Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Sickle Cell Disorder, Sibling Rivalry

By Ini Akpan
17 September 2023   |   2:30 pm
‘Nene, pray for your brother. He's very ill.’ Ebere said, as she dropped the phone she had been holding to her ear. She had just gotten off the phone with her sister who was in the hospital. ‘That's good for him. I don't even want him to come back.’ Nene, her niece, quipped. ‘Ah, Nene!…

‘Nene, pray for your brother. He’s very ill.’ Ebere said, as she dropped the phone she had been holding to her ear. She had just gotten off the phone with her sister who was in the hospital.

‘That’s good for him. I don’t even want him to come back.’ Nene, her niece, quipped.

‘Ah, Nene! That is not a nice thing to say. Why would you say such a thing?’ Ebere asked, a worried expression on her face.

Nene seemed unrepentant and pouted defiantly, ‘Well, because of him, Mummy is not nice to me either.’

Curious and determined to know the source of this outburst, Ebere drew Nene closer to herself and asked, ‘What do you mean, Nene? Why are you saying these things?’

‘Aunty Ebere, Mummy does not care for me anymore because of Nnanna. When she gives us food, his pieces of meat and fish are always bigger than mine. If I get one egg, he gets two. Even house chores are off-limits to him. Meanwhile, Mummy makes me clean his bedroom and mine. I even wash his clothes sometimes. How is that fair?’

‘The other day, I came home wanting to tell her about my assignment in school, but she spent the whole afternoon with Nnanna in his room. When I tried to talk to her, she sent me away and said she would talk to me later.’ Nene continued, almost in tears.

‘I do all the work while he lies in bed doing nothing. See ehn? I want him to die. At least, if he’s not here, I’ll have my parents back and we can be a happy family again.’

By this time, teardrops could be seen trickling down her eyes. It was obvious she had carried this burden for long, but she was not done.

‘Did I mention it’s because of him we could not travel last summer? I was so looking forward to travelling for the holidays and had told all my friends we would be going to Malta. Guess what? We never went and my friends made fun of me a called me a liar. I was so ashamed!’ Nene cried.

‘My dear Nene, I am so sorry about this. But how is that Nnanna’s fault?’

‘Don’t you get it?’ She flailed her arms as she spoke, breaking out of Ebere’s embrace. ‘He started vomiting before the trip and the doctor said he shouldn’t travel just yet. We could have gone without him but no; Daddy insisted we all stay with him. It’s just so unfair!’

‘Hmmm, I think I understand how you…’

‘That’s not all! He even gets better clothes than I do. He has several hoodies and cardigans he can wear to school, but I have none. When I complained, Daddy said my school cardigan is good enough. Why does he get better treatment than I do? Why? I hate him! I hate him. I hate him.’ She muttered as she crumbled in a heap on the cushioned floor.

Now, Ebere was truly in a rut. How could she explain to her nine-year-old niece that her brother had sickle cell disease and was seemingly being given preferential treatment because his parents were anxious and unsure how to care for him? How could she explain that he was suffering a number of complications she could never understand, no matter how hard she tried? How could she help her see that he was probably envious of her too, wishing he could run around as she did without falling sick?

Unfortunately, Nene and Nnanna’s story is not unique. Having sickle cell disorder can make one especially vulnerable from childhood and it often affects the entire family.

Receiving a sickle cell diagnosis can introduce much anxiety and fear into the primary caregiver’s (parents or guardians) minds, leading them to overreact and neglect the healthier children. It can also lead to a sense of guilt, luring the parent to overcompensate the affected child.

And truly, seeing that sickle cell disease makes children (and adults) more susceptible to ill health, parents have every reason to pay more attention to their affected child(ren). However, you do not want to lose your other children in the process of caring for the ill ones.

So, what can you do to bridge the gap?
Have an age-appropriate discussion with each child, explaining what sickle cell disorder is and how the family aims to cope with the condition.

Have regular bonding time with each child, where they get your undivided attention, even if it is just for an hour each week. You can spend this time with them doing what they love. Whatever activity you choose, let it be unique and meaningful to that child.
Avoid treating your warrior child(ren) as an invalid. Sickle cell disease is not a death sentence or an automatic ticket to a life of dependency. Help the affected child (ren) live as normal lives as possible.
Get professional help.