheelchairs and another one for able bodied individuals. Then watch me rip the rule book to shreds.

Did I mention that I had been aware all along that a storm was brewing?

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