September is the month that my mother slipped through the doors at the other end of this waiting room that we so politely call life.
Her departure was aided by the staff of one of the popular private hospitals in Kampala (namely Kadic) who, using negligence, gave her an almighty shove into the arms of death. I suppose it all began when her doctor, a man who had performed multiple cesareans over a long career, somehow forgot that people who’d just undergone major operations were susceptible to blood clots.
When that nurse with a thin, brown face and stunned expression held my shoulders and said, “You are going to have to grow up now” I was sure my mother’s conscious was still in the hospital, perhaps in its walls, trying to steady itself, to gather gravity so that it would become weighty enough to slip back into her body.
And I called for her to do so in the only ways I knew how: noise, violence, chaos.
The first thing I failed to accept was that we had lost her after doing everything right, at least by movie standards: rushing to the best hospital we knew, delivering her into a pristine waiting room, being reassured by a young doctor whose accent made you think “clean, sure”.
How could such a logical system fail, I asked? How could they betray my trust in the competence of musawos? What kind of doctor only remembers to administer oxygen to a patient who has been failing to breathe for an hour, after they have taken their last struggling breath? I suppose I had expected things to play out like an episode of House.
The second thing I failed to accept was that we could have saved her life had we had basic knowledge of the plants, spices and herbs around us. They could at least have mitigated the irregularities her body was facing. A small clove of garlic ingested regularly, ginger, cayenne pepper, vanilla leaf, all which thin your blood and lessen the likelihood if you developing atherosclerosis, a condition that causes blood clots to form in our vessels.
Two years later and I still remember so clearly, the helplessness I felt that Wednesday night. It is a strong force behind my desire to become an herbalist, a true daughter, sister and wife to the soil and her extensions.
On the night of 9th September, Chris Ocamringa was reporting about a mysterious disease that is making the throats of the afflicted in Ntungamo burn and then produce snail like creatures, mbu. I balked at his use of air quotes as he referred to the medicine men and women who were, according to all accounts, treating this disease successfully. Shya.
We have been poisoned by the idea that medicine is only worth appreciating when approval flows down from overseas. We are both suspicious and dismissive of the wise men and women who have been healing our sick for centuries, who have retained their knowledge in the face of globalization, colonialism and self-racism that came as a direct result; who have protected their knowledge against the stealing and repackaging by foreign elements. As a reporter whose responsibility it is to bring us the news, it was silly of him to flaunt his bias towards the medicine men and women.
Unless we intend to continue to donate our nearest and dearest to death while paying for death spaces in the fancy little hospitals that keep mushrooming all over the hills of Kampala, we had better wake up to the healing elements around us. It doesn’t take much. At the very least, google. Pay attention to what you eat, hydrate and move.
Ma, Mary Jessica Opwonya, you are loved and sorely missed by we, your seven.