Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tonte died last night

The early morning phone call message was short and direct: "Tonte died last night:"

I have been a family physician for more than 50years now and taking night calls has become a pattern for me, calls waking me up from sleep has become part of my practice especially the tragic news such as telling me that; my special patient is dying or has died. As sad as it sounds, one gets too familiar to such conversation and should I say used to it after 50years. However the unique circumstance of my early morning “Tonte Died Last night” call, stands out as one of the most unexpected.
Who was Tonte? Who called me with the death message? Why was it especially memorable?
Tonte was a dedicated bar attendant in one of the popular lounges in Abuja, she was so dedicated and hardworking. Unfortunately, the lounge owner who deeply respected Tonte, “thought the world of her” but did not think highly enough about protecting her health. He thought that smoking customers could not be denied opportunity to pollute the indoor air for employees and other patrons.

As a result Tonte as an employee sometimes choked up from breathing smoke. This caused her to prop open the outside door to let smoke out and plead with her smoking customers near the bar area to please move to the other side of the room. Tonte, who couldn't afford to foot hospital bills, was simply issued a bronchodilator inhaler by her bar supervisor and advised to take some extra puffs on her inhaler whenever she choked up from smoke exposure.

On the night Tonte died, she had propped open the outside door hoping to let smoke out, moved several smokers to the other side of the room and took extra puffs on her inhaler. Despite this, Tonte was still struggling to breathe, so she decided to go home early, get away from the smoke, relax, and rest up. She assured bar/lounge co-workers that with some extra rest at home, she would be fine, and be able to arrive safely the following working day.

However she didn't arrive at her work place the next day. To the concern of her colleagues and devoted friends who restlessly waited for their beloved’s arrival, she was a no-show. In fact by mid-morning when she had not showed up, and hadn't called in sick, the supervisor felt very concerned. He hastily drove to Tonte's home. The door was locked. There was no answer to the doorbell. Security staff were called to help pry open the door. Their worst fears were realized. There lying dead on the floor was Tonte. She had completely choked up at home and stopped breathing before she could even call anyone for help.

Who surprised me as the early morning sad news messenger of "Tonte Died Last Night," It was the leader of the so called "Quint Bar Owners" group who in obvious emotional distress called to tell me. This man had been the opposition leader against smoke-free bars/lounges. As a further surprise invitation in his emotional call to me, he and the Tempe Bar/Lounge owner as former opponents of our second hand smoke-free environment law totally switched sides after Tonte died from her workplace smoke exposure.

At the touching & widely-attended Memorial Service, the owner, Mr D, greeted me emotionally, as "Doctor Smoke-Free" and with his distraught wife as witness, pledged a special memorial to Tonte's life and her preventable early death. He pledged that henceforth there would be absolutely no more smoke exposure for any employee ever again inside his bar. He said that he deeply regretted that it took Tonte's death to make him painfully aware of something that he had totally neglected: The need for protecting the health and life of his precious employees.

Unfortunately, this story you are just read is one that resonates with too many people across the length & breadth of the country as the current situation fails to protect citizens at their workplace from Second-Hand Smoke due to tobacco use.

Join us in making this strong appeal for the National Assembly to pass this bill, follow us on twitter, add your voice by visiting our facebook page, like our post, drop your comments and share widely with others. Together we can make the change that we all desire.

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Tonte died last night is a fictitious human angle story. All characters are creations of the author entirely and bear no semblance to known persons

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