By Vip Ogola
Petite, Sicily Wangari Mugo walks comfortably into her living room. It is difficult to imagine her ever being unwell. She is straddling the last of her three children, 15 month old Shammah Waiguru on her hip. She hugs us and then sits. Her house manager Sarah comes in for Waiguru and we get right into the interview. “When Sharon, my second child was born through C-Section, my husband had to travel internationally after two weeks. My house manager at that time left suddenly. I am a perfectionist, so I got up, and kept my house in perfect order. I didn’t feel it then, but this marked the beginning of my journey.”
Her journey with multiple slipped discs began in July 2012 when she was first diagnosed of the condition. “I had back pains that would come and go. I also felt tired all the time and numb sometimes. But I thought it had something to do with women’s issues, having had surgery thrice, once to extract fibroids, and twice to have my daughters. I did not take it seriously, even when they referred me to Dr. Gakuo. I was busy. And a woman.” Wangari has been a Financial Advisor with PanAfrican Life for ten years. She is passionate about her job which involves visiting clients and giving insurance advice “I love my job and my supportive employer. I would target ten meetings a day, and make it through.”
Some conditions cannot simply be ignored away. One October morning Wangari got up to get ready for two crucial meetings. “I struggled out of bed trying to ignore the pain. I went to the bathroom but when I bent over to pick up the soap, it was too painful to try. I screamed without meaning to, and my husband heard but I made as if I was okay. This morning’s meetings were too important to me. I struggled through dressing up and even drove to pick up my colleague near City Carbannas for the meeting on Mombasa road. But I could not pretend anymore, I was weak and in pain and I left, allowing my colleague to go on with the meeting. I knew I just had to go to hospital, via my meeting with Muthoni.” Muthoni, her friend, had been recently widowed, and needed advice on how to follow up with her husband’s insurance issues.
“I could not let Muthoni down. She needed people around her, and I did not want her to think I was using illness as an excuse for not being there for her.” She noticed her legs numbing as she drove. Her lower back was aflame. She parked at a Petrol Station near Bellevue and sat waiting for this wave of discomfort to subside. She was unable to reach her husband who was at a work meeting. None of her friends was close enough to reach her. Remembering Muthoni, she prayed she would not disappoint her and set out again. At the City Council parking opposite Barclays Plaza her distress drew the attention of an elderly man. He helped her out of the car, and out of the parking area. “I was glad I had not worn my usual high heels.” She convinced him that she was strong enough to cross the road, and took the lift to the second floor of her office building. She made it, courageously, through her long lunch hour meeting with Muthoni. Two male colleagues walked in on her anguish and rushed her to Menelik Hospital on Ngong Road. She was admitted on arrival. “By this time my vision was blurred and I slipped into unconsciousness at some point. I appreciated that the hospital prioritized my health not payment.”
“My colleague contacted my husband and waited until he arrived. I was admitted for 14 days that time. I underwent the second of three MRIs in this journey, and several other tests. They stretched me out on the bed, with things that looked like stones, which pulled my legs. I was told that the idea was to stretch out my vertebrae so that the flesh that was lodged between my discs would be released. It was extremely uncomfortable. I did not leave my bed, even to go to the bathroom for seven days” Her trauma increased on her second day when an elderly woman was wheeled in from surgery, for a spinal condition similar to hers. The woman regaled her with tales of her journey, the necessity for surgery and the amount of medication she was on. Wangari laughs. “We put ourselves through more that we are going through when we allow our minds to dwell on the worst case scenario. I was terrified. I decided the following morning to make positive declarations over my life. I prayed. I reminded God, like King Hezekiah in the Bible, of my life, how I had served Him and helped those who needed my help. And I began to feel better. It got so that when I was released from the stretching thing on my bed, I would now serve her, doing things like serving her medication.”
Upon discharge, she still had to go for follow up for about a week, and as her outpatient insurance was exhausted, to pay cash. About Kenya Shillings two thousand per session. This involved massage, continuous traction and buying medication. She was soon able to go back to work, sometimes. Her husband would send a driver to get her there and bring her home, but there were days she had to take the matatu. The medications were very strong and many times she passed her destination and had to be dropped off on her way back. She can no longer wear high heeled shoes for more than a few minutes, go to work and hold down the fort as she used to. Her employer and her clients have been supportive. She cannot hold or play with her really young children as she is discouraged from carrying anything heavier than two kilos. “I often had relapses when I carried my children. They now understand, one is in Standard 2 and the other in Pre-unit. It’s just this one…” she says smiling at the baby on her lap. “But God has given me grace.” She loves hosting, but now allows guests to serve themselves.
Her pregnancy with Shammah was nothing short of a miracle. She had to go off her strong medication for the entire duration and although the pain was severe, it never got her admitted. In fact, she only succumbed after his six month “and it wasn’t as serious as the other ones. I fell in the bath tub and relapsed. My house manager stayed with him while I was admitted and had the task of introducing him to solids. This is when I discovered Dr. Ruto of Kenyatta National Hospital Doctors Plaza. He is a gifted Physiotherapist and affordable too. I wish I had known him from the beginning.” She has also received dedicated support from her neighbour Dr. Stella Bosire of Avenue Hospital, Embakasi as well as her Gynacoelogist Dr. Yamal of Medi Plaza in Parklands.
“I am so grateful to God, to my parents, my in-laws, and church members at House of Grace Embakasi led by Pastors Dodzweit and Mary Achera for their support through this journey. I have made it this far because of their love and support. My husband Mugo Kariuki, has been priceless. He has prayed for me, declared God’s Word into my life, and taken on the roles, regarding the children so I could recover.”
firstname.lastname@example.org Dr. Stella Bosire on Herniated disk with Radiculopathy
Photography by: Nash of NaMeD Afrika Studios
First published in the Sunday Standard’s Sunday Magazine on Sunday, August 28, 2016