AJIBADE OMAPE speaks with Adeyemi Adewale on how an explosion at a mini gas plant where he worked in Warri, Delta State, has caused keloids to appear on his skin
How did you sustain burns on your body?
On December 1, 2021, I resumed work around 2pm after my partner had finished his shift. It was a very sunny day and we were two in the office who took shifts at the Joe Charis gas plant, Ugbokodo, Warri, Delta State. We had a supervisor who was not too experienced and we were the only ones left in the plant. I needed to sell gas for a customer and we were low on gas, so I needed to pump gas into the tank but there was no light, so we needed to put on the generator to pump the gas. The inexperienced supervisor, who was previously a teacher and had only worked with us for three months, was not familiar with the procedure for switching on power by letting out vapour from the gas pipes, and switching buttons in the control room, rather than waiting for my signal after putting on the generator, he flipped on the pump switch without warning and it was after that that something sparked in the pump house and that was how the pump house caught fire.
When it happened, I felt the heat of the fire so I screamed and people came around to help; we had emergency switches in about five places around the plant so while I was fighting the fire, the supervisor ran and flipped the emergency switch, but unfortunately he also put off the generator switch and we needed the generator to pump water so we could extinguish the fire. At first, I didn’t know how badly hurt I was because I was still trying to extinguish the fire in order not to cause damage to the machines. The fire affected my left hand; I was wearing a sleeve top so every part of my body that was exposed was affected by the fire; I had gloves on my right hand because of the blisters I got from whining the generator.
Were you provided with safety kits by the company?
No, we were not provided with safety materials by the company. This is part of the discussions my other colleague used to talk about with our supervisor and boss because the job required such materials; my colleague had worked in a similar sector so he suggested the safety materials that we needed, but up until the incident, no safety equipment was provided for the workers.
What happened after the incident?
The fire was quite difficult to extinguish because there were small leaks of gas coming out of the pipes and valves. Hence, it took a while; I exhausted all the fire extinguishers we had in the office, but the fire still didn’t go off, I had to seek assistance from some of the boys around the area who came with shovels to put sand into the burning flames. By this time, the pump house, the pumping machines and other machines inside of it had already been engulfed in fire and burnt; I went around to close every gas valve and pipe that was opened, I then asked one of the boys with a shovel to block the open valve where gas was escaping so that the volume of leaking gas would reduce; we then used water, while the others were pouring sand continuously into the fire. After so much fighting, the fire was extinguished and that was when the supervisor eventually came back after running out.
Did you receive any medical treatment?
Yes, I was taken to a private clinic around the area in Ugoto, where our boss registered us just in case we had any injuries at the workplace, because right before the completion of our employment in the company, we were taken to the clinic to run several tests. After all, our boss said he didn’t want to employ workers with illnesses or infection, so that is the clinic where I was taken for treatment. I wasn’t immediately attended to at the clinic because we were told that our company had some outstanding bills from the period when we did the tests, however, I was given an injection when I got there to numb my skin but the injection did not work as I was already feeling the pain and sting of the burn; the nurses started to cut my cloth with scissors so that they could clean up the wounds and the skin that was peeling off because the explosion made the skin to peel.
I eventually spent four weeks in the clinic treating the burns and scars but after that, the doctors complained that the medical bills were not being attended to properly; my boss also complained that the bills for treatment were beginning to weigh on him because he took a loan to buy the types of equipment needed in the plant and also set up the plant; his wife also went into a shock after she heard what happened at the plant and it affected her to a point where she could not talk or walk; so my boss opted that I get discharged and continue my treatment at home, and that he would support in any way he could.
How was the service rendered by the clinic?
The service at the clinic was not the best but it was fair. I will say the doctors and nurses were careless to be honest, because sometimes when I needed the attention of the nurses, they were not available. The doctor himself used to come just once in the morning; he was coming and mixing solutions with Blue Seal Vaseline and other things to clean up my wounds and wrap them up.
While I was on the bed, I couldn’t stretch my right hand because it was folded up from the elbow and the doctor did not take cognizance of the issue, it was very difficult to stretch the right elbow joint, but the doctor did not notice it. At the time I tried to stretch the arm, the skin on it peeled and I bled so much, unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t able to do anything about it while I was there, however, on the other hand, I was not able to fold my left hand as it had been stretched for a long time. The doctor didn’t care that I was in pain, he would always urge me to get up and be fast because he needed to attend to other patients.
After you were discharged, did you continue with the treatment?
Yes, after I was discharged from the clinic, I was attended to at home by a nurse.
After a while, my sister’s husband thought I had a relationship with the nurse because of how she took time to attend to my wounds, but she is much older and she is a friend to me and her husband knows me as well. I went to her place sometimes where she would attend to my injuries, my boss usually contacted me through the nurse to check on me and he also paid her N20,000 for medications and her service, although the money did not cover all the bills, because she was like family to me she continued attending to me. She attended to me for about two to three weeks after being discharged from the clinic.
How were you managing to do things when you went back home?
It was very difficult attending to myself because I was usually home alone. I managed to do some things by myself because at that time I lived with my senior sister and she would usually go to work. I managed to take my bath and do a lot of things by myself, but it was not easy at all because of the pain; sometimes I would call the delivery guy from the company to come and pick me up from the house because I was usually home alone and bored. Sometimes, my boss would meet me there and drop me at home at the close of work.
When did the keloids start forming on your skin?
The keloids appeared on my skin about three to four months after the fire incident. It was very uncomfortable and I don’t know why it appeared. I used some local remedies and I was also introduced to silicone gel but it did not affect the keloids, I was then advised to get a pressure garment by a doctor at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife who said if he proceeded with the surgery at the time, I would lose a lot of blood, so it was best to get the pressure garment first.
The doctor said the pressure garment would help suppress the keloids, and referred me to a hospital in Ibadan, where I purchased the first pressure garment for around N70, 000 but unfortunately, it did not have any effect so I had to purchase another one in Lagos. I eventually went to Lagos and got another pressure garment at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, and the pressure garment cost about N150,000 and it was effective enough for the doctor to carry out the surgery.
What solution did you find for your arms?
I was told I would need to have surgery on the right arm. The first surgery was done on my left hand at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital on March 15, 2023, the nurse who attended to me at home said the advice she got from her mother, who is also a nurse, was that we go to the general hospital. At first, I went to the Ogara Teaching Hospital, where we were told that it would cost a total of N250,000. I told my boss and he said he would do something about it; after three weeks, he sent the money. We then went to a general hospital in Ile Ife for an inquiry on surgery, but the doctors said the hand was not mature enough for surgery yet. The right hand would fold up occasionally after I eventually stretched it and the left hand would stretch after I tried folding it. My boss even placed me on physiotherapy but it was painful with the blisters, wounds and sore skin, so I quit due to the discomfort.
How did you feel emotionally and psychologically after the incident?
Of course, I was not happy. I usually felt sad because I was in pain and I could not have fun with friends the way I used to. People did not run from me because they knew me before the incident, but I barely go out and people rarely see me because the house is fenced all around.
Will you be going back to work with at the gas plant?
I will not be going back to work there; I will not even go back to Warri when I get better; I will look for something to do in Ile Ife or Ibadan. At the time I was in Ile Ife, I was earning just N6,000 but it was barely enough to foot my bills as I had no sponsor or major family support; I didn’t know my father when I grew up and my mother is currently not so strong. I only went to Warri because I needed a job at that time.
What is the next step now for your arms?
I am currently in Ile-Ife and I have been told that I would need to do more surgeries so I could make better use of my arms. One of the surgeries will cost about N700,000, and I will be having about two or three more.
If God can do it, do not want the remaining surgery to be delayed like this one because, after the first surgery, there has not been any substantial amount left with me; the first surgery cost over N500,000 and one of my sisters and her husband played a major role in getting the money for that surgery. I don’t have a sponsor; I am just hoping that God will help me.
I am even more scared of going for the second surgery but I know that it is necessary. The surgery on the left hand has not been fully completed, it was just the elbow joint that was operated on; the wrist and palm of the left hand are what I want to work on next, so the doctors advised that they should conclude on the left hand before starting with the right hand.