By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
A finger or our fingers could be the death of us. So we are advised, cautioned, and warned by COVID-19 experts, locally and globally. In a sense, it is a new way of dying. This finger thing. I know about death at the touch of a button. Nuclear switch or button. The hangman’s button. But his finger and COVID-19 type of death? I really I’m not sure. However, it is not really a new way of catching disease. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who worked at the Vienna General Hospital between 1844 and 1848 was the first to establish a link between washing hands and disease. Most of his colleagues did not agree with him at the time because of the politics of discovery of scientific truth and what I may term accepting responsibility for deaths in hospitals. The poor man died in ignominy, confined to a sanatorium. Details of that story? That is story for another day. These days it is routine to wash the hands whether at home or the office or hospital. But somebody died for it.
In our days in public primary schools we were taught the benefits of washing hands in hygiene as a subject. Suffice it to say that ‘the importance of hand washing for medical professionals didn’t really become understood until scientists hit upon germ theory—the idea that certain diseases and infections are caused by microorganisms we can’t even see. In particular, the British surgeon Joseph Lister drastically improved patient mortality by advocating that surgeons wash their hands and sterilize their instruments in between patients’.
Those fingers therefore in your hands could bring a deadly virus to your face, your mouth, your nostrils, and into your life. A handshake could be the death of us, of anybody. Fingers naturally find their way to the face. To scratch. To eat. To wipe sweat or dust. The fingers rush to protect and safeguard the face. But we are told that in that process fingers could take a virus to the face. You could catch a cold. A cold degenerates. Coughing follows. Malaria symptoms. Body weakness. Pains in the joints. Fever. Pneumonia. Inability to breathe. Then death. Death horrendous for most. No family members go near them while they are ill. Sometimes, husband and wife catch the virus. One dies. The other stays back. Filled with pain. Sorrow and tears. For some both husband and wife are struck by death. The children become orphans. A finger could have brought in the virus. Or where they breathed in the virus- the virus of death. Or it could have been brought in the by innocent kids or grandchildren.
Breathing in the virus could also have the same consequences. Cold and fever. We treat for malaria and typhoid and breathing becomes a problem in some people. Death follows. Often, for the rural poor in Nigeria, it is too late by the time they realize that they should see a doctor. They prepare all kinds of herbal concoctions to fight fever. For some, Agbo saves the day. How this happens, we are yet to fathom. Yet we know that for some reason, we have not died in our thousands in the streets of Lagos or Port Harcourt or Kano or Warri as health experts had predicted. Are we immune to the deep and overwhelming tragedies of a pandemic that we do not easily succumb to death? Hundreds of years of living with viruses and fighting them may have a role to play. It has not been proven. It has not been tested. It has not been confirmed. Yet there is death. There are deaths. Many deaths. Too many Nigerians have displayed the symptoms without getting to the hospital. Some get to the hospital with all the symptoms and die. When the test reports come in, they are negative. No presence of COVID-19. Some are saved after millions have been spent in highbrow hospitals for first class treatment. Others, especially the poor ones, are not so lucky. It is their time to go. They die. They are buried immediately. No report. They are not part of the statistics of the dead. Were they a part of the statistics of the living before?
In all of this, there are doubts. Skepticism. Skepticism in Warri, in Asaba, in Enugu, in Kano, in Port Harcourt. Skepticism over the existence of the virus. Skepticism over the efficacy of the vaccine. Some say those who take the vaccine will die in two years. The confusion is heightened by the death of some people who are fully vaccinated. A fully vaccinated General Collin Powell has just died. We are told he had underlying health challenges. There are conspiracy theories. Some pastors promote the theories. Some doctors too. And some scientists have been brought into the circle to dispute the vaccine. In America, home to great scientists and science, there are over seventy million people who have refused to take the vaccine. Or to wear a nose mask. Former President Donald Trump and his gullible supporters dispute everything pro-vaccine. Trump mocked COVID-19. He caught the virus and came out of it. But he quietly took the vaccine. Wily and deceptive leadership. These all add to the confusion. COVID-19, the conspiracy theorists say, is part of the attempt to chop money, or to steal money.
When poor victims, not famous or popular or media-known people die, the cause of death is hidden, not published. Some families believe there is stigmatization if one died from COVID-19. Such ignorance. Such superstition. Such fear of the unknown. As a result, they are silent on the cause of death even to the extended family members. One fellow who ought to know better asked me whether families usually announced cause of death in the church or newspapers or social media. I had no answer to that foolish question. I only reminded him what Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti did after Fela Anikulapo-Kuti elder brother to the music icon did when Fela died of AIDS. He made a public announcement about the cause of death to create awareness among Fela’s many fans. That reduced nothing about the person or music of Fela!
There is confusion. Big confusion. Confusion in America. Confusion in Europe. Confusion in Africa. Confusion in Asia. China disputes the narrative that the virus became a monster in their homeland. There are doubts about how our fingers that usually feed us with good food could be the cause of our death. But let it be said that the fingers that give us food could also give us poisoned food. Poisoned food. The fingers do not know what is bad or good. They act as directed. The nose which breathes in fresh air could also breathe in foul or fatal air. The word therefore is caution. Those preachers who rail against the mask should be cautioned. If they wish to die of the virus, let them go. Let them not deceive their poor gullible adherents. Late Brother Ebenezer Otomewo, President of the God’s Kingdom Society used to tell us that one false prophet was more dangerous than ten armed robbers. I didn’t understand it then. Now I understand how false teachers can lead one million people to destruction. ‘And the leaders of these people cause them to err, says Prophet Isaiah, ‘and they that are led of them are destroyed’. It is true. The good book says it.
The finger, our fingers could be the death of us. Our nostrils could be the death of us too. Let no one deceive us with puerile words from the altar in the name of God. Simple obedience to COVID-19 protocols and the grace of God could make the difference. Let us tap into the spirit of obedience and the grace of God!