Poison in the family…
My recovery was rapid and by the third day, I wanted out of the hospital. I hated hospitals, the injections and the way the place smelt. But the doctors insisted on keeping me a few more days so I had Ajuna furnish the room with a bonanza of air fresheners.
On the fifth day, Dr. Franca Olutayo and Dr. Adams came to see me. Dr. Adams was the middle-aged neurologist in charge of my case at the specialist hospital in Victoria Island where Dr. Franca Olutayo had transferred me briefly for some specialized attention during my previous hospitalization a week ago. He had the results of the tests run at the sophisticated labs of his hospital.
After a preliminary check-up by both doctors, I settled back comfortably on the bed, propped up high on the pillows, and listened to Dr. Adams talk away in that nice American accent of his. Ajuna stood close by my bed, studying the file Dr. Adams had given me and listening too. Dr. Adams stood while Dr. Franca Olutayo sat quietly on a chair close by.
“… so, we are now completely certain that the alcohol caused no permanent damages to your system and the swelling on your brain, caused by the blunt force trauma of your head hitting the floor at your fall, did not result in any complications whatsoever. The poison is now completely out of your system, with no fatal damages to your brain or the other organs of your body. You will definitely make a full recovery from this point.”
“What about the headaches, the dizziness, and sleeplessness?” I asked.
“We are putting you on new medications that will help tremendously. The sleeplessness and dizziness should be gone in a week, but the headaches, on the other hand, are a different issue that is directly related to your partial loss of memory. Both are in turn related to the minor brain damages caused by the minute amount of the poison that managed to get through into your system. I’m afraid, the headache will take a little longer to go.”
“Have you people now got a clearer idea of exactly what this poison is?” I asked.
Dr. Adams took out another file, a thin red file, from the black folder he carried and handed it over to me. “That is the full toxicology report.”
I glanced briefly at the documents in the file, then looked up at him again as he began to speak.
“The poison is completely unknown but possesses certain characteristics similar to the deadly venom of a rare black mamba snake found only in central Africa. The venom is a neurotoxin that destroys nerve tissues quickly, immobilizing and killing its victim within a few short minutes. The poison you ingested, though, is slightly worse. Extensive tests had to be carried out on every level to determine the nature of this poison and all possible remedies. First, your preserved stomach contents were discovered to be a mixture of the poisoned food and an unusually large amount of sodium chloride. Pure samples of the poisoned food were then extracted and minute quantities, fed to three lab rats simultaneously. All three animals appeared normal and showed no sign of ill-health for up to ten minutes, then literally dropped dead within seconds of each other. An autopsy of the animals showed extensive damages to brain tissues.”
My body had gone cold as death.
“Excuse me, doctor, but I need to get something straight,” Ajuna’s voice reached my ears as if from afar. “If this poison is that powerful, how is it then that he is still alive, because, from the point where he ate the poisoned food that morning to the point where the stomach pains started when we were driving along the expressway to the office, and then I rushed him down here, all of that took well over thirty minutes, I’m very sure of it. And you people never even gave him any kind of antidote.”
“Exactly!” agreed both doctors enthusiastically, almost simultaneously.
“Which brings us to the issue of the unusual amount of sodium chloride present in his stomach at the time?” continued Dr. Adams, looking at me. “May I inquire as to how you came to consume so much sodium chloride in the first place?”
Frowning, I glanced over at Dr. Olutayo.
“Common table salt,” she explained.
“I know what sodium chloride is,” I said. “What has it got to do with anything?”
“Quite a lot,” she replied, sitting up. “You see, I initially believed that treating you so quickly for food poisoning, pumping your stomach and giving you an instant blood transfusion, was what actually saved your life, but then I saw the toxicology reports from our own labs and it jolted me enough to bring in Dr. Adams at once. The simple truth of the matter, as has just been pointed out clearly by these two gentlemen, is that the poison was simply too lethal and had more than enough time to finish its work twice over,” she shook her head. “You never should have been alive at all when you were brought here to us. What saved you was a good quantity of salt, mixing up readily with the poison in your stomach and neutralizing it even before it went to work.”
The significance of what they were saying suddenly became very clear in my mind and the rage built within me swiftly. My hands began to tremble.
“Jesus Christ in heaven!” exclaimed Ajuna softly.
“The byproducts of the neutralizing reaction going on in your stomach was what actually caused you so much stomach pain, not the poison itself which is a painless killer,” continued Dr. Olutayo. “The little amount of the poison that filtered through into your system was what put you into a deep coma for over two days and did the minor damage to your brain, resulting in the partial memory loss and the headaches you are experiencing now.”
“Let me rephrase that,” said the neurologist. “According to the tests you had enough poison in you to kill a horse yet, you’re very much alive now and healing well without any kind of an antidote being administered. Why do you think this is so? It was the salt that saved your life, don’t look so surprised, common salt is the most powerful anti-poison substance in nature and can do battle with almost any kind of poison when taken in good time. So, you see, given the unique circumstance, we couldn’t help, but wonder at the unusual coincidence of your consuming such a lethal poison and yet having enough salt already perfectly placed in your stomach to destroy it.
“God!” I exclaimed in horror, ran my shaky hands over my head and covered my face.
“I was there that morning when he sat down at the dining table to eat,” supplied Ajuna. “He complained about an upset stomach, but there was no Andrew’s liver salt around so he just emptied the salt shaker on the table into a glass of water and drank it all down right before his wife brought the food. The salt water thing is very common among our people as a quick remedy to every kind of stomach disorder.”
The two doctors exchanged glances.
“Interesting,” said Dr. Adams, nodding.
“Yes,” agreed Dr. Franca Olutayo, watching me with a gentle look in her eyes. “He’s just so lucky.”
I stared blankly at the opposite wall, feeling like murder, Estella’s murder. Only if I could get hold of her.
“There’s something else you need to understand clearly, Mr. Nzeribe,” said the neurologist bringing my attention back to him. “This poison is very rare and unique. It possesses one unbelievable quality that makes it top of the line, it leaves almost no footprints,” he held up a quick hand. “Listen and let me simplify that plainly,” he cleared his throat and put on a very serious expression on his face. “This poison has an incubation period that is just right for you to finish eating the poisoned food and walk away seemingly unharmed, and then literally drop dead elsewhere, at which point it practically begins to vanish from your system, meaning it decomposes completely after the death of its victim to become other things entirely, making it virtually impossible to detect by normal post-mortem tests. Bottom line, if and when a normal autopsy is performed on the corpse the cause of death would sound something like a fatal stroke of a rare kind. If your stomach hadn’t been pumped and its contents properly preserved immediately, we never would have found this poison.” The neurologist shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry to say this, Mr. Nzeribe, but there is simply no way such a rare and powerful poison as this one could have found its way into your home, even less into your food by accident. Your wife definitely knew exactly what she was doing and you would have been long dead by now while she walked completely free.”
“Yes,” I agreed, nodding with clear understanding. “Free enough to be my chief mourner and take over all my wealth. Thank you, doctors, I’ll like a full medical report as soon as possible.”
“You can have that today,” said Dr. Olutayo.
“Thank you,” I turned to Ajuna handing him the file I had. “Take everything over to Chucks and tell him to forward copies to Estella’s family along with the divorce papers and begin work at once on a permanent restraining order to keep all of them away from me and my son. Leave him to handle things directly with Estella’s parents and go see her cousin, Tiffany. Give her copies of every document as well and make sure she’s fully aware of what is going on then tell her I said this, ‘I won’t be pressing charges against the mother of my son or asking for a refund on the huge bride price I paid for her, but if I ever catch her or any member of her entire family within a hundred meters of me or my son, I will shoot them on the spot. If I ever hear of any one of them even coming close, I will track that person down by every means possible and shoot the person. Whatever happens after, so be it’.”
“I understand perfectly, boss,” said Ajuna quietly. “Leave everything to me.”
I settled back against the pillow and lay quietly.
Neither doctors said anything, but they were watching me carefully. Dr. Olutayo had a worried expression on her face.
“How soon can you discharge him?” Ajuna asked, turning to the doctors.
“He can go home tomorrow providing he makes me a firm promise to stay completely away from alcohol and refrain from shooting anyone,” said Dr. Olutayo, her worry clear.
“Just leave him to me, doctor. How long will it take him to recover completely, health and memory, you people should have a clearer idea of things by now,” insisted Ajuna.
“With the right foods, medications and constant exercise as prescribed, he should be as good as new in a month, physically speaking that is. The neurological aspect is a wholly different matter,” she glanced at her companion.
“Actually, we still can’t say,” said Dr. Adams tactfully. “The brain is too complex an organ for anyone to make such predictions. Complete recovery of your memory may take a while.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Please, be very frank with me, doctor,” I said. “How long exactly is ‘a while’?”
“A few weeks or maybe months. If you are not careful years.”
“WHAT?” sitting bolt upright now, I was shouting in my desperation. “I don’t have that kind of time. I need to get my memory back now! My business, my whole life is on the line!”
“You need to calm down,” said Dr. Olutayo quickly.
“Please calm down, sir,” said Dr. Adams. “As I have just explained, we can’t make any real predictions, whether short or long-term. In most cases things only run a few days or weeks, a lot depends on avoiding any kind of emotional or mental stress. Avoid too much deep thinking and take things very easy in general, above all, endeavor to get lots and lots of rest.”
“Aren’t there drugs that can help?” asked Ajuna.
Dr. Adams shook his head. “There’re no real drugs for memory recovery, but I’ve recommended something that will help a bit, particularly with the headaches. We’re doing the best that can be done medically. Come in regularly for check-ups and time will tell.”
“Time, prayers and complete abstinence from alcohol,” added Dr. Franca Olutayo.
I looked at their solemn faces and knew that was it. There was no other alternative. The door abruptly opened and a nurse came in with a tray. It was time for my afternoon medications.
“It’s time for your afternoon medications, and then, rest,” said Dr. Franca Olutayo gently. “You have had enough shake-ups for one day.”
She helped the nurse administer the injections then they tucked me in to sleep and left, taking Ajuna with them.
I lay quietly in the bed for some minutes as my mind raced with thoughts, seeking alternatives to my troubles until the headache became too unbearable.
“Christ!” I breathed pressing a hand to my forehead. “If any woman in this world ever says she loves me again, I will kill her and kill her mother!”
The sleeping medicine soon took effect and my eyes became heavy laden. I let them close and sank gratefully into a deep sleep.