FROM A TOUR OPERATOR To a wheelchair-confined life

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Daniel Kimani, 32, had taken tourists to Amboseli National Park.  On the way back to Nairobi, they were involved in a car accident that left Daniel nursing severe spinal cord injuries. Today, he remains confined to a wheelchair and doctors have told him he will never walk again. Despite his tribulations, he has accepted his condition and finds many reasons to still thank and praise God. He narrated his experience to MILLICENT KAMAU.

When I found myself lying on the ground on my tummy and struggling to free myself from a Toyota Prado that lay on my back, I thought it was a dream and desperately wanted to get out of this scary nightmare. With each passing moment trapped underneath this vehicle, I became desperate. All I could see was a rocky path and two other people inside the vehicle. My whole body was in excruciating pain and I was experiencing breathing difficulties. It then dawned on me that we had been involved in a car accident. That was August 2009.

My brother in-law and I owned a tours and travel company and when need arose I would drive tourists to various destinations in the country. One this particular day, I was driving two tourists back to Nairobi from Amboseli National Park. It was about 2pm and we were driving leisurely on a hilly and rocky stretch of Namanga road, enjoying the beautiful scenery and exchanging pleasantries with my passengers when an animal, which I didn’t see clearly but think was a zebra, ran straight onto the road. I applied emergency breaks and swerved to avoid hitting it, but unfortunately lost control of the vehicle and it rolled several times before coming to a stop.

As the vehicle rolled, I was thrown out of the car at some point and then it landed on me. Despite my condition, I was still conscious and could remember I had passengers in the vehicle. My only hope was that they were fine. Despite struggling hard to free myself, I couldn’t move my legs and my back was burning from a hot fluid that was flowing from the vehicle’s engine. I was screaming for help and despite the agonising pain, I didn’t think I was seriously injured because I wasn’t bleeding. Help came some 45 minutes later from a group of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers who were touring the area. They freed us from the vehicle and ferried us to a dispensary in Namanga town.

The dispensary could only perform first aid on us, and luckily the two tourists had sustained minor injuries and I appeared to be the only one who needed to be transferred to a hospital with x-ray facilities. I was relieved by the news of my passengers being okay, as I felt totally responsible for them. Despite getting strong painkillers, I couldn’t stop screaming from the unbearable pain I was experiencing. What amazed me though was that despite the pain, I could not feel my legs.

My brother-in-law learnt about the accident and sent an ambulance to fetch us. It arrived at 6pm and ferried us to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi. The journey took ten hours, as the ambulance driver was careful not to escalate my injuries. I cried with pain throughout the journey. When we arrived at the hospital, the tourists were checked and discharged and I was immediately admitted to the high dependency unit (HDU), as my family had already taken care of all the logistics.

I underwent various tests including x-rays and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to establish the extent of my injuries. I had severe spinal injuries. I also had internal bleeding caused by a punctured lung. My chest was clogged with this blood and hence the reason I was having difficulties breathing. The first thing the doctors embarked on was to drain this blood to save my life. They said I was lucky I had survived that long. I was heavily sedated and that gave me a calm night.

When I woke up the following morning, I found a doctor and nurses surrounding my bed. What I still feel bad about to this day is the way the news of my injuries was relayed to me. The doctor was causal and uncaring. He said to me, ‘Good morning, you were involved in a bad road accident and you sustained severe spinal injuries. You will never walk again so ready yourself for your new life in a wheel chair.’ This was devastating news delivered in a most heartless manner. How I wished he would have been gentler, or even taken time to prepare me for this shocking reality. I was pained by the news and I could not believe a doctor could be so heartless and unprofessional. I thank God I had a caring family who helped me go through those first few days, when one tends to be in denial, hoping the doctor was wrong or a miracle would happen.

I needed to undergo surgery to straighten the spinal cord and place metal plates on the broken bones to offer support, but this had to wait until burns on my lower part of the thigh healed to avoid chances of infection from the wound. I underwent skin grafting and the wound took long to heal. I was operated on some 40 days after the accident and then stayed in hospital for another two months during which time I underwent physiotherapy and counselling. I found counselling very helpful as it prepared me for life on a wheelchair. This is not a reality anyone accepts easily but through reassurance by my counselling therapist, I was able to accept there was a life after my disability.

It took me a lot of thinking and reflection on my life to come to a point of accepting my new status. I thought about my expectant wife and son, and how I would never walk with them again, or play football with my son, or go dancing with my wife. I worried about how I would provide for them, now that I could no longer participate actively in my business. I also worried about other people accepting me in a wheelchair. I thought about all the things I would never be able to do for myself. It was an emotional rollercoaster but I needed to go through the motions before leaving hospital in order to find it easy to adjust to the outside world. We hired a nurse and physiotherapist to continue helping me with recovery and adjustment after I was discharged from hospital.

There are many times I felt hopelessly inadequate to cope, but I told myself I had to be strong for my family. I never allowed depression to overcome me despite the many nuances I had to cope with such as using a catheter and bedpan to relieve myself. I also developed severe bedsores because of remaining bedridden for a long time. This compresses the skin and underlying tissue and inhibits blood circulation, causing lack of oxygen and nutrients to tissue cells. This results in painful sores known as bedsores or pressure wounds.

I was admitted at St Francis Hospital in Kasarani in June last year, when the bedsores became very bad. I underwent treatment including skin grafting for affected areas and remained in hospital for over six months. Although I am currently not on any medication, we have hired a full time nurse to assist me with my everyday activities. I also undergo physiotherapy three times a week. My life has completely changed as I remain homebound most of the time, but I know with time I will be well enough and have the courage to mingle with people outside my family. I find my daily routine extremely boring – wake up, have breakfast, bask under the sun, surf the net, have lunch…and so on. This is a far cry from my previous active life but I don’t have a choice. I read many books on spinal injuries and also do a lot of research, as I want to be as well informed about my condition as I can be.

I have not stopped asking God why this had to happen to me, but since I don’t expect an answer I am learning to accept my condition and live each day at a time. I am alive and that is one good reason for me to thank God for. I know God will reveal to me many things as I soldier on, but in all things I will still give him glory. My experience has taught me many things and one of them is patience. I have also learnt to be grateful for everything I have.

My wife gave birth prematurely as a result of stress caused by the accident but the baby, Travis Mwangi, is well and developing normally. My medical bill came to over three million shillings. My insurance paid one million and my family and friends contributed the balance. My business is in limbo right now as we used all the money to pay for my medical costs. I need to heal and adjust fully before I can think of what to do next.

Published on June 2011

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