As Aduke made her usual rounds in her home that morning picking up after her kids who had just got on the school bus, her mind went back again to Mrs Dada her elementary school teacher.

She remembered the day she first set eyes on the little but yet commanding figure of Mrs Dada with her ever present long reaching cane in hand, ever ready to set any erring student straight.

It was her first day in her new elementary school her family had just relocated. 

It was a bright Monday morning one of those the sun in apparent display of a mind of her own hurriedly rising before the expected time.

The morning school assembly had just been completed she remembers herself and the other students dressed in starched brown cotton khaki uniform, well ironed, done back  in those days with charcoal irons .

Blistering red hot crackling charcoal made from trees felled from the deep savanna forest of West Africa, fanned to blistering redness inside a pressing iron fabricated from wrought iron .
With proper mastery involving adequate amount of wetting with water done by dipping of hand into a bowl of water and splashing the right amount onto the khaki at intervals.

In their Bata Shoes school sandals worn with white socks pulled to the knees they marched in  a single line in demanded tandem and comportment  to the rolling beat of the one man school band, drumming away in pride to the song of ...
Bata re a dun ko ko ka!

A local Yoruba metaphoric inspirational song that translates..” if you take your studies seriously, your fame would be heard far and wide.”
For the past couple of weeks Aduke’s  mind keeps going back to those elementary school days and Mrs Dada because of an issue that has been plaguing her mind  lately .
Mrs Dada had a habit that earned her a secret nickname amongst the students .

They called her “ White Lips”..
Mrs Dada was in the habit of eating chalk, she keeps munching on chalk, making her lips stained white.
It was rumored back then amongst the students that she didn’t spare the rod as usual with a student whose father was the village voodoo man who in revenge had placed a curse on her for whooping his child. 

The whispering sound of “white lips” to announce the presence of Mrs Dada was enough to jolt any student into comportment, it was one of the numerous games the students indulged themselves in at the expense of their feared school teacher.

One of many that didn’t take Aduke too long to join in with the other students .
As fate would however have it, over the past two years Aduke  herself had gradually developed the secret habit of eating chalk .

A secret she has tried keeping from her family and co workers but increasingly becoming more difficult as the craving continues to become increasingly uncontrollable . 

She had even started going back to buy more chalks under the false pretense that her son was still needing it, just like three years ago when she bought the first set of chalk for his school project.

She could not help but wonder if this was retribution or Karma for all the jokes and fun she had joined in making of her school teacher.

Aduke’s worry and apprehension became more heightened last week when she had called an old school mate to enquire about  Mrs Dada.
She was told Mrs Dada had died several years ago . She had suddenly collapsed and died in her home one afternoon.

Shortly  before then she had stopped working because she couldn’t cope with the stress of the job, she had become alarmingly tired accomplishing very little chores.

Aduke had panicked at the news as she had  lately been getting tired and fatigued easily with little chores.
Aduke realized it was time to seek help, she knew exactly who she needed to go see.

It was her Aunt, the head Nurse at the state General Hospital, a woman she has found to be wise in a lot of ways most especially on issues about health .
Aduke had barely finished explaining her worries about the concept of karma or retribution she believed was playing out in her life at the moment than her Aunt bursted into laughter.
With the usual squint Aduke had become accustomed to seeing when her Aunt had a point to make, she watched as her Aunt said “ No it’s certainly not Karma or retribution.
Its a disease called PICA..

My husband had a similar problem couple of years ago when he suddenly started  craving Ice.”
Pica is a Latin word for Magpie, a bird notorious for eating anything .
The disease describes the craving and eating of substances without nutritive values. 

Since medieval times scholars and scientist have been interested in finding the reason why certain individuals show a propensity or craving for consuming these non nutritive substances which could include clay, sand , chalk,cornstarch, ice, paper , charcoal etc ..

The most widely accepted and scientifically proven explanation is that these individuals lack certain minerals and elements in their body that their cravings tries to replenish.
The most common of these and of which this writing will focus is the deficiency of iron commonly seen in women, pregnant women and in some men.

Iron is an essential mineral necessary for making blood , hence these individuals displaying this PICA syndrome are often iron deficient hence lacking an essential component of making blood thereby having low blood described in medical parlance as anemia . 

These individuals because of low blood get tired easily because they do not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen needed for energy supply to the tissues of their body .
This perhaps is the most likely case in Mrs Dada and Aduke. 
Essentially it can be likened to driving a vehicle without fuel in it.
Eventually the engine stops. 

In these individuals with continued severe uncorrected anemia, the heart eventually fails and stops working known in medical parlance as cardiac arrest . 
Often times once medical attention is sought and the iron deficiency is corrected, which can be as simple as taking daily Iron supplements  for sometime and in some severe cases  blood transfusion could be required, the craving stops. 

An investigation into the cause of low iron in these patients could also be quite helpful in the early diagnosis of certain more ominous diseases like colon cancers.

The intent of this writing is not to fully cover the whole science of the disease of PICA, but to raise the awareness of this phenomena and the possible causes of it and a need to advise and encourage those affected to seek medical attention for this often treatable curable disease.

Dr Afolabi Tiamiyu is a medical doctor. He writes from the US.

Email: [email protected]

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