Last week, early Monday morning, I woke to a knock on my door. Everyone’s been sick lately, so I can’t ignore these early morning calls anymore. I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the door to find the headgirl explaining that Denis is weak. She only said weak, not sick, and when I asked her “problem what?” she said that he was beat by another teacher on Friday, and perhaps that was the cause. Denis has never complained, and I have never known him to be sick, so I knew something was up. She said she thought he might have been vomiting during the night. I proceeded to get dressed and have some tea before making my way through the mud to the dormitory with my bright pink pitcher of oral rehydration solution.
I found him in the housemother’s quarters, perched rigidly on a bench as Anjeline darted around the room in search of something. Without greetings, she said “Full, this boy is so sick,” which is pretty significant from our staff here. Anjeline continued talking and searching, telling me to determine where he hurts, what his problem is. I greeted him, and he responded with “fine,” so then I asked him “problem what?” and he said “fine” again, and again, and again. I got a little closer and began feeling him – he was hot. I gave him a cup of the drink, still observing him, and as he lifted it to his face his arm jerked and sloshed the entire drink onto himself and the floor. Alarmed, I grabbed the cup and helped him get his shirt off. He was fumbling with his buttons, arms still flailing around. Once the shirt was off, I started questioning again. This is when I realized he couldn’t see very well, and was pretty disoriented/confused.
I called Ambalo and told him to come immediately, mainly concerned about the convulsions and fever. Apparently he began complaining about the eyes on Saturday, along with the fever. He was taken to the dispensary and tested for malaria, which he did not have. They gave him drugs (I don’t know what) and was being given meds for the fever.
I got a few small sips of the drink in him, we put dry clothes on him and helped him to bed, where he rested until Ambalo arrived.
As soon as Ambalo arrived, he roused Denis, who immediately spewed vomit everywhere. We changed his clothes again, packed his things and put him in the car with Anjeline to go to the hospital.
I came to my house and had a little meltdown. Less than a month ago we buried another student after a very similar illness. I waited until after 11 before going to Siaya myself to visit him at the hospital.
When I reached the hospital, I found that they had just discharged him. Apparently they released him with Anjeline, saying he should go home to rest. This didn’t sit well with me at all, so I had a my second meltdown, which had better results than the first and led to someone going for Anjeline and Denis, bringing them back to the hospital.
They arrived about 10 minutes later, Anjeline leading a stumbling, disoriented Denis by the arm. I tried signing with him, and he was able to respond, though it was awkward, like he wasn’t recalling some things and said he didn’t know people, like his aunt, who was now present. I suggested the doctors have another look at him, Anjeline immediately agreed. She said he was still fevered and unwell, so we requested our friend, Dr. Osore (he came to Nina last year to learn sign language) to please have another look at him. Dr. Osore took his temperature, which was high, and agreed to admitting him. Relieved, we went into a small room to begin the paperwork. Anjeline stepped outside to talk with the family, who apparently wanted him to come home for “traditional treatment.” After a few minutes, she came back into the room and said that they weren’t going to admit him.
Bring on meltdown number 3. I called Ambalo, spouted off a little steam before giving the phone to Anjeline and proceeding with the admission process.
Once admitted, they lead us to the male ward. The mother still cannot be reached, so it is just me and Anjeline with Denis. He lies in one of the beds and eats a few bananas before they request to relocate him to a different bed, closer to the desk (since he is deaf). During that transition, he begins violently vomiting, spraying it all over the windows, walls and mosquito nets. I rush to the desk and ask for a basin for him to vomit into, and they tell me I should have brought my own – that the hospital doesn’t provide them. So there he is, just spraying all over the place. When it stops and he gets settled into the new, now drenched bed, I start looking for drinking water. It’s 4pm and he hasn’t had anything to drink since this morning at school. I inquire the desk again – this time for water – and again, they tell me I should have brought it from outside. The hospital does not provide drinking water. That’s a first. So now I send someone to get water from Siaya.
Jeph, one of the other teachers at Nina, joins us at the hospital around 5. She immediately begins chasing down the mother and whipping everyone into shape. Thank God for this woman. Within an hour, the mother is at the gate of the hospital and Denis is sleeping under a blanket and mosquito net with a basin under the bed. We stay until 7:30pm.
The next few days are sheer hell. I can’t even tell them apart. He went into a coma for 2 days. They inserted a feeding tube (after another epic mzungu meltdown). No one wanted to use the feeding tube, so I stayed in the hospital from 8am to 8pm to help. My colleagues were amazing and came every day long to check on him and help with his treatment and bring him things to put in the feeding tube.
I cannot even tell you how difficult this whole process was. I wish I could. I just can’t. It’s impossible. But the bottom line is that today, 8 days later, he was released from the hospital, and he’s going to be fine. We still don’t have a specific diagnosis, and he was treated for a variety of things I’m not convinced were necessary, but he’s ok and hopefully will be coming back to school in a week.
In the meantime, we have sent 7 other kids to the hospital for similar illnesses, though fortunately none of them have been as severe as the case with Denis. I keep a pitcher of ORS ready and a mattress on my floor, and the kids are knocking on my door from morning to night reporting the sick ones. It’s a nightmare. It’s the kind of thing they make horriblescary movies about – the movies I refuse to watch, but now am forced to experience first hand. But at the same time, I know I need to be here and that now is when I’m going to make the biggest difference. It’s hard to feel good about it right now, but I know I will NEVER forget the moment Denis sat up in bed. Right then, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. When he stood up for the first time, I knew I made a difference. And when I go to the dormitory every night with my ORS and flashlight, I know that I’m at least making memories for the kids and setting an example.
I can’t tell if it’s a good note or a bad note to be leaving on, but regardless, it’s going to be meaningful farewell.