I don’t know what Sophie (not her real name) wanted to tell her son that she had not said her whole life. She waved at me and asked me to see her on the day we talked about this. I went to her and checked that her wound was not bleeding and that she was alright. She was doing the first postoperative day after a guillotine amputation, an operation that involves cutting the limbs and leaving a raw stump. It is usually performed in severe contamination or infection. The stump is closed at a later date when the wound has formed healthy tissue. Sophie had a stump on her left leg that was not healing; the leg had been cut in a piecemeal manner that it was now getting to the torso. She kept getting infections every so often that we could not close her wound.
High blood sugars in Sophie’s blood prevented the wound from healing. When she called me that day, it was never about the wound. “Daktari, kama nitakufa wewe niambie, usinifiche,” she said, laughing with mockery. She only laughed because she wanted to sound polite. Otherwise, from her face, she meant every word of her statement. “Kuna kitu nataka kuambia kijana yangu kabla niwachane na dunia,” she added, her eyes welling with tears.
Sophie was happiest when she was with her son. You could see them talking, laughing, and embracing each other whenever they got the chance to meet. On a typical day, she kept to herself and had this sort of melancholia around her, constantly worrying me. I am pretty sure that she would have given up everything if only we could restore her back to health. How I wish we could afford to give her whatever she desired.
I did my ward rounds the whole of that week without anything suspicious ever drawing my attention to her. She ate and drank without any challenges, and she laughed loudly whenever her son came to see her. These brief moments of vulnerability brightened my days and reminded me of the beauty of medicine. Meanwhile,her stump was healing well.
On my last Saturday in the surgical department, I was alerted to the heartbreaking news that Sophie hadn’t made it through the previous night. She had developed sudden onset difficulty breathing and ended up in the ICU, where a scan revealed a large blood clot in her lungs. She had yet undergone another surgery to close the stump. There was no chance of recovery from the critical state in which she was. She hungered for air and passed on on a cold Saturday morning, with tubes all over her frail body and a heart with a big secret.
Sophie had asked to be warned of such an eventuality. How could we have known?