I hate passing near Langata cemetery. I hate Langata in general because it reminds me of my losses. Brings lots of what if’s and regrets flooding back in my mind. We buried him there 14 years ago. It still feels like yesterday. I don’t even know the exact spot. I just know his tiny bones are still there, somewhere in a public shallow grave, which has seen others buried in over the years.
For years, I have been blaming the doctors for his death. Flashbacks of my teenage tired hands holding the oxygen mask on his tiny face while he frantically tried to pull it off- a sign of giving up. Flashbacks of me pleading with the night male nurse in charge of the ward to come check on him while he was crying uncontrollably, every time I tried, I came back with the same answer, “I am coming”, he just sat at his station, didn’t move an inch. How I wish I had a cell phone, I would have called for help. Then again, which help would I have called for? I was in the largest referral hospital in the country.
You see, the thing with a pained mother, is that you only see your pain. I was surrounded by other mothers who were in the acute room with their children. About six babies sharing a bed. There was some sort of crisis through out those 48 hours I spent in hospital. I only had strength to concentrate on mine.
I was lucky to know a nurse who was on shift that night- being a hairdresser, I met lots of people who may have helped me when I needed them elsewhere- so Maggie, the nurse came to do her ward rounds and found me at the acute room in pediatric ward 3C. She pulled some strings and managed to call a lady doctor to our rescue. I heard the lady doctor say in English, “we just have to wait, the only solution now is the ICU which is full”. She tried her best and put an IV on my little one. All these calmed him for 30 minutes.
He started crying uncontrollably again and the nurse on duty suddenly gained his mobility. He told me to follow him to another room with my little one. Knowing how things were, I didn’t want my little one to be away from the oxygen mask for long. I had to remove my high heels, hold him carefully and also hold the UV drip. Then i ran after him with my baby in my hands.
At the other room, I found two doctors waiting. At this point, everyone in a white lab coat was a doctor to me. The man instructed me to put my baby on a machine, the lady in green scrubs was turning the machine on. Just then, before my eyes, I saw him take a deep breath. He became still. Still i didn’t cry. I was wishing for some good news. I saw the man in a white lab coat and a stethoscope take an orange thing that looked like a balloon and insert it in my little one’s mouth, at this juncture, my little one’s big eyes were staring blankly at him. He pressed the balloon thingy, filling my little one’s lungs with air and inflating his abdomen.
They must have realized that I was still in the room. “Mummy, excuse us for a minute”, said the lady in green scrubs. I went outside the room but peeped in through the square glass on the door. Still asking God to spare my son. When you have been standing for 24 hours holding an oxygen mask to a baby you desperately want to save, you have no strength to multi task. I was channeling my strength to praying for my baby, not crying.
The lady in green scrubs came to call me in after five minutes. “Sorry mom, he is no longer with us”, said the man with the stethoscope round his neck, in Swahili.
Just then, I fell down saying, “he’s all I’ve got”, in English. I cried all the tears I had held to give my baby the fighting will. The tears I had held in as a single teenage mother who forgot about school to dedicate her life to bringing up this beautiful- yes- beautiful boy who had just turned five months that week…
Years later, when I see our health system is worse if not the same way it was in 2002, I still weep. I don’t want to go into details of how when I suffered a stroke in August 2003, I was given a five month appointment, in February 2004, due to the long waiting list at the neurology clinic. That left me using my left hand to date.
I don’t want to get into the details of my time in 2012, caring for George at Mbagathi District Hospital, where he was not receiving treatment, yet he had cancer.
Most of all, my fear is getting sick. I fear reaching the point of being admitted because I would relive all my negative experiences. I thank God that I have not had to be admitted in hospital. I know this sounds selfish, but I pray daily not to be the one needing care, I also pray for my family and friends not to fall sick.
Today I got some time and read the heart rending article that a husband wrote in memory of his wife- a doctor- an anesthetist to be precise. She saved many lives but ended up dying because of the flawed health system.
Eunice Songa, my little David, George and other many Kenyans who have died due to the flawed health care system need not be statistics. Let us think past the diversionary campaigns and think critically. Why do we pay taxes, yet we are shortchanged when we seek services? Why are our leaders bragging about the services that they have provided yet that is what we put them in office to do? Why are we used to getting so little yet we have the power to put the right people in power?
I support the Collective Bargaining Agreement that our doctors are fighting for. It’s not just about the money, or greedy doctors, which is the picture that some would love to paint to us. As the doctor’s strike reaches its 80th day, it is better they get what they are fighting for because a demotivated health care professional equals a suffering citizen.
Photos courtesy of Courage stories by Marcus Olang’.