My Three Years on a Cement Floor – Onwubariri Emmanuel Chidube

My spinal cord injury was a mystery to my family. Mostly my relatives, who did not understand what a spinal cord injury was, despite the influence of my father, who did know. They convinced us to believe that lying naked on the cement floor would correct my broken spine. 

After two days on the floor, a “native” doctor was invited by my relatives and parents to treat my spine. There is a belief here in my community that a native doctor can fix a broken bone better than a medical doctor. In case you don’t know, the so-called native doctor was just a man defined by his having supernatural beliefs.

The native doctor arrived. He was an old man in his eighties. He started off by saying to all of us  that he’s gonna cure my spinal cord injury, but it’s going to cost my parents. As he talked, I heard him say that two of my relatives had to dig a hole four to five feet deep. Then two of my other relatives will support me while they cover me up to my chest region. The idea is for me to stay constricted in the earth for two months. In this way,  my broken spine will be fixed. 

I was shocked and quickly said “No. I can’t go into a hole to be covered up”. They insisted. I told them the only way I would follow their suggestion was for the native doctor to go alongside me.  So he too could feel a bit of how it would be like to be covered up for two months,  but he objected. I tried to make them understand that the spinal cord is a delicate and sensitive organ.  My doctor told me that I have a complete spinal cord injury and that I should never let anyone try to apply a native treatment. The native doctor and my relatives turned a deaf ear to what I was saying. I called upon my parents to please disagree with whatever the native doctor and relatives are saying.

My father listened to what I was saying. He refused the plan of digging up the earth. The native doctor got offended and quickly said to me that “I don’t want to walk, and that I am denying myself the opportunity to walk again.”

Next, he proposed another method of treatment. A way to make me feel my legs as he called it. Promptly, he reached into his rugged sack. He got out a bunch of three different types of leaves. Using his mortar and pestle, he pounded the leaves into small parts. He wrapped them around my right side from my lap down to my knee. Then he asked, “your doctor said you don’t feel anything?”. I told him that I actually know that I don’t feel my legs and that experience is very common to spinal cord injury.  He nodded his head. In two minutes, he looked at me and asked, “Do you feel any pain?” I said, “No, I don’t.  In thirty minutes, he repeated the same question and I said, “No, I don’t feel any pain”. 

He was amazed. He removed the leaves from my lap. Packed up his belongings and left, saying he would come back the next day. Little did my family or I know that the leaves he pounded produced a chemical reaction which created a burning heat to my skin.  But due to my injury,  I couldn’t feel it. Naturally,  my skin was burned. My whole lap got swallowed up. When I called my injury to the attention of my parents,  they melted in tears. They pleaded with me to be strong. 

The native doctor, who was to come back the next day for his proposed treatment, didn’t show up because he knew that the leaves might have harmed me. The burn became serious.  I didn’t know how to treat it. I couldn’t go to the hospital because my parents were out of money due to my previous treatment at the hospital. I tried to manage as best as I could. I was advised to get an antiseptic solution called Eusol. I got it and used it on the burns for three months before it finally healed. All the while, I am still laying bare on the cement floor in both cold and warm temperatures based on the assumption that the hard floor will fix my broken spine. 

Some time after my burns healed,  my relatives invited another native doctor to see me. This time, the native doctor arrived with lots of dry pepper, alligator pepper (a pod seed of Aframomum Danielli). He’s idea was to cut or shred open my skin by using some African leaves that looked sharp and rough like sandpaper along with some other mixture. 

As he shredded my skin and applied the mixture of pepper and other ingredients on me, my heart seized. I went into shock. The pain was unbearable. He quickly went on and applied it all over my body except my face and the private parts. I would cry from morning till night. Despite not being able to feel it on my lower body,  I could very much feel the painful mixture  on my upper body. This treatment was repeatedly applied to me three days in a week for the period of one year as I lay bare on the floor. Throughout this process, I couldn’t take a bath. I could only clean my groin and armpits. 

The whole situation was unearthly for me. Since there was no result after one year, I discontinued the treatment.  But I still laid bare on the floor for a total of three long years.