If the saying ‘cats have nine lives’ is to be believed, then Paul Muigai’s life mimics that of a cat. The 30-year-old information technology consultant (IT) survived three road accidents caused by drunken driving. The last accident that left Paul nursing serious injuries was a wakeup call to take charge of his life. He lived to tell his remarkable story of rebellion, regrets and reform. He shares his experience with MILLICENT KAMAU.
In my early 20s, I partied a lot. Hopping from one club to another and drinking alcohol at any day and time was the order of the day. At the time, I was a student at Kenyatta University pursuing a diploma in IT. Instead of going home to study after classes, I would get into the nearest bar, drink myself silly and stagger home in the wee hours of the morning. I often used my mother’s car until she stopped giving it to me on account of my behaviour. But this didn’t stop me. I would steal the car while she was out of the house or was sleeping and carry on with my drinking adventures. I led a dangerous life. I only survived through God’s grace.
My mother’s pleas to stop drinking and driving fell on deaf ears. I thought she was being unfair! My father passed on when I was 13 and the responsibility of raising my two siblings and I fell squarely on our mother’s shoulders. Today, I feel like shedding tears when I think of the sacrifices mum made for my sake, despite walking her down a very rocky path.
The first accident happened in 2001 when I was 21. I was driving my mother’s Peugeot 504 in a drunken state. I hit a car that was ahead of me but luckily no one was hurt. This incident should have served as a warning, but NO! I continued with my lifestyle. The second accident happened in 2003. Still in a drunken state, I was driving the same car and this time it was overloaded with eight people. I collided with a vehicle at a junction and we landed in a ditch after hitting an electricity transformer. Again, no one was hurt, not even a single scratch was sustained. The car, however, was a write-off. We were arrested but later released after bail was posted. After this incident I promised myself not to consume alcohol again, but that was not to be.
In the third accident in 2006, I had been drinking with three of my younger cousins at a bar in Westlands, Nairobi. I got too drunk that I blacked out in the co-driver’s seat. I was meant to drive but because of the state I was in, one of my drunken cousins took to the steering wheel. Along Waiyaki Way, he dozed off and in a split second we hit a truck from behind. He had been driving at 80 kilometres per hour and the impact was so hard that our car got hooked to the truck and we were dragged for about 100 metres before the truck stopped. Since I was not wearing a seatbelt, the impact threw me forward and I hit the dashboard with my chin. My seat came off and landed on top of me, and one of my cousins, who was seated behind me, also landed on top of the seat.
The truck driver helped us get out of our car. My drunken state and the shock drained almost all my strength that I couldn’t walk, so I crawled to the roadside. People were already gathering around. I recollected myself and was able to stand but when I attempted to talk, I felt weird. It was then that I noticed my lower lip was hanging down and my jaw was completely loose. I held the lip and jaw for support. I was bleeding profusely but interestingly I was not feeling any pain. My cousins sustained minor injuries.
Good Samaritans took us to M.P Shah Hospital in Parklands but due to congestion at the hospital we could not be attended to. However, the hospital was kind enough to give us an ambulance to take us to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where we remained unattended to for three hours. My family was alerted and they rushed to the hospital. When my mother saw me she got hysterical. She cried and screamed uncontrollably. All the while, I was still conscious and reeling in guilt.
Bleeding had since reduced but pain was setting in. I was in so much pain that I got goose bumps all over my body. But I had to persevere the pain and concentrate on holding my lip and jaw, which looked like they would fall off. My face was so swollen it looked like a basketball.
When treatment at KNH didn’t seem to come forth, my mother arranged to have me transferred to the Aga Khan Hospital in Parklands and I was immediately admitted. Doctors administered sedatives to numb the pain but they worked only for a while and the pain would gush back in torrents. An X-ray revealed that I had five fractures on the jaw; both cheekbones were broken, as was the palate and nose. The lower lip had been horizontally cut and I had lost one tooth and several others were cracked. This revelation was traumatising.
To surgically fix my face, doctors said they had to cut my cheeks but my mother sought a second opinion at Karen Hospital. Dr Eric Kabogo, a surgeon at the hospital advised that surgery should be done under the chin to avoid major deformation of my face. My mother agreed with this opinion and transferred me to Karen Hospital. The surgery didn’t commence immediately as the team of doctors attending to me needed to analyse my facial structure using my most recent passport size picture. The picture was projected on a computer to show the exact position of the bones before the accident. I was advised that I needed to undergo three reconstructive surgeries to put my face back to as normal as possible.
All the while, I was thinking of how I had failed my mother, siblings and the cousins I was with when the accident happed. I was their senior and expected to set a good example. I hated and blamed myself. How I wished I could turn back the hands of time. I promised myself that I would never consume alcohol again.
The first surgery was performed on the chin and palate. Metal plates were put in my mouth to hold the bones together and aid them in regaining their normal shape. The lower lip was also stitched. The surgery lasted six hours. Four days later, I went for the second surgery in the midst of excruciating pain. This surgery lasted13 hours and was meant to repair the nose and jaw. To hold up the jaw so that it didn’t drop down, metal plates were attached on the jaw and drilled into the skull. It was after this surgery that I was able to feed without feeding pipes. But I could only take liquids using a straw.
The metal plates, which were to be removed after the bones had healed, were visible on my face. It was difficult and embarrassing to live with the plates. Sleeping was a problem. When the weather was too hot or cold, the pain worsened as the metal plates expanded or contracted. Amazingly, I was discharged from hospital after two weeks and was put under close observation. The hospital bill had accumulated to Ksh.1.5 million. My mother paid the bill with assistance from relatives and friends. I was put on medication, which cost another Ksh.200000.
The recovery process was slow and difficult. I survived on liquids for three months and as a result lost a lot of weight. Before the accident I weighed 68kg but after the surgery I was down to 50kg. I couldn’t talk normally. My face was always sore and swollen. I got to know the true value of family during this difficult period. My mother and siblings were very supportive. Many friends I used to party with disappeared. Only a few remained supportive.
After three months, I underwent the third surgery to remove the metal plates as the bones could now support themselves. The surgery took two hours. It was after this surgery that I was able to eat mashed foods. I remained in hospital for two days then was discharged. I attended regular clinic to clean the wounds and monitor the bones healing.
The stitches were removed after another four months. I stopped taking medicine after six months. It took me a whole year to recover fully and regain my facial structure, though I don’t look the same. I lost opportunities and lagged behind in all aspects of my life. I had qualified for a scholarship at a university in Finland to pursue a degree in IT but lost the chance after the accident. I wrote to the institution many times to request for postponement of my admission date but all was in vain. I don’t blame them. They gave the chance to someone who was more serious than I. I have spent the last four years trying to catch up with my life. I have stopped taking alcohol. Though I have a company to my name, I still feel that I could have achieved more if only I was responsible. I am still hoping to get a degree in IT.
It still pains my heart that irresponsibility changed my life and I have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone and that is why I have been using my experience to campaign, in a small way, against drinking and driving. It is saddening that even after my experience, some friends and relatives still drink and drive. I have tried to talk them out of the habit but nothing seems to come forth. I will continue campaigning until they stop.
I created an advertisement to campaign against drinking and driving using video clips and photos taken during my surgeries. I have presented this to several organisations and companies that produce alcohol. They are yet to respond but I am hopeful they will soon. My message to Kenyans is, if you must consume alcohol, take a cab home, don’t drive. Also, don’t use your cell phone while driving and follow traffic rules. Never wait for a bad situation to happen to change you. Take charge of your life now.”
Published on February 2011