“Ward number?” he asked, completely ignoring my presence. He held an old record book and was already leafing through the papers.
“I don’t know,” I said, a confused look on my face. Wasn’t that supposed to be my question to him?
“Why are you here then?” he pressed on, but I was in no mood to engage further.
He looked tired. Like he had been ushering people in and out all day. You could tell his social battery was running out. He was relatively tall, and as he spoke, he gave no attention to his Swahili tenses.
Besides, his expressions were uninviting, asserting that he was not there to mess around. I was out of sync with what seemed like a routine for those visiting the sick in that facility. Irrefutably, he was one of those hospital security guards who don’t give two shits about second chances.
The thing is, my mom was at that facility. She had just undergone a successful surgery a day before and was in recovery. So it’s understandable that my thoughts were all over the place. Despite giving her countless phone calls days before the surgery, I was still uneasy. On the phone, she had been her usual self, calm and undaunted. A few times, even laughing it off like the idea of surgery was just but a bad joke. In hindsight, I was the one freaking out, incessantly asking how she was feeling and what she thought about the whole ordeal.
Of course, she was on edge. But over the phone, she was doing an outstanding job masking her fears. It’s a mom thing—keeping it together even when things are tough or falling apart. So when I said I couldn’t trust a word she said over the phone, I had my reasons. Seeing her was the only thing that would calm my anxiety. In consequence, her ward number had been the least of my concern at the time.
I found her in ward 3, bed number 29. How I got there sounds trivial. She was in a striped hospital gown, and despite being in agony, she still managed to crack a smile when she saw me walk in.
The room was relatively small for six individuals, and the beds’ even tinier compared to the size of the room. For someone who wrestles with his bedding while sleeping, I’d be a nuisance to the nurses if I were admitted here. No doubt I’d fall off way too many times. UON comrades, especially those who had the luxury of living in the prefabs, are familiar with the bed sizes I refer to. One wrong move, and you are on the floor. Those who invited their girlfriends had two options. Either sleep in turns or simply letting her sleep as you pace back and forth in the tiny room like a writer struggling to get his voice right.
Despite having visitors three times a day, the room was reasonably clean. Several awareness posters on hygiene, contraceptives, covid-19, and tuberculosis hung on the white walls. Beside each bed was a tiny white bedside cabinet. The one next to my mom had two vacuum flasks, a tissue roll, half a loaf of broadways (brown), a green plastic plate and two cups resting on top. On the east side were two large windows with brown curtains engraved with the apple name and logo all over. It got to be Maureen Waititu’s cahenl brand working overtime, I chuckled.
We had a long conversation, often segueing from one story to the next. According to the nurses, she had nothing to worry about. They expected her to fully recover in a few days and potentially discharge her within the week. However, her lab results would come in at the end of the month since the hospital lacked the equipment to run specific tests. It’s a crappy stunt that sub-county hospitals in Kenya continue to pull up to date. That’s when the conversation pivoted to the incompetence present in public hospitals; at one point, her procedure was to be postponed for a second time, citing the lack of surgical threads at the hospital!
What’s worse is that this isn’t new. With support from friends and family, patients sometimes take the initiative and fill in the Ministry of Health’s shortcomings. This means purchasing what the doctor needs for your patient’s surgical procedure. Failure to take matters into your own hands results in delayed treatments for those scheduled for surgery. And not only is it risky, but the bill, in the end, will have you contemplating selling your kidney. For some patients, waiting for the government to perform its duties is all they can afford. And so they spend days, weeks, and even months waiting to be scheduled for surgery, playing a game whose winner is predetermined, rendering the whole match irrelevant.
I asked the same questions you have in mind. How does a sub-county hospital lack the essential amenities needed to conduct the most basic procedures? What is KEMSA for if hospitals still go for months without vital medical supplies? Why are taxpayers exposed to such deviousness? Why would a facility designed to help citizens be subject to such lopsided practices? Why would any government risk people’s lives through utter incompetence? Who’s responsible? And why are they not on the fucking guillotine reaping the fruits of their labour?
When you think about it, the problem is deep-rooted. An ingrained resistance to change. So much so that we have accepted such professional ineptness as our new normal. That somehow, we are the subjects responsible for the incompetence we experience in the public sector. That given a chance to advocate for change, we chose silence. That under different circumstances, we become the same problem we are trying to fight. Often thinking it’s easier to ignore the situation simply because it does not affect us directly. We forget that a rotten system will catch up with everyone, eventually.
What’s unsettling is that we watch politicians, who have been in power for as long as we’ve had independence and delivered nothing but headaches and misery to Kenyans, justify why doctors demanding a salary increase—which they deserve—in the middle of a pandemic is unethical. Yet, the same corrupt individuals are busy siphoning COVID-19 relief funds at a time when a country’s survival depends on its healthcare system.
But, how is that unethical when doctors have to reuse personal protective equipment risking their lives because you want your pockets full? How is that unethical when nurses find it hard keeping it together as they deliver news of yet another postponed surgery to a patient who is literary hanging by a thread? How is it unethical when nurses have to beg families not to take their patients home after a postponed surgery in their quest to evade piling hospital bills? How is it unethical when nurses have to beg for medical supplies? How is it unethical when nurses go out of their way to get access to medical supplies in a desperate attempt to save their patients? How is it unethical when nurses have to watch patients succumb to illnesses while on the surgery waiting lists?
What is unethical is you pretending to have the Kenyan’s interests at heart only to grab whatever little they had in the first place. It’s you denying doctors what is their right and then expecting them to save your life days later. It’s you bottling BBI down our throats, knowing well it’s complete horseshit. It’s you pushing a referendum to a country whose debt burden is over seventy per cent of its GDP. It’s you barking at us in front of a misguided Kenyan media in search of shock value. It’s you shamelessly showing your face in public with a list of new promises when you already gave us the finger for reminding you of your old promises. It’s you implementing a nationwide curfew that applies to everyone but politicians and state officials. It’s politicians holding political rallies during a pandemic. It’s the police brutality that Kenyans have faced in the name of enforcing COVID-19 guidelines. It is the state simply abandoning its people during a pandemic.
It is heartwarming that many doctors and nurses still report to work every day despite the misfortunes, knowing quite well that they risk contracting COVID-19. But they understand that their presence is essential, especially at a time like this. We live in an unprecedented time in society where our survival depends on medical practitioners and healthcare experts and our ability to adhere to their advice.
Some of these heroes—like Dr Karanja (Nyeri County), a well-respected surgeon and Mrs Muchina (Nyeri County), an affable and selfless nurse who has dedicated her whole life to helping others—even go an extra mile. Amidst the ministry of health shortcomings, they sculpt a way to ensure their patients get the treatment they need and deserve. And that’s precisely what they did for my mom. They devised a way to gather the necessary medical supplies required for her surgery. And if that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is.
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