Wycliff had only one Christmas wish this year — to spend it at home with his family. Nine weeks in hospital had challenged both his physical and mental state
The past few weeks have seen the Influenza virus outbreak give birth to a myriad of hilarious social media memes, demonstrating the resilient Kenyan spirit in the face of tough moments. A fortnight ago, Kenya confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant of Sars-Cov-2 virus within our borders, and instead of fear, the typical Kenyan spirit came right through with more humour! This is how we have survived our second Christmas, riding out yet another Covid-19 wave.
Wycliff* had only one Christmas wish this year, to spend it at home with his family. Nine weeks in hospital had challenged both his physical and mental state to a point of giving up but his deep desire to get back home and see his newborn son kept him going.
He vividly recalls how he surprised his wife, Lilly* with a holiday in Lamu over the long Utamaduni day weekend. Lamu was top on her wish list, but with a baby on the way, she knew it would be a while before she could even consider it. She was 32 weeks along when her husband picked her from work on Friday at noon for ‘lunch’.
She first saw the flight tickets at the Wilson Airport parking lot! Wycliff had thought through everything, including a letter from her doctor declaring her fitness to fly. The bags were packed and flight was ready for boarding. It was a blissful weekend for the couple.
Upon return, Wycliff thought he was unduly tired the following week but attributed it to the warm coastal weather and the holiday indulgence with the drink. However, by the weekend, he noted he was having the pins-and-needles sensation in his hands and feet. He tried to shrug it off but Lilly put her foot down and insisted that he consults his physician.
Wycliff swung by his doctor’s office on Monday after work and was sent for a bunch of lab tests. The next morning when he woke up, he could not get out of bed. His shoulders, back and hips were smoldering in pain while his limbs felt useless. Trying hard not to cause panic in his heavily pregnant wife, he pretended to sleep in, awaiting his review appointment.
It was a struggle to scroll through his phone book and call his brother. James heard his twin brother’s voice on the phone, he came right over, literally carrying him down the stairs. Wycliff found himself in the emergency room on a gurney with monitors stuck all over his torso, arms and fingers. There was an oxygen mask stuck over his face while he lay propped up. James looked extremely worried.
The doctor came through the curtain and introduced himself but Wycliff did not catch his name. He turned to James, firing questions in rapid succession but James stood there helplessly as he was unable to give an account of what was going on. Wycliff kept trying to answer but he could not vocalise the words. He only nodded that he had suffered a cold recently.
Wycliff has no recollection of what happened next but he was informed that he was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for all of 32 days. His breathing had deteriorated while still at the emergency department and he had been urgently intubated and wheeled off to the ICU just as his mother and Lilly arrived at the hospital. It had been impossible to send his family away from the hospital, including his heavily pregnant wife.
Just as he was finally waking up from the sedation, Lilly went into labour.
James spent his day divided between ICU and the labour ward. He did not want his brother waking up to unfamiliar faces but he also did not want his sister-in-law alone. Lilly was orphaned at the age of four and they were all the family she had. Eventually his mother chased him out of labour ward and told him to go stay with Wycliff while she stayed with Lilly.
When Wycliff was finally able to open his eyes and focus on his brother’s face, James had an even bigger surprise for him. He had a picture of his newborn son on the phone to show. The fog in Wycliff’s head melted away as he strived to come to terms with the fact that he was a new dad.
It has been a long slow journey to recovery for Wycliff. He had been sent to the ICU by Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disorder of the nerves where the immune system attacks the body’s nerve fibres, causing dysfunction.
What is amazing is that this disorder is triggered by a mild viral respiratory infection that may have already been forgotten, just like the ones we have been experiencing. The damaged nerves then fail to control muscles hence the weakness, the pain and the inability to breathe as the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles become paralysed.
Wycliff still had to deal with endless physiotherapy and occupational therapy to regain muscle function, find his balance, learn to walk again, hold a pen, use a knife and fork and hold his urine. Surely, if GBS did not kill him, it could only make him stronger. He still needs the assistance of a cane but he is overjoyed to have spent his Christmas at home, holding his son in his arms!
Dr Bosire is an obstetrician/gynaecologist