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Healthcare should always be a priority of ours as we look to develop our country. The last week I’ve mourned two deaths – one of a child, the other of a senior citizen and when I hear the stories of their death, I can’t help but wonder if there was negligence that played a part in their deaths. iv

Let me rewind to a couple of weeks ago, to my own experience. My parents thought my high fever, lack of appetite and feeling of weakness was due to malaria and insisted I go to the clinic. En-route to my usual clinic, I decided that the popularity of that clinic would mean it would take hours for me to see a doctor, and I simply didn’t have the energy for it. I instructed my nephew, who was driving me as I was too weak to drive myself, to take me to a nearer clinic that I knew my siblings had been to before. True enough, I was seen within 15 minutes and to my amazement the doctor ordered a full blood test – which was a shocker when I too thought I only had malaria. 20 minutes later the results were in, I had bacteria in my blood – my stats were off the charts – and I was admitted.

The first day wasn’t so bad – could also have been that I was in and out of sleep the whole day. The next day, I was the only patient in the ward (it was a very interesting private clinic, where you don’t get a private room, but rather each patient is separated by curtains across your entire area for you and your visitors). I was quite glad to be the only patient in the ward that day as I was over the noise from the other patient’s visitors! But the thing I did notice was the nurses came to check on me less as there was no one else to check. In fact, as I had one drip out and waiting for the next one to be put in, the nurse comes in saying ‘Oh, I forgot to come back to put in your new drip!’, like it was no big thing. At this point, my temperature had stabilized and my blood pressure was going up (it had been 90/50 when I was admitted), so I guess they were less worried about me. I felt pretty much ok too, but doctor was not ready to discharge me.

Later that evening, around 8pm, my temperature shot up to 38.2 degrees and my bp was fast dropping. The nurse came in with all sorts of injections and stuff to help my temperature go down and lord knows what else – because if you don’t ask doctors or nurses you just get given any sort of medication! That was the last time I saw any nurse until 6am. I hardly slept that night, my drip stopped working at some point, and I was deeply regretting telling my family members I didn’t need anyone to spend the night with me.

Ok, since my return to Zambia, I have never been admitted to hospital – generally I don’t get sick, maybe occasionally I’ll get a cold but that’s about it. So anyway, I didn’t understand the need to have someone by your bedside, after all, if you’re paying for private healthcare, surely that should include a nurse to check in on you at night. 6am rolls along and the nurse realizes that the IV was not working as it should have been and the doctor was coming through in two hours time. She decided to put it in overdrive, the drip passed through me so quickly I was dizzy! Eventually I threw up.

When the doctors finally came through I berated the duty of care of the nurses. I spoke of my actual fear that I could have died during the night – by this time I knew just how serious bacteria in blood is. I was close to tears with emotion at this point – it had just been a rough two days for me, only my immediate family and closest friends knew I was in hospital. The lack of understanding of the seriousness of my infection coupled with the fact that I’m known to be strong and independent probably didn’t help, with people thinking their visit was not necessary. Instead I just felt lonely – eek! Anyway, so as I went off on the doctor – who I believed to be in management of the clinic, my emotions were taking over. The doctor did listen to my concerns, but was quick to have me discharged after that!

Forward a week later and as I’m listening to the story of the older man who died after an operation because of water build up in his lungs followed by sepsis, I couldn’t help but wonder if the round the clock checking in on a patient after surgery was observed – how did he get fluids in his lungs without anyone noticing?

A few days later, the story of the child dying after being sent home despite having a fever, it all seemed to point to our health care staff just not being fully attentive. At the funeral for this beautiful child, one lady remarked that there was no point in going to private facilities because ultimately the good doctors are at UTH. And I thought, if you’re going to get pretty much the same treatment – i.e. inattentive nurses, you may as well go to UTH! Besides, they too have fee paying wings so what is the real difference? Ultimately the bigger worry is where is the oversight in this case? Who really are these health care professionals accountable, who keeps them in check? Are you not outraged by this? I know I am. We cannot truly develop until we have a healthcare system that we can trust. Even look at the issue over the ‘missing’ drugs, that weren’t missing but were at Medical Stores!  What level of corruption is that that you don’t mind risking the lives of your own citizens for?

These are things that we need our politicians to be held accountable for, and to really demand this level of care when we’re voting them into office. 2016 is the year of issues, the year we should demand more from our leaders, and lets see the number of preventable deaths reduce drastically, or someone is brought to task for them!

Last week we buried my uncle (for the purpose of our Zambian tradition where everyone is an uncle, I mean my mother’s brother). At the same time, my sister buried her husband’s sister. Yesterday, we found out a close family friend’s brother had died.

Death, they say, is a natural progression of life. But we like to think that death comes at the end, when you’ve lived your life, when you’ve enjoyed your life. Looking at the people I know who have died in the last week, that isn’t always the case.

When people die, we feel sad, we mourn their life, we ask God why He had to take them away, we try to accept that it was their time and we need to move on with our lives. We feel for those who have lost a life partner – a husband or a wife, those who have lost a child, a parent, a sibling, shake our head, say a prayer, and move on with our life. Unless it’s an immediate loved one, we easily move on with our lives, and hope for the best for those who have been left behind.

From my experience, those who have been left behind, focus on the death, sometimes unable to move on, hoping to find an answer as to why the person died. In my own life, I’ve lost (why do we say that, like they’ve been misplaced?) two brothers, now two uncles, a nephew, a best friend, and numerous aquaintance. My reaction to their deaths is based on my relationship with them. One brother, I felt like I lost a part of me, but I was also riddled with guilt – had I done enough for him while he was alive, sadly I always knew the answer was no. And even in his death, I’m failing to honor his memory properly – but that’s another blog.

Now, as I’m older, I look at death in a different way, a reminder to live life – every day. With my uncle’s passing, which was truly tragic, because it didn’t have to be, he died alone – none of us as his family there, all getting on with our lives, always thinking there was tomorrow to see him, tomorrow to check on him, tomorrow to pay him attention, tomorrow for anything he might need. Yet we all forgot the fundamental words – that the present, is a gift.

We do this all the time, take the present for granted. Always thinking about tomorrow. There are definitely times when you need to think about tomorrow, if it’s about finances, or education, or a career, but when it comes to relationships, tomorrow is definitely not something we should worry about. Relationships are very much in the present, and that’s all relationships you value be it a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, parent, or child, or sibling. Those you can’t get back tomorrow.

Even as I write this, I struggle questioning my own relationship, looking at the flaws and wondering if I can deal with them, as opposed to looking at the positives and recognising the fact that this might not be the ideal relationship I always dreamt of, but that it is the perfect relationship I’ve been in my whole life. Should I keep looking at tomorrow for the answer or enjoy the present I have in my life today?

We always question the meaning of life, asking what our purpose on life is, but we can go through all of life only to die without knowing our purpose. Perhaps our purpose is in death, to remind those who live to truly live life and know what we value in life before we die and are returned to the earth.

Today Mwango Katema was laid to rest in his final resting place, next to his father. I’m praying for peace and comfort at this time for all, especially Manenga, Mutale, Chishimba and Aunty Martina and all the countless people he touched, and they (his family) all touched, as their loss is our loss.

Manenga’s cousin shared this and it sums up what we need to remember as we go forward:

He’s just gone to sleep and soon we shall be together again, some day, and what a wonderful day that will be! For the word of God says ‘I will raise him up on the last day.’

May your soul rest in eternal peace Mwango.

One love

This has been one of the worst weekends I’ve ever experienced. Late on Saturday night, I got a call that one of my closest friend’s husband had died in a tragic car accident. In that instant my friend had been made a widow at only 30.

She was on the verge of changing her whole life, moving to Zambia, giving up her job and starting afresh. And all that changed in a moment. A sad moment.

Her husband was also a great guy, so full of energy, and they were both so in love. They were like the perfect couple. They were a beautiful couple. It’s hit everyone so hard, and affecting me even harder than I could ever imagine.

I knew him, not that well, but his wife was becoming like my best friend (even at our age, we can still have best friends – more than one as well), so to have her go through this, is heartbreaking. My heart literally is breaking for her.

Also having lost two brothers, I feel for his sister, who is also a friend of mine. Losing someone so full of life really reminds you how tomorrow is not promised and how we need to be thankful for every moment we have and count our blessing. But it also means we can’t focus on planning for tomorrow but living for today.

It reminds me of this poem my friend – actually Mwango’s sister – sent me that says that life begins when you do. It’s about living in the moment and not putting of what can be done today for tomorrow.

We always have excuses; not enough money, waiting for a qualification, waiting for the right time, etc, but we need to just do it because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

As heartbreaking as this situation is, it also puts things in perspective, don’t sweat the small stuff. And remember to tell the people who matter, that they matter.

Right now, I’ve turned to the Bible for comfort in this moment of darkness and I know that one day, somehow, the light will shine through again. It’s not our job to question God, but sometimes you do want to understand why. I believe like all lives lost, Mwango had a purpose, a purpose we might not yet know, but his life touched too many people for him not to have a purpose. This is the Bible passage that I’m reading over and over again, and finding some comfort in it.

Isaiah 41:10, 13
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. . . . For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

Today I’m being soft, allowing myself to feel all the pain, and be in the moment, as much as it hurts. Because I know when she comes back, she’ll need me and all her friends more than ever, as she begins to face a whole new life. But it’s hard. The pain is almost unbearable, it’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to feel pain. Usually I sweep hurt and pain under the carpet, refusing to feel, but when you do that, eventually it comes out and maybe that’s what’s happened to me.

I’ve dealt with my other friend losing her mum two weeks ago and now this happening to Manenga. It’s too much pain for my good friends to go through and as I’m quite empathetic my energy source is depleted – too much too soon. It’s something my therapist has said to me time and time again (yes I’m one of those black people that does believe that there’s nothing wrong with therapy), I feel too much and that if I’m not careful, I’ll deplete my energy source. I can’t deal with too much trauma too soon. Probably because of never properly dealing with my own personal hurt in the past.

I’m trying to be there for everyone but have perhaps not taken enough care of myself either, and takes like this when being alone doesn’t help. Could do with someone taking care of me for a bit. But then I feel selfish, I’m not the one who has lost, so why do I need a hug? I just need to get my strength back and be the rock for everyone.

Tomorrow I’ll try to be strong but for today I’m being soft. And praying.

RIP Mwango Katema

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