It’s the morning of August 7, 2013. We are up at 4.30 a.m. to get ready in time for our airport pick-up at 6.30 a.m. I need a lot of time to get ready, as with my current disability everything has to be done very, very slowly. We are in a hotel on Piccadilly Street in central London, which has been our home for the last seven nights.
For a week before that, my home was a hospital in London where I had been admitted for a repair of a major injury on my left shoulder. Don’t ask me how I got it. It could be anything from lifting a heavy weight, gym injury, or a bad golf swing… I stopped searching for the answer from the moment an MRI in April revealed the huge tears on the shoulder ligaments and biceps tendons and surgery was necessary to get me rid of the excruciating pain that had dogged me since December last year.
At 6.15 a.m. we get a call from the reception that our taxi is waiting. We hold hands with my daughter and say a prayer, thanking God for everything and asking Him for journey mercies. As the porter enters the room to pick our bags, I switch on to CNN hoping to catch up with the world news before leaving the hotel room. I recall seeing a huge fire on the screen but didn’t pay much attention, as there have been fires in many parts of the world lately, particularly in Syria and Egypt.
We have a quiet ride to Heathrow Airport. I am happy to be going back home to recuperate, and my daughter is sad to be parting with me and worried how I will manage on my own on the flight to Nairobi.
She will be flying back to New York after coming to London to take care of me. Thank God for daughters, Njeri was the perfect caregiver, especially in those first few days from hospital when I had pain to deal with, nausea from the loads of painkillers, the awkwardness of the abduction bolster that supports my arm, and the sleepless nights.
She acted like a wild cat if she spotted someone walking threateningly towards me on the crowded London streets as we took slow walks. “Hey, watch out! Don’t touch her!” she would shout protectively while shielding me with her body.
We arrive at Heathrow terminal 5 where I will be taking the 10.25 a.m. British Airways (BA) flight to Nairobi and my daughter will be taking her New York flight later in the day. We had arranged it this way to ensure she helps me through the airport, and, as instructed by my doctor gives me an injection two hours before my flight to reduce chances of a blood clot. Undergoing surgery under anesthesia, being bed-ridden and flying increase your risk of a blood clot. It is while at the check-in counter that I see a text message from my husband: ‘Fire at the airport…’ The lady at the counter informs us there seems to be a problem in Nairobi and they have been advised to hold checking in the flight. She advises us to come back after 30 minutes. The news is bad when we come back – all flights to Nairobi have been cancelled and nobody knows when the airport will reopen. I am booked at the Sofitel Hotel in terminal 5 for the night.
My daughter and I are in tears. How could this happen on this day? What shall we do now? Njeri had planned everything meticulously ensuring all my bags were well packed, my hand luggage was light and the medication I needed in-flight was within reach, as she was sure in ten hours or so after parting I would be in the safe hands of my husband. Now, all our plans have been ruined. We compose ourselves and I tell her everything will be okay.
My husband is keeping us updated and things seem to be really bad in Nairobi with passengers stranded and flights being diverted to other airports. My daughter takes her flight later in the day and leaves me feeling lonely and helpless. I have a long, lonely and difficult night but I survive. I return to the BA counter the following morning and their Nairobi flights remain cancelled. There is a ray of hope as Kenya Airways is still flying their daily flight from Heathrow, but as expected the flights are full. My best bet of getting back home is to take a BA flight leaving Heathrow that evening for Entebbe and from there take a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi. We reserve a seat on this route but I am asked to check again at 3 p.m. to see if there is an opening in the Kenya Airways business class. Thank God, I get a seat in the flight departing London at 8 p.m. that evening.
I get help from the hotel staff to transfer to terminal 4 to catch the Kenya Airways flight. It’s in moments of your weakness that you notice the goodness of people. Strangers help me all the way through. God bless the woman passenger who saw my predicament when I was asked to place my bags on the scale at the check-in counter and came to help me. As expected I have a hard time going through security but I have a letter from my doctor explaining why the abduction bolster cannot be removed to go into the X-ray machine. It takes the chief security officer at terminal 4 to allow me through. Now my next hurdle – there is still an injection to go through and I am scared to death of doing it myself. I take a seat in the business lounge to compose myself and gain courage to do what needs to be done.
One small voice is telling me ‘its okay, you don’t need it’ while a louder one is telling me ‘don’t risk it.’ I choose not to risk, gather courage, walk into the bathroom, clean my belly below the navel with antiseptic, take out the syringe, close my eyes, prick the skin and push down. And hooray! I have done it!
And I didn’t freak out. I dispose the syringe in the safe box provided by the hospital, text my daughter the great news and am good to go. The kind and attentive Kenya Airways flight attendants make my overnight flight stress-free. They ensure I am comfortable and take care of my hand luggage. It is a pleasant surprise to find Mr. Titus Naikuni, CEO of Kenya Airways, at hand to meet passengers and ensure smooth clearance in the makeshift tents that are serving as the arrivals hall. To return to my country and see the efforts Kenya Airways and the staff of the Kenya Airport Authority have put in place to ensure our airport remains open despite the tragedy makes me proud. Thank you, Kenya Airways, for bringing me back home.