“In sickness and health…” The vows are repeated at every Christian marriage but what happens when they are put to test? Cyrus Nyaga, a 36-year-old primary school teacher, recounts what he went through when his wife battled an illness that threatened to take away her life. Love for his wife and commitment to their marriage vows saw Cyrus overcome all the tribulations, as he remained at his wife’s bedside nursing her. Today he is a happy man that his wife is well again despite the scars left behind by the illness. He narrates his experience to MWAURA MUIGANA.
It was sometime in July 2009 when Sophie Njeri Nyaga, a teacher at Mwiki Primary School in Nairobi, began to experience persistent throbbing headaches. The first time it happened, she felt dizzy, tired and utterly drained. Fellow teachers rushed her to a nearby clinic. The attending doctor gave her painkillers but despite four days on the medication her discomfort did not let up.
A visit to another doctor came up with a diagnosis of malaria and typhoid. A tenday prescription given to her had disastrous results – a painful stiff neck and continuous headaches made her life unbearable. When her friends and relatives came to pray for her one evening, Sophie made an attempt to go to the kitchen to get them some tea but collapsed and became unconscious.
Her husband, Cyrus Nyaga, hired a taxi and took her to a local clinic where the attending doctor recommended that she be taken to a hospital with proper diagnostic equipment. Cyrus planned to take his wife to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) but the traffic jam was so heavy and she appeared in such a bad state that he decided to take her to nearby Kiambu District Hospital, which was only ten minutes away. A diagnosis of malaria was reached at Kiambu District Hospital and there was no mention of typhoid. She was in so much pain that Cyrus refused to leave the ward despite several pleas from the nursing staff.
He wanted to be by his wife’s side to comfort her. When he finally had to leave under pressure, it was not for home, but for the hospital’s waiting room where he spent the night. Sophie remained in hospital for three days then discharged when doctors were of the opinion that her condition had improved. A week after, things took a turn for the worse.
On August 2, 2009, after spending a day with friends and relatives who had come to console her, Sophie, all over a sudden, became incoherent and her speech slurred. She complained of severe headache and dizziness. She was rushed to KNH where there was a long queue and because her life seemed to be in grave danger, the family transferred her to Nairobi West Hospital where she was admitted. Cyrus stayed in hospital with his wife whose condition seemed to be deteriorating. Their three-year-old daughter, Ashley Wanyaga, was left in the care of an inexperienced house girl but Cyrus knew his wife needed him more. She was in so much pain that she constantly asked her husband to massage her forehead, neck and back to ease the pain.
Cyrus remained beside his wife for the next six days as doctors tried to stabilise her. Many tests were run on Sophie without a proper diagnosis. Her condition was worrying. Her eyes popped out and she could not see properly. She experienced violent episodes where she would talk incoherently and at times removed her clothes and threw them away. At one point doctors suggested that she be chained to her bed as she was becoming violent but Cyrus refused and instead promised to stay with her and ensure she did not harm herself.
Cyrus kept a 24-hour vigil and did not step out not even to have a shower. He fed her, took her to the bathroom and massaged her body when the pain became unbearable. It was on the fourth day of her hospital admission that meningitis, in its advanced stages, was diagnosed. By this time her condition was so serious that she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). At one point, Cyrus assumed she was dead and went out screaming only for nurses to assure him that his wife was still alive and they were doing everything possible to save her life. On transfer to the ICU, a deposit of Ksh.150000 was required. Friends and relatives only managed to raise Ksh.60000. Doctors were forthright with Cyrus.
They told him that his wife was gravely ill and she may not pull through but the next three days would be crucial. If she survived for three days with the medication they had put her on, chances of her survival would be good. Doctors were hopeful she would respond to treatment and encouraged Cyrus to remain positive. Not only was Cyrus going through the anguish of the imminent death of his wife, but also meeting the huge accumulating hospital bills.
He tried to remain focused on his wife’s health. He did not let financial problems overwhelm him. All he prayed for was his wife to be well and then they would both work hard to pay the bills. God had not deserted Sophie and her husband because she responded well to treatment and on the third day appeared to be getting out of her comma. She whispered inaudible things amidst a weak cough and this gave Cyrus faith that his wife would recover. While Cyrus felt encouraged by the small steps his wife was taking on the road to recovery, he was worried that she may never recover her sight, hearing and speech. Some friends and family members made the situation worse when they claimed chances of recovering from meningitis were slim and others claimed her illness was a result of a family curse. Others reckoned that if even by the grace of God she recovered, she would be confined to a wheelchair. But Cyrus refused to listen to these naysayers and remained comforted by those who believed like him that his wife would fully recover.
These were members of family and friends who remained supportive and even helped him raise funds to offset the accumulating hospital bills. While Sophie got out of danger, her recovery was slow and she remained in hospital for a whole month. Cyrus spent most of his time in hospital nursing his wife. Doctors and nurses were quite encouraging and this kept his hopes high. Sophie recovered well enough to be discharged from hospital after a month, but she was under heavy medication. She was still very weak and needed round the clock care. Although she could say a few words, she could not see and could not hold anything with her hands as they had become too weak.
Home sweet home…
While Cyrus looked forward to the day his wife would go back home, he had no idea this was going to be the most difficult part of the journey. While a hospital was well equipped to meet his wife’s needs, home was mostly unsuitable and their marital bed became a nightmare to sleep on. Cyrus bought a carpet for her to lie on the floor where she seemed to find a comfortable sleeping position. Because of being bedridden for such a long time, Sophie’s muscles had wasted away and she needed the help of a physiotherapist to strengthen them.
A physiotherapist came home to treat her three times a week, charging Ksh.1000 for each visit. Sophie also needed someone to help her in the house at all times and a house girl was employed for this purpose. Cyrus was lucky to be a schoolteacher and utilised the school holidays to take care of his wife, but when August school holidays were over, he had to leave his wife and report back to work at Kenyatta University Primary School. There was also another problem. His wife risked losing her job if she did not report back to work.
She had already exceeded the allowed medical leave. Cyrus and his wife started a flurry of communication between the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to ensure she did not lose her job. On September 7, 2009, two weeks after her discharge from hospital, Sophie recovery progress was thwarted when her vision started getting worse and her speech became slurred once again. She was re-admitted at the Nairobi West Hospital. Because of financial constraints, the family transferred her to the cheaper KNH. Her recovery was good and after a month in hospital, she was discharged on a wheelchair on October 2, 2009. The accumulated unpaid hospital bill now stood at Ksh.370000. She continued attending regular checkups and eventually was able to leave the wheelchair and walk with the aid of a walking frame.
The best moment in the family’s life was December 25, 2009 when Sophie joined other family members for a Christmas outing at Sports View Hotel in Kasarani. Sophie resumed work in January 2010, though still not in good health. She had to go back or risk losing her job. She could not walk unaided and needed help to get to school.
The walk from their house to school was good exercise for her. From a wheel chair to a walking frame, Sophie was able to take a few steps on her feet supported by crutches. Cyrus says God is faithful because Sophie has regained her health. They are both part time students at the University of Nairobi, studying for Bachelor’s Degrees in education. Out of his experience, Cyrus advises those getting into marriage to take their vows seriously as you never know when you would be put to test. Through God’s grace, he stood by his wife in her sickness and they are looking forward to recovering the lost time as they rebuild their normal lives.