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The cost of dying from illness in Kenya

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Exactly four years ago on this date (August 12) except that it was a chilly Monday morning instead of a cloudy Saturday morning like today, I arrived at a Nairobi hospital’s accounting section, the day after a beloved relative had passed away (overnight) to get the total hospital bill.

It was Sh524, 900, with almost half the bill going to something called ‘Septrin.’

Our very close relative had been admitted to that city hospital on August 1 and passed away on the night of August 11.

Every two hours of his 11 day stay before his death, he had been given a Septrin injection (that goes for Sh1,500).

When a loved one dies, we quickly form funeral committees to ensure they get what we call a ‘decent send off.’ We busy ourselves with forms in the office to collect cash for a bereaved colleague. We visit the ‘survivors’ to give them counsel and comfort. Words like ‘be strong’ and ‘it was God’s will.’

We seldom spare a thought for the Dead – how it was for them to die.

The actual mechanics of their end. ‘After all,’ we console ourselves, ‘they have gone to a better place.’ We loved them, we say, but the Lord loved them more. And in the back page of the newspaper, we look for their best picture, put it there (together with strange phrases like ‘Promoted to Higher Glory,’ as if life were some lowly office), tell everyone we’ll be meeting at Garden Square Tuesday through to Thursday, clear the outstanding hospital bill. Bury. Finito. Four years ago, I took that hospital bill home and thoroughly looked at it – complete with Professor Google. Not because I intended to dispute a single cent of it. How can anyone? After all, hospitals hold the bodies of our loved ones hostage in their makeshift morgues until you have cleared the bill.

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Then they ‘release the body.’ It is enough to make one wonder, if you refused to pay up, if they would send you a finger of the dead in your post to pressurise you into ponying up the money. But I digress. I looked at that hospital bill to find out exactly what my beloved relative had suffered before his death.

There were prednisolene medicines to prevent the flare up of muscle disease, considering he was just lying still in the HDU unit of the hospital. He required six 10 MG injections of something called Metoclopramide to stop GERD (Gastric Esophageal Reflex Disease) or automatic vomiting.

They force fed him calcium polystyrene sulfonate (with a vanilla scent for ‘appetite’) at one end, applied ‘Candid Powder’ (caresten cream) to contain the fungal infection around the groin area, and part of the bill was for the two dozen adult diapers.

Indignity, and indeed more injections and endless pain – 10 daily insulin isophane injections to lower glucose or blood sugar. Konakion injections to stop life threatening internal bleeding during anti-coagulating therapy ( ‘ndio damu isigande’ as had said Nurse Bertha), calcium gluconate 10 Mg injections – which I also discovered are administered when one has been bitten by a black widow spider.

How ironic – that ‘black widow’ spider; how intricately woven the webs that catch human-beings. The very last item on that hospital bill, dated shortly before the midnight of August 11 was a pair of latex gloves (costing Sh35).

And the cost of life, I learned, is Sh47,718.18 a day, if you buy it at that hospital. I thought of their user moving my beloved relative from the soiled bed with them, two of them carrying his lifeless body under a moonless August midnight to the hospital morgue.

Is that how it happens? In my mind’s eye, I imagined the bed in which our beloved had spent the last 11 days of his life – the first 11 of that cruel August. How it looked this Monday morning of August 12, 2013. The bed would be clean, with crisp white sheets and a thin green blanket, waiting for the next patient.

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In the hidden pharmacological stores of the hospital, the hypodermic syringes (injections) would be bristling in their packs, shimmering dull slivers of silver, also patiently waiting for the next patient.

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