Husband turns his bedroom into ‘life support unit’ just to keep comatose wife alive
Your average bedroom is a place where comfort rules, dreams have a theatre and tranquillity domiciles.
But David “Jumbo” Muchiri’s bedroom in Kagondo village, Nairobi’s Dagoretti South, is more than just a place where a weary head lands on a pillow for a trip to Wonderland.
His bedroom is a high-dependency unit of sorts, supporting the life and the dreams of Edna Njoki, his wife of 23 years, who is in a coma.
With a nurse present around the clock, life-support tubes, gloves, disinfectants, a sink, a toilet and all, you can hardly believe it was once the master bedroom.
It has been a life support unit since December 24, 2017, when Jumbo made the bold decision to have Edna removed from the high-dependency unit of Aga Khan University Hospital on account of rising costs so he could take care of her at home.
“It was my master bedroom. I tore down one wall to create a door so that in case an ambulance comes, it can carry her out without any hiccups,” he says.
“There are homecare facilities where I was advised to take her. But I thought she would not survive there. I thought it is better to have her at home. I want her food to be special, and at home I can see it being prepared. Had she been out there, I wouldn’t know if she has eaten, if she has been turned,” adds Jumbo.
His wife had stayed at Aga Khan from July 14, 2017 when a Toyota Prado car she was driving was involved in an accident with a matatu near Uthiru Junction, which left her left leg with a deep cut and a badly broken bone that would need the use of a metallic fixator to repair it.
The accident saw her undergo two surgeries in 24 hours and while there, according to Aga Khan Hospital, she developed symptoms suggestive of fat embolism syndrome — a rare condition that befalls people with fractured bones.
“This is a rare complication that occurs within 24 to 48 hours after long bone fractures,” says the hospital in a May 18 letter as it responded to a query from Mrs Muchiri’s family on why she went comatose even when she was talking normally hours after the crash.
Fat embolism syndrome occurs when a droplet of fat, usually from the bone marrow, enters a person’s bloodstream. The result is a limitation of the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, which often comes to the detriment of a number of body organs.
In the case of the 43-year-old Mrs Muchiri, the brain appears to have been the most affected, and that has left her lying comatose for a year.
At the bedroom in her matrimonial home, she spends most of her time lying on specialised bed that has wheels, and which allows for a patient’s stature from the waist upwards to be lifted up and down by turning some knobs. Sometimes she is placed on a wheelchair to be ridden to the living room or outside to sunbathe.
As you enter the reconditioned bedroom, the sharp smell typical of a hospital ward hits your nostrils. If not for the sonorous music from a small transistor radio placed by her side, this would be a room where the silence can deafen. A heater and a machine for clearing sputum from her throat lie on the floor, with long tubes connected to her throat.
A small crucifix, a hanged rosary and another one wrapped around her right wrist, and wall hanging depicting Holy Mary holding baby Jesus are also features you cannot miss in the room.
You cannot also evade the cold, long stare at one direction by a motionless Mrs Muchiri. The braces on both her legs reinforce the message of how immobile she is.
“She hasn’t changed much since that day,” the husband says. “She neither sees nor hears but there is hope. There were days when she could not turn. Nowadays, she responds to efforts to turn her around.”
When specialists from Aga Khan examined her in June, they noted improvements.
“Clinically, she has improved in terms of turning eyes to noise and pupils reacting to light,” says a June 22 medical report.
“They say it takes a process; that the recovery is so slow that you may not notice. As I stay with her, I may hardly notice,” says Mr Muchiri, adding that one major improvement is that she no longer needs a concentrator to aid breathing.
In his consultations, Mr Muchiri has been told that if such a patient does not regain her senses in four to six months, they can recover after a year and a half.
“Now it’s over a year. We are waiting for the 18th month,” he says thoughtfully.
“We sent scans to an Indian hospital and they said her process is self-curing; that no doctor can cure it; that it only needs the therapy,” he adds.
It has been a steep learning curve for the 47-year-old husband and their two daughters aged 23 and 15.
Notably, it has been a year of readjustments. Jumbo had to stop being a meat trader in Dagoretti to focus his energies on his bedridden wife.
“I just keep thinking about her. That’s why I couldn’t continue with my business. I couldn’t concentrate,” he says.
Their daughters have had to make sudden readjustments. The younger one was to celebrate her birthday the day after Mrs Muchiri had the accident at around 6pm when she was coming from work. One of her planned activities that Friday evening was to buy supplies for the party. All that had to be forgone after the crash that saw her car written off.
“They are stressed and you can tell it. Like the younger one was very close to her mother,” says Mr Muchiri, noting that the elder girl is a student at Strathmore University who has been taking all the happenings in her stride.
Their academic performance has been affected, he said, and teachers of the younger girl, who is in Form One, had promised to find her a counsellor.
It has also been a year of living the wedding vows.
There are times when Mr Muchiri goes to the bedside to talk to her, not caring if she is hearing him or not.
“I just tell her she is fine; that I’ve never abandoned her; and that she will get well. Like we said during the wedding, ‘Until death do us part.’ That’s why I brought her here,” says the husband.
He longs for that day when his wife, a chatty woman, will talk again.
“I’ll be very happy. And it is the dream I have always had: to be called from wherever I will be to be told that there is recovery; that there is a change,” he says.
“I’m told you can find her just getting well without a warning. That will be my joy. It won’t be a small thing because the current state is devastating: Someone doesn’t talk, laugh, and doesn’t even know you are there,” adds Mr Muchiri.
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