Let me tell you a story. A story about a doctor. A doctor that I met today. But before then, you must be wondering who I am. Well, since I don’t want you to refer to me as nani, or ule dame was story ya Doc, I’ll do a little introduction. My name is Wamaitha. I’m many things, but for this story, I am a mom of two, a wife, a writer and finally a deceased.
The story starts 8 years ago, on a Sunday, a Pancake Sunday. Pancake Sunday was a day when Josh, my husband, and I, spent the day indoors. Him shirtless for the most part, and I, putting on one of his long shirts, only. On Sundays, we made pancakes for breakfast and eat them in bed. They were puffed, well browned, heavenly sweet pancakes. It was normal for a moan to escape our mouths. But on that bed, and on Sundays, a lot of things made us moan.
It was always us, Josh and I, we thought. What we didn’t know is that somewhere in the biological world, were some two ambitious cells. An egg anxious to exist in the mundane world and a sperm, a swimmer sperm whose dreams were aligned with that of the egg. And so, somewhere between the moans, teasing touch as we reached out for the pancakes and whatnot, we made the dreams of the egg and sperm come true.
9 months later, I gave birth to Jace. A boy we didn’t see coming, but one who was birthed out of and with love.
Our Pancake Sunday ritual remained constant and by constant I mean, it was only for my partner and I. Well, Jace did try to, you know, get recruited but he had nothing to offer. He couldn’t make the paste, cook the pancakes, or even carry them to the room! Let’s not forget things as easy as topping it with the syrup. But hey, since we are good people, we always managed a pancake or 2 for him (he hardly finished the second).
Until one Sunday, I received a call, “Hey Wamaitha, good morning, you good? Family? Perfect. I’m well too. So remember the piece you did 2 weeks ago, it is to be published sometimes next week, and there some minor changes we need you to make. You can do that right…?”
See if the question was; Can you do that? I probably would have a window to say no or yes. But there was no question, so I said yes. And on that particular Sunday, we didn’t make pancakes, not until 11 a.m, and even that was not voluntarily.
Jace got up at around 11 a.m, and his dad served him Milk and cake for breakfast. But the little mister was not having it. He wanted pancakes and no amount of convincing would talk him out of it. Luckily for him, his dad knew his way around the kitchen with a specialty of making pancakes. That ladies and gentlemen is how Jace was recruited in our ritual on a full-time basis.
3 years later, we had another recruit, Jake our second born. (we saw him coming, matter of fact we arranged his coming).
8 months into breastfeeding Jake, I developed a pain on my left breast. There were also lumps around the breast. I was worried and I visited the doctor.
He examined me, sent me home with some painkillers but not before he assured me it was benign. That it was normal for lactating mothers to have lumps and other symptoms that were similar to breast cancer.
The idea of cancer crossed my mind, but it came bearing fear, worry and a horrible feeling that I couldn’t stomach. It was easier to believe the doctor and follow his instructions. I took the drugs: one gulp for my pain one gargle for the bitterness. Before I noticed, the pain was gone and so was the thought of cancer.
Gone for about 4 years.
Until about a month ago, on Sunday. A pancake Sunday. I will not bore you with details of the day. I assume by now you understand the kind of sunshine and warmth that Sundays carried for us. However, I must mention that with the recruits we had a few changes. For starters, we ate our pancakes from the dining room and not the bedroom. You see when kids come, there are comprises you must make; like putting on shirt and pants on Pancake Sunday.
I was resting on the couch, after having my share of breakfast. Josh and the boys were in the kitchen, the boys looking for more pancakes and josh acting the distributor. He handed Jake, the five-year-old, an extra pancake and Jace who was now 8 grabbed it. In a matter of time, it was a race, where Jake was trying to get hold of Jace. The price, a pancake.
Less than a minute into the competition, Jake was frustrated. He came at me, threw himself on me and said ” Moommy.. tell Ace to hand me my pancake…” I, almost immediately, grabbed Jake off my chest and pushed him aside.
Right after he had landed on my chest, I felt a sharp pain. It was as if there was a knife horizontally placed on my chest so that the sharp edge was pushing against my left breast. And when Jake had landed on my chest, he had pushed the knife in. All these happened in a split of a second.
I remember looking at Jake, who was now confused and terrified but safe. He had held on to one of the couches when I had shoved him aside. I shifted my eyes to my husband and we exchanged that look; the one that says, “What the hell!?”
Jake had now started crying. I reached out to apologize but he was scared. How could I shove him like that? I was supposed to defend him against his gluttonous brother who had already started nibbling on the pancake.
So Jake run to his dad. He wanted his pancake, not just any other pancake but the one in Jace’s hand. But it was too late, pieces of the pancake were already in Jace’s stomach drowning in gastric juice.
Given that none of us is a surgeon and the idea of ripping apart our first born’s stomach was not our cup of tea, we had to offer Jake an alternative. So, when Josh suggested getting ice-cream at the mall, it worked like magic. Suddenly everyone was grabbing their sandals and running to the car.
Everyone but me. I had an errand to run. I had to check on my breast. And I did check on them.
In the evening, when Josh and the kids had returned, and the kids had bowed down to sleep, I told Josh of a stone-like lump that I had felt in the armpit area of my left breast. He was lying on my thighs at the time, so even when he tried to keep calm, I felt the tension in the twitch of his muscles.
He was not the only one that was scared, Dr. Google had done his fair share of work of scaring me. I had already diagnosed myself. We decided to visit the doctor the next day and spent the rest of the night nibbling on my share of ice-cream. In his defense, the boys had eaten his share and I didn’t like ice-cream anyway.
The drive to the hospital was long and silent. Nairobi traffic was flexing and Josh was seemingly lost in thoughts, as I was. According to Dr. Google, I was suffering from breast cancer. The thing about me and cancer is that we go way back.
I first heard of cancer 15 years ago. They said my dad died of melanoma after putting up a fight for 5 years. 8 years later, cancer visited our home for the second time. My brother was diagnosed with leukemia and before we had wrapped our head around that news, we lost him. This time I understood what cancer is, I came face to face with it as I was my brother’s caregiver.
The conflict of wishing he would rather die than continue to live in pain. The conflict of grieving him as though he was dead while simultaneously sponge bathing him. I felt his pain, I fought with him, I cheered him on, I saw him win against cancer and by the time they declared him dead, I was so numb that all I said was, ” Fuck Cancer!”
In retrospect, I think cancer has a fragile ego. I think cancer did not like that I insulted it. I think it is here to prove a point, that it cannot be fucked away! My relationship with cancer has always felt like a “Hallo cancer my old friend- kind of relationship. In a few minutes, we would find out how accurate Dr. Google is.
At the hospital, the doctor felt the lump, pressed his lips, and as if to consult with his glasses, he adjusted them. After a deafening silence, he said, “We will need to run a test on you.” So he stuck a needle in my left breast, removed some tissue and conducted a biopsy. Three weeks later, I received a call from the hospital, my test results were out.
Nothing prepares you for news like, “Wamaitha, I’m afraid I have some bad news, your test result came back and it shows that you have stage II breast cancer. Everything else the doctor said was a blur and sounded like an echo from a distance. But Josh was there, he was always there, holding my hand, often so firmly as if he was afraid, he would wake up on day and I will be gone. Or maybe he was right.
I was admitted to the hospital in preparation for a lumpectomy. Surgery came. I was wheeled into a long stretch of the hospital’s corridors. A corridor staffed with air with an undertone of bleach. To my left was a nurse and on my right was Josh. They were both smiling. One smile was professional like she had done this before. The other smile said, “Please don’t leave me, don’t leave us.” And then there was my smile in response to the second smile, it said, “I will be back!”
The surgery was scheduled for a maximum of 40- 45 minutes. Two hours later, I was wheeled out of the OR. I would remain in the hospital for the night so that the doctors could watch my blood pressure and temperature since I had lost a lot of blood.
An extra night turned to an extra day, then 2 more days then a week. First, it was the blood pressure, then it was an infection on the wound under my arm. Then the infection turned to an unknown thing. Several tests were done, a mother turned to a lab rat.
One day, during my husband’s daily visits, he said, “They want to do an entire mastectomy. The cancer seems to have spread and they might have missed it the first time.”
I was already tired of being trapped between the magnolia hospital walls. The bleach that was previously undertone was overwhelming my nostrils. Often it would choke the life out of me. I was tired of the nurses’ fake smile, tired of the whispers as if one would lose their voice. I mean, you have already lost a section of your breast are you still scared of losing?
I wanted to go home, to my boys. I wanted to go crazy because the house was drowning with their noise. I wanted to make them pancakes. Hell! I even wanted to go get that ice cream with them and eat mine alone. If it meant they had to cut out my entire breast, so be it. As long as it would get me out of there right after the second surgery.
Just like the first time, my husband gave me the last push into the blue double doors. I promised him to fight and come back to him. Looking back and on a light note, I got to live one of my movie fantasy. “I was the lover going into battle promising his betrothed to put a fight and return to him. The soldier getting into a bloody war where, the first man fell in front of me, the second behind me and the third, at my side (expert from The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht.
3 hours later, I was wheeled out of the operating theater. Weak but alive. I would stay in the hospital for 5 more days under observation before being discharged. It was during these 5 days that I met Dr. Death.
On day 3, my boys and their father visited me. They broke some rules and brought me pancakes even though it was not a Sunday. And I, broke their hearts since I couldn’t stomach the pancakes. But my 5-year-old did not mind helping mommy out. Let’s just say, he ate all the pancakes.
I mean mommy was sick, correct, but it was not the end of the world.
Jake didn’t seem to grasp the idea of sickness any further than seeing an injection. It was Jace that I was worried about. The way he looked at me, at 8 years I hated that he understood the concept of cancer. I hated the fear and worry that lingered in his eyes. He shouldn’t have to be worried. He shouldn’t have to stress over me, it was my work to stress over him. It broke me to see him like that. At some point, he held my hand firmly and asked, “Mommy, will you be coming home with us today?” “Not today but I promise you, the next time you return it will be to discharge me,” I assured him. It was the way he tightened his grip on my hand as if my words were not enough. It broke me.
At around 6 p.m, the visiting hours were over, they left.
They left me with their warmth, laughter and scent. Whoever was doing my children’s laundry was clearly overdoing the fabric softener, but hey, I was not complaining. Especially since I would hold my hand to my nose until the scent of my boys would fade away. I don’t know for how long I was in this position before I noticed an image standing right beside my bed.
I lifted my eyes following the image right into its eyes. It was a girl. But if you had not seen her as many times as I had, she would easily pass for a sickly old woman. Cancer had eaten her age away, leaving her to a frame of herself; skin and bones. Her eyes had sunk deep but the volume of pain and sadness in them had remained constant. She was among the patients in the cancer ward who were never visited, always alone and often staring blankly into space.
I had tried to strike a conversation with her for a couple of times, but she never spoke. Not once. One day, she left the ward, never to return, until today, standing right beside my bed.
“You cannot sleep today, he is coming!” she whispered. Her words spilling out of her lips like a mistake. “Who is coming and why should I not sleep?” I asked her.
The Doctor, the chocking doctor, he is coming today! You sleep you die. You cannot sleep! You sleep, you die!” she said and disappeared into the hallway.
Her words left me more confused than afraid. Chocking doctor? Who was that? Besides, there were whispers about this particular girl. Some say she has teeth cancer and others say it is a misdiagnosis. One thing is certain though, something is eating at her, not fast, very slowly. Slowly enough so that she is among the people that have been admitted to the hospital for the longest time.
I looked around me, and I noticed two empty beds. It should have rung a bell but that is the thing with wards, they are many things. It is a house of hope that you will heal and get better. A temple of pain, if not yours, your neighbors and it is the in-between. The holding area between a healthy life and crossing over to the other side.
And so, empty beds could mean that hope has been ignited, pain has been ended or someone has crossed over to either of the sides. You understand why it did not startle me that I had earlier missed the empty beds rights? The occupants of the two beds were two middle-aged women who had been stuck in the hospital for a long time due to unpaid bills.
I must have dozed off thinking about the chocking doctor because I woke up with a shortness of breath. My vision was blurry but I could tell there was a dark image standing next to me. I first thought it was the girl but then the image was bigger.
I tried to reach out and almost immediately I felt a burning sensation on my right arm just next to my wrist. It was itchy and consuming me from the inside. My left arm couldn’t move, not even to scratch off the itchiness. One minute it was my left arm that was immobile, the next, my legs, then my entire lower body and almost immediately, my upper body. It felt like something was sitting on me so that I couldn’t move even my head. I tried to scream, nothing. I tried to cry, nothing. I tried anything and everything you would do if someone was choking you, but nothing changed. I was dying.
They say death is painless and yet mine was fuelled by agony. Death is painful especially if you did not want to die. Like me. It’s the grieving for the loss of the life you should and would have lived. It is the painful thought of living behind your sons after promising to return home. The agony of your children having to grow up without a mother. The broken promises of living behind your better half even after promising twice to return to him.
And as if that is not pain enough, it is the struggle to breathe as your life flashes right in front of you. The struggle to either pay attention to the memories or to your internal organs which are shutting down one after another. Death is painful when it unnecessarily long. My death felt like a day, a year even, but all these happened in less than 3 minutes.
I realized I couldn’t cheat death, so I remained still and I let it run its course. Suddenly, I was not chocking, I was not paralyzed and I could speak. I stood on my feet and approached the dark shadow that seemingly had tried to choke me to death. Then something happened, the shadow passed right through me, like I was invisible. Wait, was I invisible? How could he just intersect me like that? Was I dead, is this it?
I looked at my bed and on it, lain another version of me. My body.
The shadow who I had made out to be a doctor proceeded to the patient in the next bed. He, the doctor, was tall and dressed in a long leather jacket. Half his face was covered by a surgical mask and the other half a fedora hat lowered low enough so that you couldn’t make out his face. His hands were large and they effortlessly pushed the trolley full of medical supplies to the next patient.
Then he lowered his head close to the patient, lowered his mask to his chin, smiled and said, “Shh, sleep now, there is no point in fighting only to live in pain for the rest of your life! Let me help you rest.” He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a used injection, used it to suck up some medicine from a bottle written Secsimacoly and injected it to the patient.
Just like me, the patient struggled to breathe, then to move, and then she suddenly stayed still, dead. The doctor did the same procedure to 4 other patients, each reacting the same way. However, unlike me, the other patients did not have a burning sensation on the arm. I am yet to find out why I did. But here is what I know.
There is a doctor in town. A Dr. Death. He visits hospitals at intervals of three months to relive the terminally ill of their pain. Which in essence is to kill. Even worse, is that your doctor knows about him, your nurses too and even some patients have heard of the whispers of his existence.
Every time the whispers re-surface, the doctors, nurses and staff on duty that night, do not show up. Nobody will talk about it because, hey, walls have ears, and snitches get stitches.
I can only say this because I’m dead. I’m stuck in the spirit world. The doctors said I died of a heart attack, but my family refuse to believe that. I see them fighting for me, they want a second autopsy, but that drug used on me cannot be detected. So really, they will not get the closure they want. And neither will I. That is why I have decided to stick around, to be a guardian angel to my family. To grieve with them and for them. The way it works here is that I have to be ready to give up my spirit for me to rest. So I guess I will be stuck in this world for a long time. I am not giving up being with the people I love, even if they can’t see me.
In case you are wondering how I wrote this, well, I know a spirit who knows a spirit who knows a medium, who wrote this word for word as told by me. Yeah, networking is a thing even in death.
Hey gang! Long time no see. I missed ya’ll like I miss a functioning government. Oops, did i say that out loud! Anyway, have you noticed the new changes? I got ya’ll a website, now you have all the space to play around as you wait for a new story every week. How cool is that! Umm! (flags her hand) Don’t mention it.
So then, let’s help each other here, share with your networks, tell them there is a new website in the block. There is space for everyone, let’s make our gang bigger. Also, let me know on the comment section how you are liking the website. See you on Wednesday.
Image Courtesy: northatlanticblog- WordPress.com