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When contracting some illnesses is prestigious

By Njoki Kaigai | March 8th 2020

The whole world is glued to the unfolding drama around the coronavirus. What started off as a seemingly small and manageable illness in China has now become a global problem. Like other Kenyans, I am hoping that the virus spares Kenya because I feel we have already paid our dues with the locusts, the collapsing buildings and other tragedies.

Despite the constant assurances from government, most of us are not full convinced that we can have all it takes to handle this mysterious disease.

Thoughts about corona had me thinking about our society and how we handle common illnesses and ailments. Over time, Kenyans have developed some peculiar habits about illness etiquette.

Let us start off with the fact that Kenyans have, over time, become experts in self-diagnosis and self-treatment. 

There is no science to this, and for reasons our ‘expertise’ seems to predominantly apply to malaria and typhoid.

I am yet to understand why we have not developed proficiency in other illnesses like marasmus or syphilis.

So smug are we about our knowledge that with just a few symptoms, we convince ourselves and others that these two illnesses are to blame.

This is then followed by some recommendations on the right medication to consume and in some cases when generic is better than the real done. This behaviour is also heavily deployed on weekends when couples make unscientific diagnosis whether they need performance enhancers or pregnancy preventors. It is no wonder that chemist shops are booming in Kenya - it is because most of us are closet medics who know what ails us and how to treat it.

Fearful of tests

I suspect that this behaviour could be because we are fearful of tests especially when they involve needles and also fear that we might get an unpleasant diagnosis. Most of us would rather swallow tonnes of tabs instead of facing the prospect of tests that might eventually lead us to be banned from eating or consuming certain substances.

I know certain nationalities who enjoy broadcasting their diagnosis and lab findings, telling anyone who cares to listen that they have one illness.

Kenyans do not subscribe to this theory, so we avoid tests often with lethal consequences.

There is a special class of Kenyans who seem to take some form of delight in being sick. In most cases, these Kenyans come housed in those matronly aunties who wear their illnesses with some weird form of pride. The illnesses that confer this ‘suffering with pride’ status are usually diabetes, high blood pressure or orthopaedic illnesses. Any conversation with them usually involves a litany of how the “sukari” (diabetes) or BP (pressure) has made their life hell - they see their fate as the perfect conversation starter.

Ask these ladies about the weather and they will magically find a way of telling you about their latest health scare; or they will unleash all their medications and tell tales of their latest hospital visit.

They use their illnesses with impunity during family functions, some insisting on special modes of transportation lest their ‘bones’ give way, special seating positions lest their pressure hits the roof and of course of special servings of food lest the sukari goes up.

What makes all this amusing, is that these same sick people lose all their illness, and develop an uncanny ability to shed them off under the right conditions when it suits them - when goodies are up for grabs.

You have instances where the same “diabetic/BP” laden lady easily transforms herself into a demanding guest, making endless demands for ribs and more wedding cake, Fanta baridi and in some cases a few glasses of wine.

The same matronly lady who claims that household chores will ruin her ‘weak back’ will somehow become the star attraction as she features prominently as the aunt who never vacates the dance floor during the family wedding mugithi dances. The ability to turn the illness switch on and off has been known to wreak havoc for other people.

Kenyan men also get a special mention for their behaviour when confronted with minor ailments, most of them, of their own making.

Men usually go overboard  when it comes to dealing with hangovers and mild colds. These men see such sicknesses as opportunities to demand special nursing care, special meals and attention.

There is nothing as depressing and annoying as having a sick man in the house for he will become a fusion of an invalid and a child. It really is infuriating for women who often battle serious pain without flinching, having to put up with men whining about a minor ailment. I therefore shudder when I think about the kind of horrible behaviours the corona virus would bring to Kenyans. Kenyans are not good with illness, period.

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