- It was disclosed to me that in my semi-conscious state I thanked God, the doctors and all their assistants. I also pronounced before my spouse, daughter and brother the special words: “I love you.”
- When I meet Kiraitu and others who intend to travel the Damascus road of Light with the majority of Kenyans, I hope and trust we shall discuss what this entails
By Prof Kivutha Kibwana
For a year or more I had not been feeling well. Imagine I skipped two annual medical check-ups! And yet signs of ill health persisted. I would complain the usual, “my whole body aches”.
Specifically, I had perennial pain in the chest, kidney region, arm and legs. With time, there was numbness in the right side of my body. I began to experience persistent headaches and generalized malaise. Scaling the stairs to my office became strenuous.
I discussed these symptoms with my spouse and doctor brother. Finally, I was prevailed upon to seek medical attention. We approached the most senior physician in Makueni County Referral Hospital.
Initially Dr. Mutiso was hesitant to examine me. On principle, he is cautious about dealing with high ranking politicians.
After my brother explained that I had previously been operated at Makindu Level 4 hospital for lymphoma – accumulated fat beneath the skin – the consultant obliged.
Dr. Mutiso ordered necessary medical tests in our referral hospital and in Nairobi. One test had to be done in South Africa. He further decided that I needed thorough radiological examination. He sent me to Machakos Imaging Centre for MRI and CT SCAN examinations.
After the first radiological examination, Dr. Somba, the radiologist, called me back to confirm a finding. He repeated the MRI test, but with a “contrast” to have a clearer picture of something he had spotted.
On the second visit, Dr. Somba dropped the bombshell. He revealed that I had a growth at the tail of my neck and the beginning of the chest. In technical language, the growth was between the 7th vertebra of the neck and the 1st of the chest (C7-T1).
The radiologist pointed to a whitish looking mass that “stared” at me. He explained it was attached to the spinal cord and most probably had been exerting pressure on the spinal cord.
He explained that the growth was a consequence of blood vessels forming a mass, instead of each being a distinct entity. The doctor suspected it could be a meningioma.
My immediate fear became: was the growth cancerous? The doctor explained that such growths were normally benign. That offered momentary relief, although eventual biopsy would conclusively settle the matter.
At this stage, I requested that my spouse Nazi and all actors previously involved hold a consultative meeting. During this subsequent conference in Dr. Somba’s office, consensus was built that the growth had to be removed through surgery. If allowed to grow, it could with time burst and cause internal bleeding with dire consequences, such as a stroke or paralysis due to the depressed spinal cord.
We agreed the operation could be done in Kenya or abroad. I was advised the operation would be delicate because to reach the growth, part of the vertebra would have to be “excised”.
The team of doctors counselled we should consult Dr. Christopher K. Musau, the country’s leading neuro-surgeon. He was somebody I knew because he had previously operated on me for the removal of my first lymphoma. My wife teasingly says I have these things because of my love for butter which she believes collects below my skin surface.
Before consulting the neuro-surgeon, Nazi and I had to break the news to our children. We scheduled a virtual meeting. They were in shock. The concern about cancer loomed large. However again, we invited God in prayer to take control of the situation.
The family confirmed the decision to have the operation done locally. We had faith in the neuro-surgeon. He was as good as any other specialist doctor abroad. Even his peers abroad confirmed him to be an accomplished surgeon.
Together with Nazi, Dr Somba, Dr Mutiso and my brother Dr. Musyoki we proceeded to meet Prof. Musau. He reviewed all earlier investigations and confirmed the growth was an assemblage of blood vessels attached to the spinal cord and had to be removed.
Prof. Musau elaborated the nature of the growth and what it would take to operate. He further explained that the operation would be major. The date of admission to Nairobi hospital was agreed as Friday 14th May and the operation scheduled for the following day.
Back in Makueni, I asked for leave from duty. As a family, we had initially decided to keep the procedure private. I was told many of my colleagues wondered how come since 2013, I had not taken annual leave. True, in my previous work life, I have not unfortunately balanced work, family and other pursuits.
On the 15th at about 3p.m., I was wheeled to theatre. My family had been with me the whole day. I remember the anaesthetist Dr Esther N. Munyoro promising she would send me to sleep and wake me up. Before long, I was gone.
Later I learned that upon opening my upper back, the neuro-surgeon found the growth presented more complexity than anticipated. The ball of blood vessels needed more time to untangle. An operation for three to four hours extended to six and a half hours. The doctor, however, was satisfied that he had done a “clean” job.
Afterwards, it was disclosed to me that in my semi-conscious state I thanked God, the doctors and all their assistants. I also pronounced before my spouse, daughter and brother the special words: “I love you.” I have heard African men find it hard to utter these three words. I am glad in my semi-conscious state I could say them. And above all, I could acknowledge the majesty of God in my life.
A few days post operation in St. Teresa ward, my oxygen levels began to drop up to about 79 instead of the normal 90 plus. Upon examination, blood clots were detected. My consultant physician and cardiologist Dr. Philip K. Kisyoka commenced treatment immediately.
Later I was told that many patients especially in the public health sector die if such blood clots are not diagnosed and treated promptly. I realized that following a patient’s vitals is critical. Perhaps the onset of blood clots proved more life threatening than the operation itself.
I must acknowledge that the nursing and support staff under Director of Nursing Benta Omonge and ward Charge Nurse Merceline Mbelesia provided exemplary services. And I don’t think that this was because of my status in Kenyan society. The way I examine an institution’s service provision is bottom-up. I was impressed with what I experienced. It is unfortunate that occasionally we hear of mix-ups in the hospital’s apex governance structure.
In my interactions with the staff, I learned several things. Due to my appetite loss, I was very picky with meals. The Director of Nursing, during one of her routine rounds, asked if there was a dish I preferred. I told her it was not in their menu. Her response was: “Try us.” For me the significance of those two words was not that I may get matoke and ground nut sauce, which I eventually did (!), but that she had absolute confidence in her institution.
I think I am a relatively shy person. I had a challenge regarding how the lady nurses would help me with my bath. We had to negotiate so that I could still wear my ‘small cloth’ and later complete cleaning myself.
In a conversation with one subordinate staff, I was told that Kenyans are not yet about to vote for people of character whose focus is development. Even in 2022 they are likely to be enticed by their kingpins. I refrained from challenging her position. In it I could detect both hope and despair.
I separately interacted with three of the hospital chaplains and received the holy communion. One priest told me that I have to be patient about recovery; that is why people like myself are called patients. This gem breathed solace in my eleven days’ hospital stay. With another chaplain, we discussed the theology of suffering.
Both my surgeon and physician emphasized that I must slow down; life is work and more. Life balance is absolutely essential. The surgeon also prescribed routine exercise. For him when Jesus would tell the sick to “rise and walk”, it was both a medical and spiritual message.
I believe that we can develop the capacity to deliver health services in our country via the public and private sectors. National universal healthcare through a reformed and corrupt-free NHIF is a foundation for such a noble goal. The devolved health sector must equally be strengthened. We need to restructure and revamp our healthcare system so that any Kenyan can access quality healthcare within our borders or beyond.
Through my medical insurance and NHIF, I was able to access first class medical services. Had I gone abroad, the cost would probably have been five or more times higher.
As one of our country’s leaders I believe that ultimately we should share with our citizenry details of our medical conditions. After histology, the growth was found to be a non-cancerous spinal haemangioblastoma, and not the initially suspected meningioma or ArterioVenous Malformation (AVM). I thank my God.
Governor Kiraitu Murungi while battling Coronavirus shared that he had a Damascus moment where he questioned himself: what have I done with my life? Have I genuinely served the people as opposed to self and nuclear family? This is the million-dollar question particularly for African politicians.
Most of our politicians are entrapped in patron-clientele politics. It is not easy for them to stand on their spine and on the side of the masses. They are afraid of rocking the system.
If these leaders try to defy the political bigwigs, then the anti-corruption and prosecutorial offices are unleashed upon them. The tax man is asked to examine their businesses. Government tenders dry up and so do state favours.
Therefore, finding purpose for an African politician – perhaps even any other – has to do with: does one want to serve the electorate or a tiny parasitic ruling class?
When I meet Kiraitu and others who intend to travel the Damascus road of Light with the majority of Kenyans, I hope and trust we shall discuss what this entails.