Kenyatta National Hospital: Where patients go to die

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Obviously, Kenyatta National Hospital is the biggest referral hospital in the country. Therefore, it is good to start off by saying that it receives a number of patients on a daily basis who need medical attention. And many people look up to this hospital as a savior because it is deemed to have some of the best, though scanty, medical equipment in our country. On every day basis, there are throngs of sick people who visit the facility to seek medical healing.

Some come in ambulances, some in PSVS, some in private cars, others on bikes, all in hope that a medic will look into their problems and prescribe a solution if not solve them immediately. As is such the case, many, however, do not find the luck of getting attended to.

Last week I was heading to town. I was attending a workshop organized by YMCA Kenya to follow up on some of the solutions we’d designed for them during our YALI programme in February this year. Wedged between a passenger and a matatu driver, I was at the centre of all the listening. It is what I am good at when adults are on my face because I cannot bully them with my talking.

We had just hit Adams Arcade when a conversation rose out of nowhere. There was an ambulance wailing behind us. Since the road is narrow, the blaring sound of its siren kept us irked with the noise. Then the driver commented in Swahili, “Uyu amebebwa kama anaenda Kenyatta anaenda tu kukufia apo.” I was taken aback, or rather shocked.

The passenger on my left immediately agreed with him. “Kenyatta ndio hospital mbovu kabisa…” he commented. The rest of the sentence was full of negative talk. But this guy, who looked like he was starting to kiss his 50s on the upper lip, was talking from experience. I didn’t record the conversation but he had up to three counts of grim incidences that bring bad taste in his mouth about the kind of services offered at Kenyatta National Hospital and the rot in the hospital. One case was about him, when he was sick.

I now remember where the conversation started. The driver’s kid had gotten ill. He wanted to find another driver to fill in for him so that he could accompany the wife to the hospital to see the kid through.  He told me about it but my mind was out of this world. Anxiety had bored a hole in me, my mind was having a vacation and all I kept uttering was, “Ugonjwa ni kitu mbaya.”

When the other guy joined us, he retold the story this time hopping that maybe the new (passenger) would say something meaningful to him or even hug him. The passenger, true to the expectations, played along nicely. He too is a driver.

There is this time he fell off a bike he was boarding. He was not the one riding it; he had just taken a boda guy to rush him home after finishing his work. His leg had broken, like the bone broke and tore through the skin. It was glaring at him and blood was chasing something outside of the veins, something no one knows. His brother rushed him to Kenyatta. To him, he thought that this was supposed to be an emergency, where he had to get attended to immediately.

Unlike his expectations, he wasn’t the worst case scenario that the doctors or the nurses had seen in a minute.  He would then sit there seeping in and flirting with agony while the nurses laughed and shared banters. On enquiring, he was told “Hautakuwa wa kwanza kukufa. Tumeona wengi” by a nurse.  Having waited from 2 pm to 9 pm without assistance, the duo decided to seek medical help in a private hospital since he had some money on him.

He continued to narrate of the horror that abides in that hospital. One day while on the waiting bay or is it the receiving area, an ambulance brought in a very ill patient. The patient, who was a he, was rolled over to a bed and left there. No one attended him. But there were nurses hovering around. The patient died while this ‘passenger’ watched. He had dreams, nightmares and rage was manning his eyes every time he recalled of the particular event.

The driver was not short of experience on the same. I have been to Kenyatta, not as a patient though. One time was when I was in high school. I was travelling to Nairobi from Nakuru. In the matatu, there was a lady with her mom, who was sick. She was taking her to KNH. But she passed on on the way. I only knew so after we were at KNH.

The second time would be the time when Baby Calvin was born. Though not born at KNH, he was rushed there because he had some breathing complications and KNH was the only hospital that could handle the case.  The nurses were not so friendly. Their arrogance was so annoying, and at some point I felt that maybe they need some caning, especially the female nurses.

On Monday I was talking to a lady I met on the road; a total stranger who once almost lost her baby because she was stolen.  She managed to tell me of her experience as a young mother while in Kenyatta when she was delivering.  What came out most of her comments was the arrogance and negligence of the nurses. They “seem to hold a lot of power, like they are goddesses on earth that can determine who lives and who dies.” She wanted to hit some of them but she knew too well what would happen to her.

The conversation continued to town. The driver also had similar experiences with KNH.  He had been unattended to and the nurses talked a lot of shit. “Wale watu ni kama wanyama. Hawajali,” I caught him saying.

While it may seem that many people get a reprieve at KNH, those who are lucky to obtain the services, they do so while under the sharp and arrogant treatment by hospital staff. Running out of options, many people have to tolerate abuses, arrogance and mistreatment so that they can get treated. However, many leave the hospital with dark memories. Others get traumatized by the things they see going on there such as abandoned patients. There are many of those at KNH- abandoned patients.

Many of these abandoned patients die in this hospital. Some die in their beds, some on their wheel chairs, some on their seats, some while lying down, others while sitting and others while slouching in corners. There is always sadness in their faces and eyes when they die. You can always know they died painful deaths. Death is always there waiting to reap bountifully.

Why should patients be treated with disrespect and arrogance when nurses and doctors are eating tax payers’ money? Must we be silent to injustices so as to get that treatment? Why do these nurses have to blackmail us so that we can humble down to get serviced?  Must we bow to their harshness all the time because we want their services?

It is very wrong in the first place, to treat a patient groaning in pain with “Usidhani wewe ni special case. Si wewe wa kwanza kugongwa na gari.” Patients deserve respect and every live is worth saving. Every life matters.

Nurses are not small gods that determine the fate of human life. It is not the way it is supposed to be. The damn job should be about saving lives, not ending them. The rogue behaviours by nurses at KNH should not be tolerated. And if they are tired, as they claim, then why work there? You always have an option of tapping out and looking for a job where people don’t get exhausted.

It might be easy for you to see someone die because s/he is not your relative or because you’re used to it until it doesn’t rattle you, but there are others whose lives get torn apart when their fathers, sisters, mothers, siblings, children die. Life takes a different and sad shape of stress, depression, desolation, poverty and even death.

Just remember that the person you watched die means something bigger and much to another person who might not be you. It is by any standard great to treat every human life put at your hands with a lot of care and compassion because tomorrow you might be the one battling for your life.



Mzangila Snr

(The supreme hunter in captivity)

Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?

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