A year after being sworn in as the first ever Woman Representative for Migori County in 2013, Dennitah Ghati was involved in a road accident that broke her spine. She narrates how life changed after the accident, her ambitions today and life lessons she has learnt through her ordeal
The day was March 11, 2014. I was on my way back from Migori — travelling to Nairobi. I was seated and strapped in at the back; my driver was on the wheel. It must have been 10 or 11am.
When we reached the stretch at Ntulele, close to Narok, I heard a loud noise. One of our tyres had burst. It happened so fast. But I remember seeing the driver struggle at the steering wheel. The vehicle was out of control and it kept hitting rocks and other obstacles. We rolled once.
In those few seconds, a lot went through my mind. “Is this really happening or it is just a bad nightmare?” This was really happening. At some point, I resigned to fate. I believed that was to be my last day on Earth. I kept on praying to God to save my life. Yes, within those few seconds, I had debated in my head if the accident was really happening, imagined leaving my daughter behind, concluded that I was going to die, and prayed to God for His help.
It was not long before people arrived at the scene and I was rushed to Narok District Hospital. I think I passed out between the accident and the hospital. I woke up at the hospital; my legs thawed and not able to move.
It was surreal.
I had seen accidents in movies and on TV but had never thought it could happen to me. But isn’t that just human? Why would you imagine that a crippling accident is somewhere in your future When the accident happened, a year had gone by since my victory in the 2013 General Election. I had been sworn in as Migori County’s first ever woman representative.
You could say things were really looking up for me. To be honest, hadn’t the accident happened, perhaps I would have achieved more on a personal level and for my constituents as well. I was thankful to God for sparing my life. But a part of me kept asking Him, ‘Why me?’
An X-ray diagnosis confirmed I had broken my back. The doctor told me there was a 50 per cent chance that I would walk again. I have been on a wheelchair since. I can’t use my legs to date. Nothing can ever prepare you for such a reality. Life changed. Initially, my bedroom was upstairs — where I used to enjoy the view. I had to move it to the ground floor. In Parliament, I had to forego my usual seat. Simple things — some very private and personal — that I used to do with normal ease suddenly became impossible to accomplish on my own: for instance, changing sanitary towels.
I had to be assisted to get to the toilet seat and to get off it; to get inside the car; to get out of the car; to get into an office; to get out of an office — the things that we take for granted. Then there are family and friends. There is an initial rejection: family is very close to you and so they can’t fake it. No one will tell you that you are a burden. But they will say it — on their faces and in their actions.
I didn’t lose family but I lost friends: many friends. All these years, you could help them whenever they needed you. And then here you come, needing constant help. Before the accident, I had plans to settle down. But after the accident the relationship I was in broke down. I cannot tell if he left because of the accident. I cannot rule out that possibility either. I still hope to settle down someday — when the right time comes. Walking one time and not being able to walk the next is a humbling experience. Previously, I had seen, met and interacted with wheelchair users.
My former self would have met a disabled person and perhaps just overlook their struggle and look at them with as much regard as I would have for an able-bodied person. Now I know exactly what they feel being in a wheelchair. I have grown closer to God since the accident. You really do get closer to God. There is no other way to explain life changing the way it did mine. It takes time for the reality to sink in.
A lot in my life changed after the accident. I have shed some weight: I was well fleshed out before the accident. It affected my appetite and how I eat. The drastic changes that affected my body did affect my self-esteem. However, each day, I overcome challenges. I feel like I am regaining my self-esteem. I have been ill in recent months. I am feeling better now. My health is improving. The problem has been my spine. I think I slipped a little somewhere. But I also have battled some serious malaria; which had compounded the illness.
When I look in the mirror, I still see myself. I see hope. I know things will be alright. I was seeking nomination in the elections that just concluded. I wanted to defend my seat. I lost. There is a difference between the campaign I ran in 2013 and the campaign I ran this year. I have been really ill.
That is the mystery of life: one minute you are this; the next you are something else. This is not how I was born. I was standing on my own two feet. I was as fit as a fiddle. The transition from being able-bodied to permanently sitting on this wheelchair happened in less than one minute.
But one thing the accident didn’t affect is my resolve to move forward. I will never give up.
I still hope that God will give me back the ability to walk. But I am also prepared for the possibility that I may never walk again. You know what I would do if I got healed and could use my legs? I would walk and walk and walk. I don’t think I would ever sit down.