(Author’s note 1: As some of my Kenyan readers might already know, the government is seeking to regulate bloggers. That will definitely have an effect on this blog. I am therefore considering taking somewhat drastic measures in that regard but, a long post first…)
Recently, my thoughts travelled all the way to my childhood and especially as it relates the twenty third Psalm. In that Psalm, David says that because the Lord is His shepherd, He has everything He needs. That he receives the comfort of the Lord in the valley of the shadow of death. As I mentioned in previous blogposts, I grew up in Kajiado County. I grew up on a family farm. For the avoidance of doubt, it was a small scale farm – not a ranch, not a hacienda like they show in telenovelas, just a simple farm where the machines were yours truly and my relatives. In addition to crops we lived in close proximity and harmony with cows, sheep, chicken, dogs, cats and pigs. Holidays, weekends and sometimes school week evenings were spent meeting the needs of the crops and especially the animals. (Many of my ‘friends’ who were born in the eighties have spent the last ten years laughing at me for me being too young and consequently not watching Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo and whatever other old people cartoons there were. Yet, I did not watch cartoons because I was being a good Christian and looking after God’s creation. Hehehe.)
As I mentioned in the first part of this post, on the day I had the near death experience, I ended up in H.D.U. At the point of admission, the effects of disease P and disease HF were very strong. Consequently, I had little to no ability to move my limbs. As a result, I wet my pants and could not attend to my ‘that time of the month.’ Those things sound important now but at that time they were not. It was a race against time to keep me alive. That level of hygiene would not have mattered if I had lost my life. The H.D.U nurses removed my green vest and black shorts and robed me in the hospital gown. Swiftly, they put electrodes on my chest and connected me to the heart monitor, drip and pulse oximeter.
I had just received my first dose of medication but I was still feeling like I was going to die. The oxygen levels in my blood were very low. My body wanted to writhe but there was not enough energy in my muscles to do so. I remember whimpering and asking the nurse to help me. He told me we were waiting for the oxygen which would make me feel better. When he put the nasal cannula and connected me to the oxygen, I felt a bit better. The desire to writhe subsided substantially. I slept for some hours and was woken up for breakfast before the doctors did their rounds.
The doctors barraged me with questions for which I have no recollection as I tried to wrap my mind around what had happened. Yet, in the midst of the activity I was grateful to be breathing without excruciating pain. I was also able to use the toilet and take a bath albeit with supervision from the nurses. Taking that bath turned out to be a wise but not so wise decision. While I felt fresh, it took a toll on my strength which was eventually depleted by visitors asking me all manner of questions about what had happened; questions whose answers I did not have. I began to deteriorate. I could not even get out of the bed and onto a wheelchair. Thankfully, the doctor asked the visitors to leave. As the risk associated with my condition increased, the head nurse decided that I was better off at a place where someone was seeing me every minute as opposed to every ten or fifteen minutes. I was therefore moved to a more specialized section of the H.D.U.
One of my most vivid memories from 1998 is the El Nino rains. I remember holding my grandfather’s hand as we looked at all our crops, damaged by the raging waters. We had done everything to prevent that but the waters were too much. However, we managed to keep the animals safe in their various shelters; got them the necessary vaccines e.tc. Before El Nino, there had been Lanina in 1997 or thereabout. Even then we had gone to great lengths (including getting bowsers on a weekly basis to supply them with water and buying grass for the cows and sheep (despite their milk yields being lower)). No matter the season, the animals had everything they needed.
The nurses in the H.D.U were nothing but spectacular. The dedication and joy in doing their work made an otherwise dreary environment lighter. Being the only conscious patient was a scary thing but the nurses were of great encouragement. They also made sure that I was okay at all times. They helped me with my toilet breaks which were a process – I had to remove the nasal cannula, the electrodes (one by one), the pulse oximeter and the drip. They would then help me get on the wheelchair, take me to the toilet (and watch while I did my business because I could collapse at any moment when I was not on oxygen), take me back to the bed and reconnect all those things.
It therefore follows that it is my testimony that the Lord was indeed my shepherd during that period of time. He led me to a place where I was cared for (I do not have time and space to explain how the earlier events of that day played out to ensure that I was on Ngong Road rather than at home). Further, He ensured that my needs were met. It perhaps seems obvious that since I was in a hospital that my medical needs would be met. Yet, that is not always the case. Many have died in hospitals because disease P was not properly diagnosed. This is more likely to happen to women because of what some researchers have called a gender gap in pain. Further, in this part of the world it is not obvious that if you are in hospital you automatically have access to the necessary expertise, equipment and medicine. And so I say that because the Lord is my shepherd I had everything I needed at that point in time.
Yet, it was while in that environment that I prayed for the first time in my hospital stay. I did not pray so much for myself as for the other people in the H.D.U. As I was the only conscious patient, I saw the anguish in their families when they came to visit and all they could do was look at a person who could not partake in the conversations they would have wanted them to be a part of. The doctors’ assurances that there was improvement did little to alleviate their pain and anxiety. There was also perhaps anger at the other conscious patient who later joined the H.D.U. He had sustained a drunkenness related injury. He was still drunk when he came to the H.D.U. As a consequence, he was making a lot of noise and saying some vulgar stuff. An oddity in the H.D.U, he even had strength to throw kicks at the nurses who were trying to attend to him.
As an adult I like the harvest season that falls around August because groceries are usually cheaper. As a child, I did not like it as much. It meant blistered hands from removing maize seeds from hundreds of cobs; it meant dirty nails from sorting potatoes and for my sometimes clumsy self it meant hitting myself with the rod that was supposed to be hitting the beans that were under a big canvas to remove them from the pods. Predictably it also meant eating more githeri (with no spices whatsoever) than meat, a thing that I sometimes circumvented. Sometimes circumstances would conspire and I would be left home alone on Saturdays (the day when githeri was permanently on the menu). At such times I would get potatoes from the granary and make fries. I would eat hurriedly and destroy all the evidence (by pouring the used cooking oil in the mini forest on our farm). When asked why the githeri portions looked untouched I would either lie that I ate just a bit or say that I was not hungry all day.
My family likely believed my version of the story and concluded that I am a poor eater (or as they like to say, napenda kucheza na chakula (I like playing with food.) I will explain shortly just how far that is from the truth. But first, let me take you back to the H.D.U. After several tests were done, the doctor recommended that I be given more oxygen than I was receiving at the time. That helped me tremendously. I felt stronger and slept better. Eventually, the doctor decided that I could get off the oxygen and the heart monitor. That I did not collapse immediately after was testament to the fact that I was getting better. However, I was still having some difficulty breathing – especially when I moved from the H.D.U to the normal ward.
In the normal ward I think the ratio is one nurse to five patients. They give you your medicine at the set times and check your vitals every few hours. If you need anything in between you ring the bell and they come. On my first day at the ward, the nurse had to take another of her assigned patients for a long procedure. I therefore did not see her for most of the day. By the time she came it was already past the time for me to get my medicine. I tried to explain to her how I was feeling (I did not know at the time that it was still the low oxygen levels in my blood) but she was too overwhelmed with work. She just gave me my medicine and rushed to attend to her other patients. The night nurse was less overwhelmed. He reassured me and gave me an extra blanket. Yet I was still afraid of sleeping with no continuous supervision. That was the night God told me that I would not die because of XYZ.
As a child I preferred going to graze the animals rather than doing any housework or tending to the crops. It just required getting them to the grazing area and then having lots of time to play in/by the river, do cartwheels and eat lots of wild fruits. The only difficult part was getting them to walk on the right path. The path to the grazing area was on a quarry. Therefore, if you did not guide the animals properly, they could fall and get injured (and I would have received the kind of beating that only African grandparents can give accompanied by reminders of my transgressions for all my days). We therefore carefully guided the animals using sticks and chants that only they understood. Lol.
Yet, as I lay on that bed the Lord was leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. God did not just create me and take His leave. He guides me every day. I am more cognizant of His guidance on some days than on other days. On that night, it was the former. He was making it known to me that my path was not going to end that night or in the next couple of days. One of the places my path was leading to was to XYZ. I had not been to XYZ yet and therefore it was not time for me to die. XYZ was a thing that was only between God and I. It had an accompanying image and moment to it. That night when God told me I would not die because of XYZ, He showed me that image and that moment.
Whilst that assurance from the Lord stabilized me mentally and emotionally, I was socially exasperated. Visiting hours became bitter sweet. It was good to have people visiting me. I felt less lonely. Nevertheless, some visitors left me exasperated. They were insisting that that was not the time for me to be a poor eater. I neither had the strength to explain that I have never been a poor eater nor to explain what was happening to my digestive system. In addition to my githeri-fries escapades, I don’t eat much at some relatives’ homes (they employ styles of cooking that are fantastic for them but which elicit feelings of apathy on my part. It is not them. It is me. Lol!). Further, I have almost always been underweight – something I can explain. Before the age of 13, I walked 4 kilometres every day (to get to and from where the school bus dropped and picked me) while carrying a heavy school bag and playing football with the boys at school. Additionally, i was an ardent climber of trees, football and basketball poles and a jumper of fourteen stair steps at a time. From the age of 14, I went to a government boarding high school which simply means I was hungry and under-nourished at any given moment for the four years I spent in Limuru. In campus, I started making my own meals in addition to having sausages rolled in chapatti. Consequently, days of thinness were behind me; until 2015 when I lost lots of weight to a mysterious illness.
But even then, I still took eating very seriously. I still do. There are three restaurants in this city which have managed to hit the mark for me. They have quality food in large quantities. I think when the managers see me they balance tears of joy – they know that the food served to this customer will not go to waste. Hehehe. Now, if you meet me at a business meeting or a gathering of that calibre you will notice that I follow the command in Proverbs 23:1-3 very strictly. However, if you barge into my house at dinner time you will be met by a ‘Do not disturb. Woman at work.’ sign.
Therefore I was not in any way exhibiting poor eater traits at the hospital. Disease P and the medication made it almost impossible for me to eat. The medication made me absolutely nauseous. The smell of any food cooked with oil made me want to puke. Further, disease P had caused me an infection such that anything I ate or drank went out through the back exit. It got so bad that even my intestinal juices started exiting through the back when there was nothing else to be digested. Initially they thought it was just a normal exit from the back. However, when Imodium failed to work they realized it was an infection. When they started treating the infection I was able to drink water, yoghurt and porridge and eat bread and some fruits. Some visitors still thought I was under-eating but the hospital catering staff were so happy when I could eat bread. They had seen me struggle and the day I was able to finish just one slice of bread, they were elated. It took time before I could go back to my previous eating capacity. Some of the medication for disease P caused disease G. As a result I felt like balls of ugali were stuck in my throat making for a difficult swallowing experience.
Another thing that could happen to the animals if they were not guided on the right path is that they could fall to their death.
I remember Friday February 1st 2019. The Lord had already told me that I would not die because of XYZ. However, I was feeling very sick. The feeling of being very close to death that I had had on the first day was very close. The nurses did not know what to do. They had given me all my medicines and my vitals were not alarming. The last thing I remember is the nurse saying that if I did not feel better she would get the I.C.U or H.D.U doctor to examine me. I then closed my eyes and hoped that I would not die. I was not asleep but I was also not awake. I would probably say I was in a trance. There was light in the room and I saw Jesus (please do not ask me what He looked like.) He held my left hand – the one where the I.V injection was. That was a surreal moment. Generally, if anything came close to that hand I would feel a lot of pain. However, I did not feel it when He held my hand. I actually checked to confirm that I still had the I.V injection on my hand and that I was still on the hospital bed. He told me that I would heal. That moment ended and I slept till the nurse came to check my vitals again. They were okay and I felt a rejuvenation that I had not felt since being admitted in hospital.
The doctors also noticed a marked improvement and advised that I be discharged in a couple of days. That encounter with Jesus was a turnaround in my health. While I didn’t leave the hospital and register for the Spartan Race immediately and while I have had to go to the E.R a couple of times, I have never felt as sick as I did before that encounter. I had walked through a literal valley of the shadow of death but the Lord had comforted me. This song says that the Lord comforts in a way that a human being cannot. That is what that encounter was. The nurses and doctors reassuring me was great and I am so thankful for them (if you have good grades and a lousy attitude towards people please don’t take that career path). Yet, there was something that was so magnificently different about the comfort from the Lord. There are some who are reading this and thinking, ‘What a drama queen!’ Read this story about Serena Williams’s experience with disease P. She has access to the best medical care that money and a good name can buy but she still lives in fear. Therefore I was not just lying in my hospital bed mistrusting the doctors. Further, I believe God meets our needs in various ways – using people – like nurses and doctors and using science – like medicine and tank oxygen. But there are needs that we experience that exist on a level that can’t be met by people or science. That is the need that was met during that encounter.
I think my inclination to grazing animals rather than doing housework as a youngster gave the indication that I am horrible at housework especially cooking. Consequently, I was often told that my future in the institution of marriage was in absolute jeopardy. Now, if a Kikuyu person tells you that you are a bad cook, it is either of two things – firstly, you are such a horrible cook even the skills of overwatering and over-boiling food escape you or secondly you are such a splendid cook, the awesomeness of your skill flies past their palettes. As a teenager I might have very well been in the first category. However, at this moment in time I confidently rate myself in the second category. I don’t consider myself a good cook. I consider myself a kitchen technician given to conducting all kinds of awesome experiments in the kitchen. Lol!!!!
However, my ratings of myself did not stop the questions about whether I was cooking for my husband (two days after leaving hospital) from being swiftly directed my way. I found that to be odd on three levels. Firstly, I was still getting winded and dizzy by taking a walk to the washroom. Cooking was therefore out of the question. Secondly, I find that perspective even at bridal showers to be quite peculiar. There could be something that happens to women when they get married and they no longer feel hungry. (How else do you explain the ‘you should now cook for your husband’? How about you?) Whatever that thing is, it has not happened to me. I still feel hungry and I still enjoy eating. Thirdly, I love my husband. I would therefore not deny him my mad (sometimes literally) and absolutely remarkable kitchen technician skills. Hehehehe!!!
Yet, being home with him was a reminder of the important things in life. God had answered the prayer I had made on the Lancet bed. I had seen my husband again. Being home got me thinking about him even more. Everywhere he would have looked there was either a pink or a DIY thing that would have reminded him of me. I am so glad that he gets not just to see pink utensils, pink soap, pink tissue e.t.c but that he also gets to continually see me and see me alive.
Watching the animals on our farm progenerating was fascinating. Whilst the piglets, lambs, puppies and kittens had no problem suckling from the get go, the calves sometimes needed help. I also remember something else about the calves and lambs as well – in the initial days following their birth, they had difficulty standing and walking. However, over time they would become energetic and very playful.
That has been my journey recovering from disease P. The initial days at home were difficult. I got winded doing simple things like going to the washroom, taking a bath or sometimes even just having a heavy meal.
I remember being scared of being left alone, but I also remember resolving to trust God as I watched my husband finally go back to work.
I remember having to take a nap after walking 100 metres to the closest shop, but I also remember walking for 35 minutes a few months later breathing the morning air with lots of joy.
I remember the first time I went to a place that was more than 10 minutes away from my house. I remember the mixture of joy and anxiety I felt.
I remember the first time I took a matatu – for all the distance that is Aga Khan Hospital to Nakumatt Highridge. I remember how that three minute ride felt like two hours. But I also remember when recently I was stuck in traffic for four hours and my heart and breathing was okay.
I remember when I was denied help because my bag was ‘light’. I remember tears welling up in my eyes because I could not explain that I had disease P and disease HF which made anything heavier than 500g a burden too heavy to bear.
I remember being asked why I was not working. I remember those questions coming at a time when I could not wash dishes and go to the shop on the same day because I felt like collapsing. I remember those questions coming at a time when I was battling the mental fog that came with disease P.
I remember struggling to read a book because of the mental fog. But I also remember the day I finished my first book of the year – six months into the year. I remember the joy I felt when writing a research paper and realizing that I had regained my abilities to analyse and speed read.
I remember going back to the place where I had felt really sick. I remember looking at the stone I had sat on. I remember being at the place where I had collapsed. I remember feeling triumphant. I remember standing there and just soaking in the feeling of being alive.
I remember feeling pain when washing dishes (sometimes I still do) and telling myself that I am not lazy; that it is okay to do things at my pace.
I remember the days when people died from disease P and related illnesses. I remember the anxiety and fear I felt. I remember the days I set my alarm to go off every three hours because I was afraid of dying in my sleep.
I remember the other times God has reassured me in surreal ways. I remember the day the doctor looked at my results and welcomed me back to life.
But I also remember that my faith was questioned…
Twice as a matter of fact. The first person opined that God could have been punishing me for getting married – their reasoning was that if I was walking in God’s will when getting married, He could not have allowed a near death experience twenty four days after I had gotten married. The second person was of the view that I was sinning secretly and God was punishing me publicly – there was no other explanation as to why I could be have disease P and a continuing crutch situation. I felt like Job when he responds to Eliphaz in Job 6:14 saying, ‘One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you accuse me without any fear of the Almighty.’ This was despite explaining that disease P resulted from the negligence of a medical professional who prescribed a certain drug for me. Three days after taking the drug, I informed him that I was feeling unusually dizzy and tired. He said that was nothing to worry about and that if I continued taking the drug the symptoms would go away…
Yet, there is another group of Christians who are not talked about as much – the ones who fund hospitals such as Coptic. On one of my visits there I sat admiring the artwork (the person who did the interior design there is fantastic) and thinking about the paradox of faith. On one hand are people who think all illness is a punishment from God as well as those who have never been very sick but take every opportunity to deride other Christians who seek medical help. On the other hand are people who are driven by their faith to care directly and indirectly for the sick. They either become medical professionals or fund medical institutions. If the Word holds true that Jesus came so that we may have an abundant life, which of these two groups of people are being Christlike?
As I mentioned in the first part of this post, the near death experience got me thinking a lot about life and faith. If you have been on this blog for some time you know that that was not my first near death experience. Depression has ever taken me to the brink of suicide. You can read the story here. At that time I came face to face with God’s compassion, care and kindness. I was like a child getting to know Him and see life through His lens. When I had the near death experience at the beginning of this year, I came face to face with God’s sovereignty. If God had said I would die instead live, there is nothing I could have done about it. I shudder each time I think about it.
You see, I had not just gotten married 24 days before the incident. Exactly two months prior to that date, on 29th November 2018, I had gotten admitted to the bar after a long and difficult journey part of which is chronicled on this blog and part of which would endanger lives if chronicled. One and a half months before I had received news that I had excelled in the course that I was pursuing in European City L. Additionally, the mysterious illness from 2015 had cleared, I was the best I had been since the crutch journey started and Arsenal had a new manager.
Yet, if God had said I would die I could not argue my case against Him using those things. They are good things but they are not eternal things. If my pursuit of them is not guided by God’s leading and an eternal perspective, they are all but empty when the curtain falls on my life. In the Lord’s Prayer, it says that God’s kingdom should come and His will be done on earth. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus talks about the day of judgement. On that day many will approach Him saying that they did stuff in His name but He will deny them because they never did the will of God. Doing things in the name of God and doing the will of God are on different sides of the spectrum. Sometimes doing the latter in a society that prizes the former makes for a lonely ride.
It also makes for a torrid experience if you do not have certain types of results. I explained a bit of that in my last post about why I use crutches. You can read it here. However, I also experienced it with disease P. I felt hurried along. Because faith for many seems to exist on a realm where it is instantaneous and framed in a certain way, I was told ‘You are fine now,’ rather than being asked how I was in the first place. Even when I was asked, I could in most cases not say how I was genuinely feeling. I did not want another lecture on naming and claiming my healing.
Yet, in every step of recovering from disease P, I have known the Lord who is close to the brokenhearted, to those whose spirits are weak. I have known that life ought to be lived and not just in the capitalistic sense. I have known that God renews strength. It has made sense that God described Himself as I AM to the Israelites. He is. He is not one thing to the exclusion of the other. He is!
Her Royal Highness, Mumbi Gathoni, Duchess of Kiserian,
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(Author’s note 2: Whilst, the bill seeking to regulate bloggers might not become law, its stated and unstated intents may outlive it in even more unpalatable ways. Consequently, posts on the blog are likely to be few and far in between if any. However, I will continue writing. If you will be interested in more of my writings in the future, please do let me know.)