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[STORY] A Chance For Love (Episode 6)

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Episode 6. (Voice)

“The same person who sees our nation as inferior has come running to us for safety, something his infamous nation couldn’t give him.”
“First, we are going to discuss misdiagnosis,” Stella said. An air of confidence swirled around her. Elegantly clad in her white uniform, her composure flaunted her job satisfaction.
She moved in a dignified way, head held high, eyes stable as she addressed the students before her. “Like I said, it’s an interactive lecture. Who can say a thing or two about misdiagnosis?”
I let my mind wander as she swept her eyes around the hall. Who could have thought that I, Victoria Brown, the esteemed late comer of Western High, would be early enough to witness Stella’s pre-class address?
“Yes, you.” She pointed at a junior. His face didn’t ring a bell. Then again, who said I had to know everyone in my school?
“In my own words, I think it’s…em…” the boy said. “I really don’t know how to put it.”
I rolled my eyes. Fools will always be fools. Why had he raised his hand in the first place?
“Anyone?” Stella asked. “Anyone? Yes. You.”
“Misdiagnosis is a form of clinical negligence,” a girl said. “Simply put, it is a wrong diagnosis.”
“Brilliant!” Stella said. “Brilliant. Simple and accurate. What is your name, please?”
“Stella,” the girl said. I could feel her grin. Murmurs snaked around the hall.
“Ah, my namesake. You should take after me. Major in medicine.”
“I plan to be a physicist,” the teenage Stella said.
“Oh, that’s a fine choice.” Holding her hands behind her back, Stella stood still, staring at the chattering students with an exaggerated scowl. “Are you done now?”
It took a moment for the noise to subside. “Brilliant. Now, let’s proceed. As she rightly said, misdiagnosis is a form of clinical negligence. There are two main forms of misdiagnosis. One, undiagnosis. And two, incorrect diagnosis. Both of these are equally harmful. Let’s take the first one, undiagnosis. As the name implies, it refers to when a condition is completely undiagnosed. For example, Mr. A has a certain health problem and visits his doctor, but the doctor is unable to diagnose his problem.”
“What could prevent a doctor, qualified as he is, from identifying a person’s health problem?” From the boys queue to my right, a classmate’s high-pitched voice sailed to my hearing. Alex. Cynthia’s heartthrob. Until Raheem came into the picture, stealing her over with barely even a glance.
“What is your name?” Stella asked.
“Alex. As brilliant as that question is, do you mind saving it for the end of this lecture?” Stella asked, the softness of her voice pleading ‘no offense’.
Although she had made it clear from the start that questions would only be entertained when she rounded up, I had hoped Alex’s well-thought question would make her compromise.
“So, where were we?” she asked, eyes locked on mine.
Anxiety reared its ugly head. I turned around, hoping Stella had directed her question at Flora who stood directly behind me. But Flora’s blank face made hope crumble at my feet. Grimacing, I turned to face Stella.
“Mis…misdiagnosis,” I muttered.
“Great,” Stella said. “I mentioned that the second form of misdiagnosis is—?”
“Incorrect diagnosis,” I said, hating the thinness of my voice.
To my relief, she returned to her lecture, “Incorrect diagnosis, as the name implies, is a totally wrong diagnosis. You are diagnosed of one thing, when in reality, you have the other. Forms of incorrect diagnosis include underdiagnosis and overdiagnosis. These are easy to explain. When you hear underdiagnosis, what comes to mind? Do you not think of under treatment? And for overdiagnosis, overtreatment?
“H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice said something about overdiagnosis. He posited that the biggest problem is that overdiagnosis triggers overtreatment, and all of our treatments carry some harm. What do you think of that statement? While you try to assimilate Gilbert Welch’s words, let’s listen to Victoria Brown give an example of incorrect diagnosis.”
Lost in thoughts about how my life had dramatically changed for the better—at least to an extent—my head snapped toward Stella at the mention of my name. She had just asked me to speak. But about what?
“Sorry, what’s the question?” I asked Flora.
“An example of incorrect diagnosis,” she whispered.
“Oh, that.” I returned my focus to Stella. What example could I give? My mind drifted to the last injury Cynthia had inflicted on me during a football practice session. I had sprained an ankle. There. The perfect example.
“For example a fractured ankle is diagnosed as a sprained ankle,” I said.
“Did you guys hear her?” Stella asked.
“Noooooo!” the students roared in unison.
“Come over here. Maybe then you can be heard.” Stella gestured me over with her left pointer. I found it bossy. But what could I do?
I cursed under my breath. She no doubt believed this would force my real self out of hiding. And I feared it would. She smirked as though sensing my discomfort. Tentatively, I moved to stand before the crowd. Eyes pierced through me, holding different expressions. Mockery. Attention. Attention. Pity.
Quiet descended upon the hall as everyone waited for me to speak. Eyes held the intensity of sunlight, blinding me. I squinted. I remembered the words Stella had told me on our way from the hospital yesterday. ‘Remember this. Always let your voice be heard. Always.’
It wouldn’t hurt being me for a moment, would it? Shoulders back and lifting my chin, I faced the crowd. “An example of an incorrect diagnosis is the diagnosis of a fractured ankle as a sprained ankle. Another example is being diagnosed with tumor when in fact the person has no tumor. He probably has an infection or abscess. Even metabolic conditions could cause tumor-like soft tissue masses to form. These and others can easily be mistaken for tumors.”
“Fine examples,” Stella commended. “And what would that be? Underdiagnosis or overdiagnosis? We’re starting with the first example.”
I wished I had chosen a less complicated answer. I wished I had used sore throat and cough as my example. Stella seemed to understand my plight.
“First, tell us how to tell a fracture from a sprain,” she said. “That way you can figure out if it’s underdiagnosis or overdiagnosis.”
“A fracture refers to a break in the ankle bones,” I said. “These bones include the tibia and fibula of our lower leg and the talus of our feet. They meet at the ankle, and are held together by elastic bands of tissues called ligaments. An overstretching of the ligaments holding these bones in place is called a sprain.”
A deafening silence accompanied my last word. I looked over to Amarachi and found her gaping at me with folded hands. My schoolmates—especially classmates—gazed at me like a second head had sprouted from my neck. They had matching looks in their eyes. A look I could easily recognize. Respect, admiration, and for a few unfortunate ones nicknamed the triple goddess, envy. I focused on one emotion. Respect. And I loved the feel of it. I just might get used to it and never return to my other personality.
Stella’s face swelled with pride, igniting a new kind of flame within me. She had changed my image from unfavorable to favorable. She had turned me from zero to hero. How could I ever repay her?
A clap broke the silence. First, a pair of hands. And then two. A roar filled the hall as everyone—except the triple goddess who folded their hands in defiance—joined Amarachi and Flora in the applause.
My head swelled with pride, an overwhelming feeling I dared not push aside. Welcoming this feeling, I let a smug smile stretch my lips. I had awakened as an ordinary girl. But here I stood before a great crowd, hailed like a star.
“You are so well informed,” Stella said. “It baffles me that you are not a science student and you know this much.”
That’s what you get when you have a Biology teacher as good as Sir Andrew. I spotted him down the hall, beaming at me. I had made him proud. I smiled back at him, and against my will, my smile broke into a full-teethed grin.
Ushering me back to my line, Stella went on with her lecture, “Do you know that incorrect diagnosis rates range from eight to forty percent? Let’s look at breast cancer screening for instance. A research review states that one in three of the cancers detected are overdiagnosed. This brings more harm than good. Do you know what it means to receive treatment for a medical condition you don’t even have? Think of the inconveniences of rescheduling appointments with doctors, the higher health care costs, drug side effects, surgical complications and of course, the psychological detriments involved. When there is nothing to fix, doctors in their desperation administer treatments, inflicting great harm. And in a few unfortunate cases, death is a sure thing, sitting around the corner with its legs crossed.”
“Is it dressed in black?” a student asked.
Stella’s eyes roamed the crowd, and for a moment I feared she would take offense. But then she smiled when her gaze settled on the student. “Yes. The blackest of blacks.”
“Carries a pitchfork?” another asked.
“That too,” Stella said.
“Wears a cloak?”
“That too.” More seriously, Stella said, “Stop self-diagnosis today. Schedule appointments with your doctor at least twice a year. Be health conscious.” The roar of applause and side-talks muted her next words.
She held out a hand, retrieving the lost quietude. “Now, please, hit me with your questions.”
Her gaze rested on Alex. “Your question was about how a qualified doctor could make a wrong diagnosis, yes?”
Alex nodded. I glanced at my watch. In five minutes time, the bell would ring for first period.
“I’ll allow you answer it yourself,” Stella said. “I’ll guide you to the answer though. Let’s see…A hospital wants to expand the market for its existing drugs, how do they achieve this?”
“Sell more drugs,” Alex said.
Stella nodded. She seemed to be expecting more answers though.
Alex thought again. “Admit more patients?”
“Does this answer your question?”
“In a way, yes.” Alex bent his neck to the left and then to the right. He always did that when he organized his next line of thoughts. It slightly amused me, though. It seemed as though his head overweighed him and he had to bend his neck every now and then for a measure of relief.
“Actually, there are two aspects to my question,” he said, gesticulating in a way that spoke of his intelligence and esteem. “First aspect. The doctor brings up a health problem when there is none. This you have already clarified. Now let’s move to the second. The doctor sees no problem where there is one. What causes this?”
“A number of things. Incompetence of medical staff—”
“Don’t forget we are dealing with a very qualified doctor,” Alex cut in. I could hear the challenge in his voice.
“As qualified as your doctor is, what happens when he relies on inaccurate laboratory test results, radiology films, and the likes of them?”
Folding his hands, Alex nodded. “Oh, I get it now. Curiosity satisfied.”
Poor Alex if he thought his comment would dismiss the case. He would shrink underneath the weight of disappointment.
Stella had obviously taken this personally. She went on, “On one hand are instrument associated errors, and on the other are human errors. While instrument errors involve the use of faulty diagnostic equipment, human errors involve contaminated samples, improper procedures employed by technicians, incorrectly interpreted test results, omissions in CT, MRI, X-ray or pathology slides. Does this answer your question, Mr. Alex, or do I have to go deep?” She shot him a challenging look.
Alex smiled. “Let’s leave it at that.”
I noted how a simple smile transformed Alex’s features from handsome to super handsome. Now I could see why Cynthia had agreed to date him. How would he react to her ditching him for the white guy?
Cynthia had a reputation for dating the cutest, richest kids in school. With Raheem’s coming, Alex would fall in line with her other exes. Although Raheem had put up an out-of-your-league show, I knew it would only be a matter of time before he became Cynthia’s new boytoy.
I scanned the 12th grade boys queue as subtly as I could. It held no sign of Raheem Kadir, giving me one more reason to smile. It appeared he would not be in school today.
Thirty minutes into first period and still no sign of him. Every now and then, Cynthia would glance toward the door, a distressed look on her face. The look a wife wore when her husband had not returned from war.
Sir Amadi spoke on and on about a topic we’d been considering since last week. God’s dealings with the children of Israel. Meditating over the thrilling miracles that had taken place back then would sure prove faith strengthening, but I would appreciate it if we progressed to another topic. Reluctantly, I wrote down the things he dictated.
Scribbling on a piece of paper, Amarachi passed it to me. It read: Shud I fry u an egg b4 u tel me wat lottery u hav won
I don’t understand. I wrote back.
Bn smiln all mornin. Wats d secret? Hw r u evn early?
Once Sir Amadi backed us to write something on the board, Amarachi grabbed my arm and yanked me toward her grinning face. “I want the full gist.”
“Not now,” I whispered. I squeezed the piece of paper into a ball and rolled it off the desk. “I will give the full gist in due time.”
“Leave out nothing.”
“No. Swear it.” She held out her pinky.
With a smile, I linked my pinky with hers. “Pinky swear.” We disentangled our pinkies just before Sir Amadi returned his focus to the class. He resumed his dictation.
“He’s here!” Cynthia’s squeal cut through me. The sheer excitement accompanying her words only meant one thing. Raheem.
“Raheem!” she echoed, her voice painfully sweet.
Face pinched with resentment, I fixated my gaze on my book. My grip on my pen tightened, turning my right pointer and middle finger red with blood concentration.
Amarachi touched my arm. “Are you alright?”
“Allow me introduce the newest addition to this class,” Sir Amadi said, ushering Raheem into the class. “Raheem Kadir.”
Obviously, Sir Amadi had given in to the charm of Raheem and his mother, leaving me alone in my voyage of hate. It would make no sense if I hated Raheem for no reason. But I hated because he first hated me. So, the unreasonable person here would be him, hating a stranger for no reason. I had seen it in his eyes on our first meeting. A hate so intense I could see the color black.
“You are late,” Sir Amadi said.
“It’s early where I come from,” Raheem said, his air of pride contaminating the room.
“When you are in Nigeria, act like the Nigerians,” Sir Amadi grinded out the words between clenched teeth. “Do you understand?”
“I guess.” Raheem’s rudeness lingered.
Sir Amadi turned to face the class. “Unfortunately, there is a raging war in Baghdad, Iraq, with the death toll rising by the second. I’m sure you all saw the news.”
“Is this really necessary?” Raheem asked, counting his words with impudence.
“Had it not been for the war, we would not have to tolerate you in the first place,” Sir Amadi said.
I gasped out a chuckle. Clearly, Sir Amadi had not been bought by the Kadirs. Ask me, I’d say he’d been coerced into accommodating Raheem in this school. A logical explanation would be that Mrs. Kadir had reported to someone in position to force this on Sir Amadi. And who better than the director of our school?
I raised my head and found Raheem scanning the class with those monstrous green eyes. His lips curled with disgust.
My jaw tightened. And at this point I didn’t try to hide my indignation. “How ironic. The same person who sees our nation as inferior has come running to us for safety, something his infamous nation couldn’t give him.”
Eyes turned in my direction. Voices rose from every corner as everyone beheld the part of me they had never seen.
Taken aback by my abrupt comment, Raheem gawked at me. He assumed his usual pose, standing straight as a ruler with his hands shoved into his trouser pockets.
“Pardon?” he said, squinting as though trying to block out light.
“Victoria, this is no way to speak to a new student!” Sir Amadi chided. “Have you lost your mind?”
As a matter of fact, I had.
Bolting to my feet, I pointed a reproachful finger at Raheem. “He is racist, sir. You heard him the other day. You heard him demean our educational sector. He obviously has no regard for our nation. So why does he show his face here? He should try returning to the former school he is so proud of, and in just the twinkle of an eye, he would be blown into bits.” I snapped my fingers to emphasize the swiftness of his destruction.
“Self control!” Sir Amadi said. His voice, although calm, sounded like a soldier’s command. “Where did it go?”
“Sorry, sir.” Lips pursed, I sank down on my seat.
“You just keep unwrapping new packages for us today? Hmm. First, an end to your late coming, thank heavens for that. And then the well-informed talk, and now you have expressed your view of racism. My view is no different. Racism is a disease eating at the fiber of humanity.”
He glared at Raheem, transmitting an unvoiced message. Amarachi and the rest of the class gaped at me like I had something unnatural on my face.
“You changed overnight,” she said, shaking her head. “I barely even recognize you right now.”
“Isn’t that a blessing?” I hadn’t changed one bit. All along, I had this in me. The fearless part of me. My inner demon.
In me lived a creature whose tongue lashed like a whip, consumed like fire and pierced like a sword. When it took over, keeping a tight rein on my tongue stood impossibly far off from me.
For this reason I had it caged in an abyss where light never peeked through. Once in a blue moon, though, it would rip apart the chains I’d used to bind it and crawl into the light. It would neither hurt nor bite, but would only spit out injurious words. Today, I let it bask in the sunlight for way too long that my bestfriend could barely even recognize me. To be honest, I could barely even recognize myself.
“Do I not get to sit, sir?” Raheem asked, his voiced laced with discourtesy.
Sir Amadi’s eyes roamed the class. Thirty seats. Sixty-one students. Now sixty-two. The limited number of seats had caused the triple goddess to sit together. Now, Raheem would have to play third wheel with two unfortunate seatmates. Bless their souls, for evil would be unleashed upon them in the form of an Iraqi boy, his name, Raheem.
“Find a place to sit,” Sir Amadi said. Picking up his textbook, he returned his focus to the class. “This is where our class ends today.”
Just as he walked out of the class, the bell for next period rang. Sir Amadi sure had a clock in his head. I hadn’t seen him glance at his wristwatch or the wall clock beside the whiteboard. I couldn’t be too sure though, considering that my eyes weren’t on him for more than half of the time.
Rising to her feet, Cynthia touched Raheem’s arm as he made to walk past her. A smile lit up her face. “Raheem, you can sit here.” She gestured to her seat. “I’m sure one or both of my friends would be honored to sit elsewhere.”
She shot Nancy and Precious a glance that sprung them into action. Grabbing the books on their desks, they shoved them into their backpacks and waited for the right moment to vacate the seat. They didn’t look too thrilled by their mistress’ decision, but what could they do?
Raheem’s face tightened. Chin lifted defiantly, he turned to look at Cynthia. He dropped his ominous gaze to the spot where Cynthia’s hand met his’. Before Cynthia could get the message, Raheem shrugged off her hand. Sharing my sister’s embarrassment, I cringed. The rest of the class exchanged hushed whispers. I heard a few of them chuckle. My face bloated with rage.
But then, a part of me smiled that Cynthia had landed in this mess. Now she knew what it felt like to be the object of everyone’s amusement. Especially when the audience consisted of our ruthless classmates who cared about nothing but whatever brought laugher to their otherwise boring lives.
Raheem adjusted his collar — an action uncalled for. “And you are?”
Although Cynthia stood with her back to me, I could swear her face wrinkled with exasperation. She had told him her name yesterday.
“Cynthia,” she said. “We met yesterday.”
“Cynthia.” Raheem leaned toward her like a lion would a squirrel. The rise of Cynthia’s shoulders told me she drew in a deep breath.
“What places you in a position to tell me what to do?” he asked, his voice cold as death, his nose only a few inches away from hers.
For a split-second, the class fell silent. But then, savage laughter took over. Before the end of today, news of how Cynthia drooled over the new guy would reach Alex. I doubted he would be astonished when he learnt of Cynthia’s huge crush on Raheem. He sure had seen it coming.
Cynthia’s gaze flitted from Nancy and Precious to Raheem. “Uh…sorry, I just thought—”
Whatever she had to say, Raheem didn’t find it worthy of his time. He sauntered away from her, and through rows of desks, towards me. An unsettling silence descended upon the class. Eyes turned in his direction, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Confidence puffing out her meaty chest. Tearing my eyes away from her, I wished I could fix them on something beautiful to make up for the unthinkable defilement she had brought upon them. Raheem’s frame filled my vision. I remembered Amarachi telling me he had sat on my seat yesterday. Tightening my lips into a thin line, I clenched my jaw.
“Hmm,” Amarachi said.
Placing his bag on my desk, Raheem looked past me and let his gaze linger on Amarachi. I got the message: I worth nothing. And I hoped it stayed that way. Better nonexistent than put to shame like Cynthia and other girls he must have encountered.
“I believe I sat here yesterday, yes?” He awaited Amarachi’s answer, but it never came. “Ask your friend to vacate this seat. Can you do that for me?”
Amarachi kept mum. We’d been bestfriends for close to four years to perfectly understand each other. We had a number of rules, existing not on paper, but carved into our hearts. If either of us had an enemy, the other would see him as an enemy as well. And if either of us had a friend, the other would embrace him as a friend.
“I believe when your new friend sat here yesterday you told him the seat was already taken, yes?” I asked her. Her eyes darted between Raheem and I, but she wouldn’t say a word.
I parted my lips to speak again, but something thumped in my head, cutting me off. A dull, yet throbbing pain I knew all too well. And I had thought my medicine had gained victory over it. It hammered on an on, as though avenging itself for the pills I had swallowed in a quest to quell it.
“You could all sit together,” a classmate named Maxwell said. Simultaneously, Raheem, Cynthia and I turned to glower at him. He shriveled under the intensity of our fiery eyes.
“Let’s pretend I didn’t say that,” he said.
Shaking his head, Raheem scooped up his backpack and strapped it on. “Very well. Let’s have it your way.”
I glanced at Amarachi, the victory in her eyes mirroring mine. We had kicked the conceited racist out of our seat. We had gained the upper hand, or so we thought. Had not sixty pairs of eyes been staring at us, we would have celebrated our victory with a high five.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Raheem had not stepped away from beside our seat. Instead, he moved close to the wall and lowered himself to the floor. There he sat with his legs crossed, padmasana style. Leaning against the wall, he let out a noisy breath and slammed his eyes shut.
His audience, including Amarachi and the triple goddess stared at him. I, on the other hand, only gave him a slice of my attention.
My headache flared as the class prefect slammed his meaty hand on his desk. My classmates sprang to their feet. Slowly, I joined them. I didn’t want to upset my headache anymore. But the good morning shout to Madam Charity, our English/form teacher, threw this goal far off from me.
Standing up brought a vertigo-like sensation as though I had been spinning my life away. I leaned back and grabbed my seat to sturdy myself.
“It isn’t everyday one walks in to find this place as quiet as a graveyard,” Madam Charity said, sauntering into the class. Her pepper-red lips curved into a short-lived smile. “Mr. Parish is inescapably absent. So I’m standing in for him.”
Placing a literature textbook on Cynthia’s seat, she advanced toward the wall opposite the door. Eyes framed with false lashes swept around, her scrutinizing gaze resting on us, one student at a time. Just before her eyes met mine, she noticed him.
“Why is he on the floor?” she asked.
Raheem pried his eyes open. His gaze traveled along Madam Charity’s full length. From the waist-length raven hair on her head, styled as a full fringe that made her Nicky Minaj’s twin, to the pair of suede matching her tucked-in purple long-sleeved shirt and the black skirt stopping just above her knee.
From the near-smile on his otherwise stony face, I concluded he liked what he saw. Who wouldn’t? I wouldn’t be surprised if rumors spread about Western High picking its female staff from beauty pageants.
Raheem looked up at me, his eyes accusing. Returning his gaze to his eye candy, he said, “She kicked me out of her seat.”
Madam Charity scowled at me. “Is this true?”
“There are twenty-nine other seats,” I said, scratching my itchy eyes. “I don’t see why this one is hot cake. He could sit in front with Cyn like she offered. She’d be more than pleased to tolerate him.”

Madam Charity’s gaze returned to Raheem who now stood on his feet. Sensing her unvoiced suggestion, he said, “Hypermetropia.”

READ ALSO  [STORY] A Chance For Love (Episode 16)

To Be Continued..

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