Many people are falling victim to high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, because of poor lifestyles. One such person is Rahab Wakarema, 60, who was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 25. Due to ignorance, Rahab did not seek medical attention immediately she started experiencing symptoms and when she did, she failed to follow doctors’ instructions with disastrous results. Almost blinded by the disease, she is today careful with her lifestyle and advises Kenyans not to take health issues for granted. She shares her experience with MILLICENT KAMAU.
“In 1976 at the age of 25, I started experiencing severe headaches and dizzy spells. I was married and living in Kariobangi South, Nairobi, with my husband Johnston Muturi, who is now 65. I assumed the headaches were a result of fatigue and calmed them down through self-medication with painkillers. By the second year of great suffering and self-management, I started experiencing fainting spells. I ignored my husband’s plea to see a doctor fearing I would be diagnosed with a serious condition.
I ended up in hospital after I fainted while running errands in my neighbourhood and a Good Samaritan rushed me to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). I was diagnosed with severe high blood pressure. Not knowing what that meant, the news sounded like a death knell and I cried for several hours convinced I was headed to an early grave. I couldn’t imagine my husband as a widower after only two years of marriage.
The doctor explained to me in great detail what high blood pressure meant. He told me it was a result of a poor lifestyle including lack of exercise and a poor diet. I was guilty of all these. I had never exercised all my life and my diet comprised of highly refined foods and lots of sugar. I also worked hard in our restaurant, always on the move with little time for relaxation. The doctor also told me that while blood pressure could be fatal; it was manageable through medication, diet and regular exercise. I was discharged from hospital when my blood pressure stabalised, put on medication and instructed on changes I needed to make in my lifestyle. The doctor emphasised the need to take the medication as directed as failure to do so could lead to other complications such as kidney, lung and heart problems.
I changed my lifestyle as instructed by the doctor and faithfully took medication and my condition improved tremendously. I also went in for regular check-ups. Then in 2004, thinking I was fully cured because I did not experience the symptoms anymore I stopped taking medication. The headaches and dizzy spells recurred, turned, and this time with a vengeance. My husband was unhappy with my decision to stop taking medicine and feeling he was pressuring me, we argued often. I was bedridden by 2005, and because of my stubbornness would still not agree to see a doctor. I panicked when my eyesight became affected but I did not think it was anything serious.
By the time I was admitted at KNH, several tests and x-rays revealed I had suffered cerebral haemorrhage due to high blood pressure. Doctors explained I was loosing my eyesight because blood vessels in the brain had ruptured, causing bleeding in the brain, commonly referred to as brain haemorrhage. The bleeding potentially kills brain cells and can lead to a stroke. Symptoms of a stroke include confusion, loss of speech, numbness in affected areas and in severe cases, paralysis.
Luckily, the bleeding in my brain was in the early stages and was easily arrested through medication without needing surgery, as would be the case in severe cases. After a month’s stay in hospital the haemorrhage stopped, but there were still traces of blood in my brain. My condition didn’t improve much and I could not get out of bed. My speech was slurred and at times I was incoherent and the headaches were killing me. I was in so much pain that at times I would pluck my hair to distract me from the pain. I was heavily sedated and out of touch with reality.
The doctor informed my husband that they had done their best and I should go home and continue with drugs and hopefully with time the condition might improve. My husband took me home and hired a nurse to take care of me. By this time I had completely lost my sight. I will forever be grateful to my husband for his concern and care. I don’t think I would have survived without his help. We incurred high medical bills that completely depleted our savings. Because of my illness, we closed down a restaurant that was our only source of income. We relied on relatives and close friends for money to buy drugs and pay hospital bills.
With time, my condition started improving. I started to comprehend a few things and recognise voices of people close to me. My speech became clearer and the headaches were not as severe. X-rays showed blood was also clearing from my brain. Doctors were pleased with my progress and amazed that despite the haemorrhage, I didn’t have any permanent brain damage. They reassured me that I would regain my sight with time but I needed to take good care of my health and not ignore doctors’ advice again. I was happy to be alive and didn’t worry too much about my eyesight.
When my eyesight didn’t seem to return as the doctor had predicted, I started losing hope of ever seeing again and accepting my condition. It hurt that I could not lead a normal life and had to depend on other people to move around. I blamed myself for my condition regretting that I didn’t seek medical attention in good time, and even after I did, I still did not follow doctor’s advice. I cried a lot and at some point went into a depression.
Then, as if through a miracle, I woke up one morning and saw some light. I thought it was a dream. I rubbed my eyes and opened them and the light was still there. I called my husband and told him I could see some light. Worried that it may be a sign of a bigger problem, he rushed me to KNH where doctors confirmed my sight was coming back. I was thrilled that I would be able to see once again.
Slowly, I regained my complete sight but needed to use prescription glasses for reading. I still take blood pressure drugs and I am extremely careful with my diet. I also do some light exercise. I want to advise those reading this article to always consult a doctor if they feel unwell and not result to self-treatment. You should also follow doctor’s advice without fail. I regret that I brought unto myself all this suffering through sheer ignorance.”
Published in June 2011