Do we ever think of our own mortality? That someday we will die. Personally, I fear death but I know it is something that is coming, something that I will never run from. I know, like Chinua Achebe, I will remain immortal, my life lying peacefully in book stores and gracing libraries after my breath is gone. Now, what if you know that you have few days or months to live? What if you know that the cancer that is bothering you is as determined as you are, fighting back as you fight? Well, this is the missing link that Anyango, daughter of Odera-Nanga has to find before she calls it a day.
It’s a Wednesday morning; the cool Nairobi breeze is biting into my skin. I am on my way home from town when I decide to pass by the wards in Kenyatta National Hospital to see what is going on. I was growing fond of this hospital because it carries my dream, the greatest dream I have ever dared to dream- to become a doctor. Sometimes I just go to this hospital, to do nothing or to touch the forehead of the sick without saying anything. I believe that in the ministry of healing, by ministering unto others I can heal my own woundedness. Sometimes this is not the case but that is a story for another day.
This particular day I decided to pass by the gynecology ward, I was developing some soft spot for gynecology, I don’t know why. I joined a round with the registrars and nurses. As usual, I was learning new things that I know someday will come in handy in my clinical practice. Women’s health ought to be prioritized in every country that wishes to grow faster economically, for they are the drivers of the economy.They control the numbers according to one of my professors. When we get it wrong, say in pregnancy, the effects can be so devastating.
The round was coming to an end when the consultant arrived. A few patients with complications were presented to him and he advised accordingly. This is something that he had mastered through years of hard work and experience. I looked at him with admiration. This is how I need to master this art. The rounds ended in the side room with Anyango as the last patient to be seen.
“This is Anyango, she is forty eight years old, she is having cancer of the cervix stage four, she has undergone twenty five sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy with no significant clinical response of the cancer, it has since metastasized to the heart, lung and the brain, “the registrar was talking lucidly, her voice rising and falling rhythmically setting a somber mood that was worsened by the eerie silence that conquered the room. I knew that medicine was giving in, paving way for an uncertain future. In no uncertain terms, medicine was saying enough is enough, I have tried my best. Hope is what took over. I don’t know whether she was hoping for a better tomorrow or a better life that was to come after this one is gone.
“What is her prognosis?” the consultant asked, unperturbed.
Prognosis. I had come to hate this word prognosis. I never heard it whenever a patient was uneventfully recovering from a disease. It only found its way in the ward, our wards, when medicine was surrendering to fate.
“She is a terminal patient, there is nothing more we can do,” answered the nurse resentfully.
“Ok, find her a counselor, talk to the relatives and ensure she is comfortable,” the consultant ended his round.
I remained behind to partake of the peace that surrounded her. She smiled at me and told me not to worry. I wonder why she told me that. I looked at her wishing that I could do some miracle to set her free from this yolk but nothing was forthcoming. Medicine had condemned her to death. Her only prescription was painkillers and words of comfort. She was later to go home and enjoy the remaining days of her life with her people. She holds my hand and tells me something that I could only poetically interpret as, “ I got a chance to sit or dance, I never danced.” She sobs.