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Thursday, February 29, 2024

VERONICA EZE | My Life is a story of Service and Sacrifice

– Veronica Ezeh, Psychiatric Nurse and founder of ADICARE Rehabilitation Home.

I was born 50 years ago in the green and beautiful Orsu clan, located west of Orlu in the present Imo State of Nigeria. I have very clear and fond memories of a childhood filled with family laughter and vitality. Most of my early years were however spent in the present North Central Nigeria where the pursuit of livelihood took my parents.

I was educated in schools across several Nigerian States. This accounts for my proficiency in the three major Nigerian languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

Schooling started in Jebba, a Yoruba city that lies in the south bank of the River Niger. My recollection of St. Theresa’s Primary school is that of a lively institution with expansive grounds and authoritarian teachers. It was in this excellent school that the first seeds of my future career struggles were sown.

After high school, I proceeded to the school of Nursing in Bida, and then to Minna for Midwifery. In Minna, I was taught that the family must be the central focus of midwifery and in the provision of care for expectant mothers. The emphasis on family has guided me to this day.

I turned to the south west and went to the famous Aro – the Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Abeokuta, to specialize in Psychiatric Nursing. My public service and humanitarian careers in psychiatry have their foundation on the outstanding training I was given at Aro.

I joined the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital Lagos, shortly after and have remained there for 22 years.

While in service, I have been lucky to receive multidisciplinary education and training in mental health nursing. I have obtained a BSc at the National Open University and an Mncat the EspamFormation University, Cotonou.I also studiedPublic Health at the Ladoke Akintola University in Ogbomosho, Nigeria.

While I will always cherish my extensive training and formation in Psychiatric Nursing, it was a painful and heartbreaking life experience that led me to establish the ADICARE REHABILITATION HOME.

I had married and started a family after my qualification as a Midwife. God blessed us with three children – two boys and a girl. One of the boys – an adorable child whom we named Adikachukwu had unknown to us developed a rare type of cancer while he was less than a year.

He had constant fever and for four years, we kept treating him only for high temperature. We took him to several hospitals but no definite diagnosis was made. The ailment affected his development. He couldn’t talk until he was four. We hired special teachers. For a long time, he was unable to clearly express the pain he was going through.

Finally, he was able to indicate stomach ache and a CT scan was recommended. That was when we received the most shocking news of our lives.

The scan revealed that our son had Neuroblastoma – a rare and highly malignant tumor in infants. That diagnosis was the beginning of a family nightmare. Now, I need to say something more about this child. His name “Adikachukwu” means in Igbo, “nothing is like God”

Adika was a child that radiated peace and joy. At that young age, all he wanted was to make everybody happy and was always the first to notice when you were sad. Even in his pain, his thoughts were all about how other people felt. He would enjoy nothing without sharing with others.

You can then understand the emotional anguish we all suffered on account of his ill health.

We started his treatment at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), where several types of therapy were used. He went through four surgeries in the course of two years. And the hospital eventually gave up.

The Specialists at LASUTH recommended an overseas treatment, but after all we had gone through, we simply lacked the funds.

And then, something quite dramatic happened.

Adika asked us to take him to the Governor of Lagos, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, whom the child described as his friend. We only smiled at that suggestion and naturally dismissed it as childish fantasy. Where has he ever seen the Governor, except on television?

But Adika was persistent and indeed reminded us that the Governor would soon come to our area to commission a new road. On that day, we gently reminded him that the huge crowds and the security men would not let us get near the Governor. But his response was to get up and begin to stagger to the venue on his own. We had no choice but to assist him.

And then, an official saw him and took him to the Governor. To cut a long story short, the Governor decided there and then that our child should be flown to India for treatment.

I accompanied Adika to India, but unfortunately the cancer had become very advanced. He was beyond help. After just a few days, we had to make a return journey to Nigeria. Three hours to landing, Adika became restless. He said that he wished me to keep celebrating him. He asked me to be good to people and not worry about him. He then asked me to hug and kiss him. I did. He closed his eyes and passed on.

Our grief was indescribable. But we knew that we serve a perfect and compassionate God.

After the funeral, Adika’s last wish started to ring in my mind. How was I to celebrate this child?

I had been so traumatized by cancer, that I wanted nothing to do with cancer. I didn’t want to think or talk about it. But I had to celebrate him somehow. I had to touch lives and be good to people as he wished. But how?

Of course, I went back to mental health. That’s what I am trained to do. And ADICARE was born.

You may have guessed that ADICARE took its name from my boy. Correct. It comes from, “Adika Cares” I conceived it, first as an NGO that will work against the stigmatization of mentally ill persons.

I started by going to the streets; picking them up, cleaning them, feeding them and relating with them. if you get close to them you will easily understand that they also, have need even as they are on the streets.

I had always worked with mentally ill people in the hospital environment. But going after them in the street was an entirely new world for me.

Getting close to them you realized they didn’t even want to come close to you because they knew they were dirty. Some would ask for water to brush their teeth; some would just ask for something to eat.

I moved around seeking help and seeking for a location I could put them for rehabilitation.  Some of these people actually have potential for greatness. But you have to be near them to know this. Unfotunately, help was not quick in coming. I went into advocacy, going to the streets to pick them especially those that were brought low by hard -drugs,

I reached out to the high and mighty, but nothing came. But my mission had become almost a consuming passion. There was no turning back. I started to look inwards. I had landed property that was not developed and I made up my mind to make that place a Rehabilitation Home.

So, I went to the Bank for a loan and that was how I got it started.

The rehabilitation programme is entirely free for those we pick from the streets. With time however our reputation grew, and people started bringing their mentally ill relatives for rehabilitation. For this second group, we make some charges in order to keep the center running.

The journey has been tough, but it is the passion that drives me. My family has been very supportive. My husband left his business in Abidjan to come to assist. He is always here and does everything from sweeping, cooking, driving and helping out at times of crises. He helps in picking up patients whenever we have to. He has been a father to the patients, worker, driver and all. I don’t know what I would have done without him.

I have two other children and both have been extremely supportive. My son is a student of Engineering while my daughter is studying Nursing – like me. Both are very helpful and run different chores at the center when they are around.

Presently, there are about 21 patients in the center.  About 17 of them are for substance use disorder and the rest are of mental health illness.

Now we have a full team of medical personnel. There arenurses, doctors, and psychologists.They are complemented by support staff of cooks, gatemen, cleaners and all. All function well in their duties.

There are challenges of course. The cost for rehabilitation is quite high but our charges are very low because it’s a calling. I don’t allow money to prevent me from helping people who are in need. Patients still come in for free drugs. We have some patients that will be here for four months but can only afford one month payment. We still keep and attend to them.

Another challenge is aggression. This is common to all rehab homes. You must try to avoid aggression by always being on your toes and constantly observing.

I still work at the Neuropsychiatric hospital and when I finish there each day, I resume here. So, it is work, work and work.

My greatest joy is being able to help people who were abandoned and rejected; seeing hope on their faces again and seeing them get back to normal lives.

Most of our patients are youths; the drug addicts and the mentally deranged. I want to thank God that many of them have been restored to health; some have gone out of the country, some are back to their jobs, some are back to school. That is the reason we are here.

What keeps the Centre running are basically food, medication, basic amenities, games(both indoor and outdoor games) we have a basketball pitch, the space for football is not much but we manage. And most of all: tender loving care.

I am happy about the transformation that happens here. We do not achieve 100% success all the time. Some have returned to the streets and we are always sad about that. But the vast majority are transformed and that is our joy.

Mental illness is not a death sentence and it is important for the public to know this.It is a disorder like any other disorder. I have been stigmatized even as the patients are stigmatized.  Some friends have kept their distance from me because I keep mentally ill people. Some don’t even talk to me or greet me again.

There was a time my neighbor’s child was sick and I assisted with some money. But my money was rejected. It is all so wrong.

My Motivation is my child Adika.  God took Adika from me and gave me ADICARE, so that’s what keeps me going. That gives me the reason to live.

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