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How cooking gas explosion left me partially blind – Imo technician

A solar panel installer from Imo State, Opara Kevin, tells TEMITOPE ADETUNJI how a gas explosion left him with physical and mental scars

A Facebook user made a post showing you in a wheelchair with injuries and stating that you were involved in a gas explosion. Can you narrate how it happened?

My name is Kevin Opara. I am from Owerri, Imo State. I am 29 years old and I reside in the Oshodi area of Lagos.

What do you do for a living?

I was preparing to go to work when the explosion occurred. I carry out solar panel installations, and every time I have work to do, my wife helps me to prepare. Fortunately, my wife and child were asleep when the incident occurred. I don’t keep inflammable materials in the house. The gas I’m talking about is the normal cooking gas; the type I use is a gas stove.

When and where did the incident happen?

It happened in Oshodi, Lagos, in January 2023, two weeks after the New Year. I can’t recall the exact date. Two weeks earlier, there was an incident that made me concerned about the use of gas for cooking. My wife got a call as she was trying to turn on our kerosene stove. As soon as she picked up the call, suddenly, there was an explosion. I figured that the phone was the cause, based on my research. So, I warned her to be careful, and we managed to handle the situation immediately.

On the fateful day of the (gas) explosion, we had an abandoned cooking gas cylinder that I kept for some time since we switched to a gas stove, but it was empty, and I never knew it had gas in it because it had been abandoned for months. While preparing for the solar panel installation job I got, I opened my toolbox. My wife and baby were sleeping on the bed at that time. Suddenly, my phone rang, and as I bent down to pick it up, everywhere became dark. The music I was playing sounded as if it was coming from a distance, and my ears were ringing. I tried touching everything but couldn’t feel anything. I had to call my younger brother, who heard the noise. I also heard my baby crying, and my wife calling for help. Neighbours came in, poured water to extinguish the fire, and rescued me.

Did you see what was happening at that time?

I was only able to see faintly. People called for an ambulance that took me to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. While I was being taken to the hospital, I was hardly responsive. My brother contacted a doctor who believed it was a critical case and doubted I would make it to the hospital. Nevertheless, I assured my brother that I would make it. When we got to the hospital, we made a deposit, and treatment began. Friends, family, and neighbors helped me to look for money to fund the treatment. Thankfully, we managed to cover the hospital bill with contributions from people in my neighborhood.

How long did you spend in the hospital?

I was in the hospital for two weeks.

What do you think triggered the explosion?

I believe the Internet connection on my phone triggered the explosion from the leaky gas cylinder. It shattered my toolbox. I also had some liquid substances for cleaning, like spray paint, which could have contributed. The spray nozzles emit gas when pressure is applied, and the paint is highly inflammable, even though you may not perceive it when it leaks.

What type of apartment did you live in at the time of the explosion?

It’s a one-room self-contained unit. The fire consumed my apartment, but it did not spread to other apartments because my apartment was not attached to the main building.

Can you describe the injuries you sustained?

The fire burnt my legs, darkening my skin as a result, and made me unrecognisable until I started healing. The explosion weaponised the tools in my toolbox, and some metal fragments were embedded in my body. One of them hit my wife’s leg, but fortunately, my baby, who was behind me, was not harmed.

What were you told when you got to the hospital?

During my admission to the hospital, another patient shared a similar experience. He detected gas leaking, went out to close the knob, and when he returned, the alarm on his phone went off, causing a massive explosion heard several kilometers away. I compared that to my case. I had three phones that could have also triggered the explosion – the small phone in my toolbox, the one I used for browsing, and my wife’s phone that I used to share the Internet.

The doctors said the explosion damaged my eyes, but they tried a lot to save one of them. Thank God it was successful. My wound healed rapidly. Even the senior doctor mentioned that I had a healthy body. He said I was lucky because I didn’t engage in many unhealthy practices like smoking and drinking, which contributed to my overall health. However, I still need surgery for my eye. Initially, my vision was impaired, but it has improved. So, I require a transplant.

How much did your treatment cost?

The medical expenses exceeded N1m, not including my wife’s treatment.

How has the incident affected your job?

It’s been tough. I now send my team to handle installation jobs, as I can’t see well enough to work. I can’t drive because oncoming vehicle headlights impair my vision. After leaving the hospital, I struggled to use my phone, even needing assistance at banks for transactions. They (some bank workers) even questioned my identity until I removed my glasses, which instantly clarified things. If I were using a skin-lightening cream, it (the impact of the explosion) could have been worse. The doctors mentioned that surviving 100-degree burns like mine was rare, as some people with 65-degree burns did not make it.

However, there have been many improvements in my business. I’ve received support and favour from my customers. After the incident, my suppliers started selling materials to me at the cost price, without making any profit because of my condition. I advise people not to use their phone torches near petrol or while making or receiving calls at filling stations. People often take unnecessary risks. Apart from gas, anything that can produce hydrogen oxide can cause a massive explosion. The cell phones we use emit radiation that can also be a hazard. My advice is to store cooking gas cylinders outside, even if you fear theft. It’s better to have it stolen and replace it than to risk your life. I am currently in debt due to the incident.

What was your landlord’s reaction when the incident occurred?

The house was due for renovation, so after the incident, a quit notice was served to all occupants.

Where is your wife currently?

After the incident, I went to live with my in-laws in the North-Central part of Nigeria, Kogi State, to be precise. So, my wife is with her parents. She’s not currently working because she lives in a rural area. I receive treatment for my eyes in Kogi because it’s more affordable than in Owerri, Imo State, where I used to live. My in-laws took me to an eye clinic in Kogi, and there has been significant improvement. I’m much better now.

Is your wife from Kogi State?

My wife is from Kogi.

Do you think the incident had any effect on your mental wellbeing?

There was a time when I looked at my old pictures and became emotional. However, I had to encourage myself and draw inspiration from people who had faced similar challenges but lived fulfilling lives. I thought about Alexander the Great, who had one eye, and others who inspired me. A friend told me to improvise, adapt, and overcome. He reminded me that dwelling on my situation wouldn’t help.

Would you say the situation affected your self-esteem?

When the accident happened, I would say yes, but at a time, I improvised and learnt to accept who I am and move on with whatever I’ve got left.

Have the doctors told you how much you need to treat your eyes?

I need about N4m for the operation, which includes a transplant, and replacing the damaged right eye with an artificial one requires plastic surgery. According to the doctor, this should have been done before my wound started healing. My vision from the left eye is still blurry, and the doctor said it wouldn’t clear up unless the front layer was removed and replaced, which would cost N2.5m. Surgery for the right eye is estimated at N700,000 and drugs were also prescribed.

How has your journey to recovery been?

I am grateful to God for the opportunity to speak today. If I had died, my wife would have had to speak to you on my behalf. I’m grateful I am the one sharing the testimony. Anyone who survives a gas explosion is indeed a testimony. A gas explosion is often a life-threatening experience. Being alive and having the opportunity to continue living is a primary reason to be grateful.

I am glad that I am recovering quickly. It is not easy but I found grace, healing so fast is something to be grateful for. I am grateful for having good family and friends who supported me when I needed them the most, and the healthcare professionals who played a role in my survival and recovery. I am grateful for my strength and resilience in coping with the physical and emotional challenges caused by the explosion.

I see the situation as an opportunity to make the most of a second chance; the situation gave me reasons to be grateful for the positive changes and personal growth, such as a new perspective on life, and a deeper sense of purpose. The situation taught me to be extra careful by acknowledging the importance of safety measures and raising awareness about the dangers of gas or other hazardous materials. My story will potentially help others by raising awareness or offering support.

Have you received any counselling or therapy to help cope with the aftermath?

I have not gone for any therapy or received any counselling. I am just managing myself due to the financial constraints. The only way I can say the situation impacted my life is the things I used to do before I’m unable to do now, like the way I communicate with people and move with people. I used to be social; I made friends, but now I’m living a secluded life. I am no longer the person I used to be before. The gas explosion has likely left me with scars, pain, and possibly limited mobility.

However, I have gained numerous valuable insights from this gas incident. It has shown me who my true friends are. During this challenging time, I witnessed the unwavering support of certain individuals who stood by me and offered their assistance without hesitation. It was heartwarming to see how some people stepped in to be there for me when I needed them the most. Moreover, the experience taught me the importance of resilience and self-reliance. When faced with a situation where the lights went out, both literally and metaphorically, I realised that I possess the inner strength to navigate through adversity. This incident reminded me of my capabilities and the importance of self-sufficiency in difficult times.

Additionally, it served as a lesson about discernment. I learned to differentiate between those who genuinely care about my well-being and those who may only be interested in taking advantage of the situation. It’s an unfortunate reality that some people may seize opportunities for their benefit, but this experience has sharpened my ability to identify and distance myself from such individuals.

In summary, the gas explosion has been a transformative experience that illuminated the true nature of my relationships, reinforced my resilience, and sharpened my ability to distinguish between true friends and opportunists. It has taught me to cherish the authentic connections in my life and to be more discerning when evaluating the intentions of others.

What were the most remarkable aspects of your recovery period so far?

My wife was also admitted due to the incident, and though it was a challenging situation for both of us, it brought us closer together. We supported each other through our recoveries, and it strengthened our bond. One of the most heartwarming aspects of my recovery is the fact that my six-month-old son, now over a year old, was there with me during the explosion. Miraculously, he came out of it unharmed, with just little dust on him and some shock from the blast. I often find myself wondering how he managed to stay safe amid all the chaos. His well-being during that traumatic experience fills me with a deep sense of gratitude and amazement. Overall, surviving the gas explosion has given me a renewed appreciation for life, a stronger connection with my family, and a profound sense of gratitude for the blessings I have.

I can’t begin to express the emotional toll that the explosion took on me. The loss of possessions and belongings that held special meaning to me was not just material, but it felt like a piece of my life was shattered along with them. Among the things I lost, my certificate and passport were especially heartbreaking. Those documents were not just pieces of paper; they represented years of hard work and the opportunities that came with them. My certificate symbolises my educational achievements, countless hours of studying, and dedication. My passport, on the other hand, was like a gateway to the world. Additionally, losing my work equipment added another layer of stress. Those tools were essential for my livelihood, and their absence has had a significant impact on my ability to earn a living. It’s been a challenging period trying to cope without them.

However, as time has passed, I’ve come to realise that possessions can be replaced, but life cannot. I try not to dwell on what I’ve lost, but instead, focus on the fact that I’m still alive and hopeful. Life should always take precedence over material possessions. I believe that with perseverance and faith, I can rebuild what was lost. The support and resilience of my friends and family have been a source of strength during this difficult period, reminding me that there is hope even in the face of adversity. With time, effort, and the support of those who care about me, I am confident that I can rebuild my life and create new meaningful memories, even as I hold on to the cherished memories associated with the things I lost.