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Updated: 3 days ago

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A lily never pretends. It’s beauty is that it is what it is. It blooms in the mud and shines in the darkness to remind you that no matter how bad things are, they will get better.

******* You don’t see death coming when you are forced to lie on your belly. So you resist the position even if you know what’s good for you. You toss and turn; hoping no one will find you in your default setting — on your side. You have a sense of foreboding that on your belly, death might sneak up on you and catch you unaware and you want to see it coming. Not that there is anything you will do if it comes.

How do they expect you to breath anyway? With your face against the pillow. Still the faceless people insist, “Lily, proning ( lying on your belly) is remarkable in improving oxygen levels and reducing the need for ventilation in covid 19 patients.” You never thought the word covid and Lily would be mentioned in one sentence.

Being in the covid ward is being suspended between two worlds. Things can go either way. One day you are walking on sunshine, the next you are in the eye of the storm. It’s worse when you are a medical specialist in epidemiology, saturated with statistics and trends. For as many knowns that exist, there are equal unknowns. Your course is hard to predict because there is no difference between you and the next guy. That he should die and you live.

You are concerned about the rest of your family. You are not sure but by rough calculation, the genesis of this infection may have been the funeral. As you scattered soil over your uncles casket, a dull melancholy settled over your heart. You knew you would miss his penchant for hardwork and his great taste in cars. His burial was well attended and as each of you took turns to say their last, you wondered what had accelerated his demise. He was a healthy man, who had suddenly taken ill and deteriorated at the blink of an eye. 

After you get back from the funeral you start to feel like your thermostat is broken. You sleep without covers to chase away the heat but it cuddles you. Then you start to cough and you think, ‘This better be the common cold.’ You fabricate reasons for the cough and try all of them on, but none of them fit. Not you. Not now. Not with a three year old daughter who depends on you. So you sleep. And pray that joy comes in the morning. But it doesn’t.

So you call in sick and decide to get tested. By the time you drag your body to the testing centre, you are a furnace. Your breath escapes you, and you feel knives twisting in your joints. As you climb the stairs, you know that this is no normal flu. Even as they take the sample you know at the bottom of your gut what the results will be. And that is why, when you start to deteriorate, you don’t wait. You rush to hospital.

There, they redo the test and in a matter of hours, your fears are confirmed. Positive. How can such a good word, mean such a bad thing? It feels like a label. Your covid status. Suddenly people who had faces disappear behind hazmat suits. You are quickly separated from your loved ones and sent into isolation. Everything you came into contact with, is hazardous. You become hazardous. An infectious agent, worse than an explosive. You don’t know what is worse; that you have the disease, or how you are handled after the fact.

While in isolation, you learn that your aunt — who was at the same funeral — also tested positive and is at another hospital. So you text her and soon the two of you are bound in a pact. Initially your texts to her are sparse. Short. Your head feels like a bag of cotton wool. When you try to take a step to the bathroom you heave like you are operating a piece of heavy machinery. You update each other on the hour; compare notes.

“Aunty how are your oxygen levels today?”

“I have improved Lily. The nurses here devised a way for me to shower with my oxygen tubes.” “That’s so cool. Let me see if I can campaign for those here.”

On and on you chat. Cheering each other on.

During rounds you are seen by faceless people. When they speak, their voices are muffled by the layers of protective equipment. They speak to you, using the scientific lingua you know so well. “Your oxygen sats are low Lily. Your sugars are going up Lily. We want to try this new drug Lily.” And because you have done this countless times you know to listen to what they are saying and what they are not saying. And it terrifies you that you even refuse to switch off the lights at night. Because you believe that bad things happen in the dark. 

Then comes Dr Sylvia. You barely recognize her in her space suit. She was your classmate in undergrad. You were neither friends nor enemies. So you don’t expect much from her. But she surprises you. You didn’t know she works at that hospital and when she comes for her rounds she says, “Lily. I heard you were here.” She pulls out your chart and without skipping a beat, “Lily we have to fight this. We cant despair. Apart from your lungs, your other organs are ok. You will be ok.” You feel her words pulling you out of that dark hole you were digging. Thereafter, she comes to see you everyday. And carries the sun with her. She sparks positive charge and tries to infect you with it. When she comes, she lingers just a bit because other than science, she speaks the language of love.

While in isolation, your birthday comes and people send you messages upon messages of good tidings. The texts spook you. They read like things people would say at your eulogy. Sylvia doesn’t text. She calls. She sings the birthday song to you from start to end. Then says, “Don’t forget to lie on your belly Lily. You will get better. We are here for you.” Her voice soothes you. It carries faith and a genuine desire for wellness.

You get worse before you get better. You get weak before you get stronger then the tide turns and you start to feel like you and your body are one. Your fever breaks, your joints loosen, your head clears. Your oxygen levels start to get better and you can even walk to the bathroom and take a shower. You suddenly feel like you were underwater and have come up for air. The bad days are shorter, the good days are longer.

Finally you cross the finish line; the day of discharge is here. You can’t believe you are going home. Sylvia and her team are there to cheer you on. It is a day of celebration when you finally hold your daughter in your arms. Because you feel like you pried open the jaws of death and walked out.

You know that it’s not luck or expertise or the facility that saved you. Because if it was, your aunt would have walked out with you on her end. But the day you got discharged, she became restless and didn’t make it. So you know it was the hand of God and the support system from the team, family and friends that helped you sail through and you simply want to say — Thank You.

As Narrated to me by Dr Lily Muthoni Nyaga who is grateful to the team at AKUH that worked tirelessly to save her life. 

And to Dr Sylvia, Dr Gaitho and Dr Brian and the entire team — for your wisdom, courage and cheer.


Class, today the lesson is simple. Take personal responsibility. Keep your mask on, wash your hands and maintain social distance.  We continue to pray for our country, for those who are still in the fight and for the frontliners who lay down their lives, so that others might live.

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