He gazes intently out of his living room window at two birds chirping excitedly and monotonously outside, hopping from spot to spot in the sun. From the brown sofa where he has been seated for hours, he can see a bit of what is going on outside. He holds the tears back as he continues observing, blinking a few times to clear his vision.
He mutters under his breath the frustration he goes through and how he has grown too used to the sofa. Every now and then, he struggles to adjust himself on the seat in an attempt to find a new position that could relieve the pain and discomfort from his backache and down his spine. He says the birds remind him of the days when he could bound up and down in a similar fashion, but those days seem so far away now.
Christopher Falode, 64, is a retired senior officer in the Nigeria Immigration Service, rising to the position of Assistant Comptroller before being confined to his sofa or wheelchair, depending on where he is. He had sustained cervical and spinal cord injuries following multiple accidents.
“It all started in 1991,” he murmurs quietly like someone wishing to do anything to turn back the hands of time and reorder the events of a sad day – a day that sorrow birthed its seeds.
Falode was involved in a fatal accident in January 1991, while returning to Katsina State from Lagos. He had been posted to Katsina from Lagos and had shuttled between the two places because of his love for his family and his dedication to his work.
But on that fateful day, Falode had almost reached his destination when the 18-seater commercial bus he was travelling in, got involved in an accident, veering off the road to hit a tree.
“After the bus hit the tree, the tree then collapsed on it. We had already got to Katsina State when the accident occurred. I was the only one who survived; others in the 18-seater bus lost their lives in the tragic accident.
“I sustained multiples injuries. I dislocated my left shoulder. I also had neck fracture because I was seated behind the driver and following the accident, I was sandwiched between my seat and that of the driver. The bus was mangled beyond recognition and it took some efforts to get me out of it. Shards of glass cut through my body. Eventually, I was taken to a hospital in Malufachi, where I spent about six months,” he says.
After leaving the hospital, Falode returned to work, thinking the worst was over. Then less than a year later while travelling from Katsina to Abuja with a cousin who needed him to assist him get a job in the capital city, Falode was involved in another accident. This time, there were no casualties, but the accident strained his muscles and put pressure on his body parts that were probably still healing from the injuries sustained from his previous accident.
He says, “I was taking a cousin to Abuja from Katsina to get a job when we had an accident on the way. For the second accident, I felt that my neck shifted. I guess the second accident compounded the problem. Later, I got posted to Maiduguri and back to Lagos.
“In Lagos, I spent about seven years at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and there was no sign of trouble then. From there, I was posted to the NIS Passport Office, Festac. It was while I was working there that I realised that my knees were not coordinated and I started to stagger while standing.
“So we went to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi and that was when we got to know that it was the effect of the multiple accidents that affected my cervical spine. By that time, I had started using a walking stick to support myself. And while I was still being seen at the hospital, my condition deteriorated and I started using crutches and then I couldn’t walk again.”
After undergoing medicals and having several tests run on him, Falode was told that he required a major surgery to correct his injuries for him to walk again.
“A local hospital in Ikeja said it would perform the operation – laminectomy and decompression of cervical compression – for N1, 066, 680.00. But a laboratory run by Indians in Lagos where we also visited, ran some tests and advised us to go to India to get better results. So they recommended Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore in India to us and we made arrangements to get it done there,” he said.
The Indian hospital gave Falode a bill of $7,000 to perform the surgery, which excluded travel costs, feeding and accommodation. But he had some trouble raising the money. So he sold the three machines at the printing company he had invested his savings in and still had to rely on support from donors to raise the money.
“I sold my printing machines and closed down the company so that I could have the surgery done in 2011,” he says.
By this time, Falode was having fits of spasms and could no longer sit down. According to his family members, he could only lie down straight and it was in that position that they bathed him and cleaned him up after he passed faeces.
“So we went to Apollo Hospitals in India in December 2011. There, they dismissed all the tests we had done here and ran fresh tests. It was like starting all over again. They ran about 40 tests, including MRI –cervical spine, MRI-single region screening, X-ray chest, MRI-whole spine survey, X-ray-cervical spine and lateral view.
“We paid $5,000 initially and paid the remaining $2,000 on the day of the surgery. The surgery lasted six hours and 45 minutes. The diagnosis was cervical cord stenosis with quadriparasis and bladder involvement and the surgery done on December 31, 2011 was called cervical laminectomy C3-4, C4-5, C5-6.”
Falode returned to Nigeria shortly after, engaged a physiotherapist who attended to him daily and taught him how he could walk again. It was a painful process but he was determined to see it through to the best conclusion possible for him. Falode still required the use of a walker or crutches to manoeuvre his way around the house.
But despite that, he felt alive again, with a feeling that life was gradually returning to normal in his home. The gaily laughter that had been lost in the family was also replacing the gloom and stress that his previous condition had placed on everyone.
Then in 2014, a little over two years after his surgery, Falode fell down at home and in a flash, a feeling of gloom returned to the home of the Falodes. He felt like something again shifted in his spine and since then, he has been unable to walk. According to him, even sitting down for long comes with a great deal of discomfort.
“Naturally, I’m a smart and bubbly person. When I was still able to walk, my kids would struggle to meet up with my pace. Now, I am forced to sit down in a place and bear so much pain that I cannot do anything about. This feeling of helplessness is painful and frustrating. I cannot do anything on my own without the help of my wife and children,” he says tearfully.
His son, Taiwo Falode, 38, who says his father has not received any support from the Nigeria Immigration Service, describes how prayer has kept the family together.
After another round of tests and several correspondences with the Indians who initially operated on Falode, a conclusion was reached that he would have to go for another surgery in India because the doctor who performed the initial surgery was the best person to do the correctional one.
Based on the estimate sent from the Indian hospital, Falode will require at least $16, 890, with about $10,000 needed for the surgery and the rest for feeding, accommodation and other expenses in India.
“Right now, the family is broke. It is only prayer that is keeping the family together now. After he fell down in 2014, the problem started all over again. It was raining and he was trying to close the door when he fell down. All the pains returned immediately. He complained of sharp pains in his back and said it felt like he was being pierced from the inside with a sharp metal. There was a day I saw blood stains on his bed while trying to get him up,” his son says with a note of frustration.
Taiwo, a graduate of Fine Arts from The Polytechnic, Ibadan, says he and other members of the family have had to make sacrifices to take care of Falode.
“And besides, money doesn’t come like that for artists in Nigeria except one is connected politically and is able to get contracts to supply art works to ministries and so on,” he says.
He explains that his father gets about N45,000 as monthly pension from the NIS but that it largely goes into buying drugs to manage his health.
Falode’s wife of 43 years, Christiana, had a nursery and primary school but it could not survive the financial burden imposed on it in the thick of the crisis.
“I was running a school but when his case became serious and he couldn’t do anything, I decided to employ someone to oversee the affairs of the school. I took two terms off, but the person was too emotional and the school ran down. By the time I resumed there, I met 24 pupils out of 120. And we couldn’t pay rent, so we stopped running the school.
“That is the most important thing this problem has taken away from me. I have been at home for about three years doing nothing. It’s frustrating but I’m hoping in God since I’m a Christian. I believe that there is no impossibility with Him. God helped us when we had to take him to India for surgery so we believe that there is nothing he cannot do. I don’t know what we would have done without prayer; it is what is holding this family together,” she says.
In the meantime, Taiwo has written letters to many individuals and organisations to solicit aid including Dangote Foundation, Globacom and the Lagos State Government.
“But we have not received help from any of them. Globacom replied the second message I sent to the company, saying that they got my first message and had not forgotten about the case. Recently, a friend of mine suggested writing to a music producer, E-Money (Emeka Okonkwo).
“He said that the socialite helps people in need. I took a letter there also but his security guard said I should try to get his mobile telephone number and call him. The guard said his boss would then give him a directive to collect the letter. Time is running against us because my father’s condition is deteriorating,” Taiwo says.
Taiwo says even though he has been ridiculed by people in some of the places where he has sought help for his father, he has vowed never to give up trying.
Donations could be sent to: Falode Christopher; GTBank Savings Account number: 0177267274
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