Nature is the most unfair referee. I will never get tired of saying that. She will bet against you, with odds up to ten. Be damned! All the ten odds will be stacked against you, raising the question: Just why is tragedy a frequent visitor to some of us more than others?
It is not uncommon to lose a job that defines your status and your dear child simultaneously. Nature doesn’t give a damn that you go on bended knees daily. She bets carelessly in dangerous casinos of the universe. This brings me to one male patient who was on the losing end. Let us call him John.
The first time I met John, he was losing in the game of life: Nature had hit John 7-0 with minutes of added time. Injury time.
I would meet John in Ward 4, the male orthopedic ward. He had broken his bones again, barely three months after we discharged him. In the previous admission, we had put five implants in an operation lasting seven hours. One implant went to the left thigh, another to the right knee, the remaining three ended up in his right forearm. And by the way, implants are metals used to fix bones.
Orthopaedics is a rather chilled rotation. All you need is an X-ray and an implant, then they are good to go. John had none of those at that time. So he was on the long waiting list for theatre later that week. I was rotating in medicine. I had been called by ortho to go adjust some insulin dose of some old geezer in the acute room.
That is when I met him again. “Daktari, habari gani? Nilivunjika tena kwa accident,” (How are you, doctor? I got fractures again, from an accident), he said smiling warmly.
“Pole kwa maumivu,” (Sorry for your pain) I felt sorry for him. He was a man misery loved to bits.
I was fond of John. He was street smart. I felt like he was my twin, only that he is a full-time street man, and I left the streets at halftime.
He is playing not to lose; I am playing to win. He had developed an ingenious way of making money in his last admission. He sold marijuana joints to the patients he was sharing the ward with. You could see a patient with severe pain go out behind the ward, return, laugh a lot and lull to sleep.
Patients in my ward slept like they didn’t have fractured bones. My consultant sometimes checked my treatment sheet to confirm that I was not overdosing them on painkillers.
The people in his cube were fond of me, as was I of them. I remember a day when they all covered their faces with blankets. All of them, including those with significant fractures. When I got to the cube and called out one of them, they all burst out laughing.
Do you know that game that kids play where they cover their heads when an adult sees them? That one. Another laughter emanated from behind the ward. “Ha!ha!ha!’ it got louder and louder and louder.
John never laughed ha!ha! like everyone else. He laughed ‘kithi!kithi!’ sticking his tongue out, raising his eyebrows, and moving his shoulder up and down rapidly. The way you do when you laugh with your friends. He had given himself a bonus dose of his drug. The secret drug that was not in the treatment sheet.
As John waited to be operated on, I looked forward to the happiness he brought into the wards. I long for the laughter that punctuated his stay. I miss ortho. There was never a dull moment until we discharged him. John, the doctor with the other prescription, reminded me of the simplicity of our existence. It is always the moment that counts. Carpe momentum!
Dr Oliver Kiaye, a medical officer in Machakos County, loves literature.