I had this pain in my right left leg three Sundays ago. Came right out of the blue the morning after a 10km run. My entire calf was aflame, so I dragged it around like I had gout. It didn’t bother me much because when you walk with a limp you look like you are that guy who ventures where other men don’t. Besides, we are MEN, right? We don’t go to hospital over small muscular pains, do we? What are you going to tell the doctor? That your calf hurts? Then what? Then ask you to lie on those beds, draw the curtains and proceed to massage your calf while asking you in those low bedroom voices that doctors adopt while trying to find your pain: “There, how does that feel? Is that painful, Jackson?” (Doctors are always calling me Jackson. Hate it!) And you would moan softly and say, “Yes,…! There…..there doc!….”
So we only go see a doctor if we are bleeding from a hole in our head.
The pain in my calf persisted. My veins felt folded and swollen. I figured, you know what? Screw this mandingo nonsense I will go hosi but I will pray that I’m seen by a female doctor, preferably one with dimples. Or a tattoo. So at 6:30am a few Mondays ago, I limped into Aga Khan Hospital. There is hardly anybody there at that time. And service is faster.
There was only one other person in casualty; a guy who had on a maasai shuka for a sling supporting his obviously broken hand. He was in pain. He had been brought by his wife/girlfriend who I swear looked happy he had broken his hand. She wore – over her maroon jacket – a smirk that seemed to say, “Serves you right for not listening to me. Let’s see how you will hold your beer now.”
Causality is where the devil goes for a ciggie break. The amount of suffering and pain that go through there is unimaginable. Generally you can’t help but wonder the kind of stuff doctors see in hospitals. The guys who date or are married to doctors should tell us how it is to be with a doctor after they have spent the whole day with sickness, suffering, pain and death. I always wonder if they wake up in the middle of the night with a stat (sic) screaming, “THAT IS AN ENZYME DEFICIENCY!!! ENZYME DEFICIENCY!” and you have to hug them and shoo them back to sleep while saying soothingly, “sshhhh it’s OK…it’s OK, babe, it’s only a bad dream…there are no enzymes here. The bad enzymes are gone.”
Anyway, because I have shit luck I got a male doctor. No (visible) tattoo, or dimple. He was some cool Sikh guy with hairy hands. He pressed a stubby finger against my vein and said, “you have weak veins.” I was confused by what that meant. “So it’s not a muscular problem?” I asked like a wiseass. He said no, but to be sure he sent me for an ultrasound. He called for a wheelchair but I told him that I was cool, I could walk it. He said he would be more comfortable if I was wheeled instead and I wondered, Shit kwani I’m dying and this guy isn’t telling me?
You can ask for a wheelchair the next time you visit the hospital, even if you just have a flu and you are on piritons and you are woozy. They won’t have the heart to say no. Plus it’s not like they have to fuel the damn thing.
This orderly pushed me around, saying nary a word. Chaps who push you on a wheelchair aren’t used to conversation because the people they usually push are normally too busy listening to their own pain. But I’m always curious at what people do and I can’t shut up in the morning, so I asked him, “Who is the one patient you pushed on a wheelchair that you remember the most?” He didn’t say a word for a while, and when I sort of turned to see if someone was still pushing me or I was on cruise control, he sort of mumbled, “eeh, hiyo lazima nifikirie.” I believe he’s still thinking about his answer.
Only problem being wheeled is that people sort of stare at you and wonder what you could be suffering from. They wonder if you have some sort of enzyme deficiency; if the bad enzymes had finally caught up with you.
I suspect being a doctor now is much harder than it was 15-years ago because now we have Google which means we are all doctors, aren’t we? Doctors can’t tell us shit. I suspect when a bunch of doctors converge in a sanitized room for their tea break, they trade stories of frustrations about wiseass middle-class patients who are always Googling their diagnoses and medications, patients who are always finishing Doctor’s statements or challenging their opinions. Now doctors have to deal with modern wiseass patients asking modern wiseass questions based off their extensive Googling skills. This legion of guys who graduated from Grey’s Anatomy School of Medicine, Class of 2010 and feel they know medicine.
It’s the doctors’ faults. It’s the hospitals’ fault. When you keep us waiting at the reception for hours what do you think we do?
We Google shit.
And we come up with our own diagnosis and our medication, hell we even know the side effects of medicines. By the way, never google the side-effects of medicines. You will end up going for a “holistic” option. Most of them start with death. Haha. Death is a side effect of most medicine. Irony, eh? Hell, death is indeed the side effect of life.
Anyway, when a hospital installs free Wifi in the waiting area, they are shooting themselves in the foot because we go to WebMD and Medicinenet and Mayo clinic and we google our condition. We cram our heads with such online garbage that when we walk into your little celebrated cubicle we aren’t too impressed with your stethoscopes anymore because we KNOW what’s wrong with us and we KNOW the interventions needed. We even use the word “intervention.” Hell we will also use the word “prophylaxis” for shits and giggles.
And that must really annoy the hell out of doctors, especially doctors who attend to wiseass and snooty middle-class patients who you can’t tell shit without them mentioning their “private doctor!” : “I will have to consult my private doctor on this.” “My private doctor doesn’t normally recommend this line of treatment.” “My private doctor told me the usage of this drug has since been discontinued.”
If you have a “private doctor” what are you doing there then?
A rushed and hustled petite lady with short hair was my radiologist. She asked me to change into this blue garb and lie on my back. She said “We are going to have a look at your right leg, is this your right leg, Jackson?” I said indeed it was my right leg. It felt like a court proceeding: Mr. Biko, do you testify that this sample here, evidence Zulu-2677 is your right leg?
I know its procedure but she kept asking me if that was my right leg. She asked so many times I started suspecting it wasn’t my right leg. She pressed some cold gooey stuff down my strong hard muscular thighs (just let me have that one) then ran her thingamajig on it as she stared at her screen intently, taking pictures of my veins. After 15mins she announced nonchalantly: “You have a clot in your vein.”
I don’t know if you know this, but people die from clots in their veins. Clots ride up to your heart and just when you are ordering a drink you will fall off your stool and die with the words, “…on the rocks, plea…” on your lips. Or die on your steering wheel just as the lights change green. Or in your sleep. Clots are sneaky bastards who don’t warn you.
Now that explained the wheelchair!
In a very steady voice, I asked a leading question like the ones chicks always ask us. The ones that have no right answer. Case in point, “Do you think I have gained weight?” Ha! Like you can tell them they have gained weight and it will end there? Please! So you will ask the safest question universally? “Why?” And she will say, “Because I met Flora, remember that chick I used to work with? She said I have gained.” You will silently curse Flora and then pretending to look at her critically you will say cautiously, “Well, I don’t think you have gained anything.” And she will say, “I think I have gained a bit, that blue dress is so tight on me nowadays…” (Oh look! She asked and answered her own question!). You will keep quiet because that’s what smart men do. Then she will ask, “But I haven’t gained too much, sindio?” And you will say, “Well, no,” which is a trap because now you have admitted that she has gained some weight and your life will shortly turn into hell. She will act like she isn’t bothered, that she has moved on, that she is comfortable being a ‘larger’ woman and then when you have completely forgotten that storo, when you are vulnerable, she will come straight at you from the blue: “So you think I’m heavy yet you haven’t said a word?!! I thought we agreed we’d be honest with each other?”
And downhill it goes.
Anyway, back to the radiologist. I asked her: “Is this clot thing a good thing or a bad thing?” And I half expected her to say, “I dunno, Jackson, why don’t you Google that? We have free wifi.” Hehe. I swear I can be fired on my second day as a doctor.
She said, “It’s not a good thing and it’s not a bad thing, but you know it’s below your knees where the vessels are smaller and far from the heart, now that we have seen it on time, the doctor will decide the course of treatment…” I drifted off as she spoke. I will be honest, I panicked. I don’t want to die. There is so much to do.
Because of the pain the doctor put me on a drip. The IV was set up by a chirpy male nurse who explained that I might feel nauseous. He hooked me up and before closing the curtains to my cubicle, he said, Press this red thingy here in case you need help. Two minutes later, I wanted to test if the red thingy actually works and how long they take to get to my bed. I wanted to test if he can move faster than my clot, so I pressed it. He was there in a flash. “Yes, Jackson everything OK?” I swear if it was a female nurse I would have told her with a dramatic whisper, “Please stay with me, I’m scared, hold my hand, don’t go. I’m scared of this bloody clot, here let me put my head on your chest…” Hehe. Then see what she will do. But it was the damn male nurse again, so I said, “how do I recline this bed, boss?” And he reclined it. Then moved the red button so far away from me with that look that seemed to say, “This, Jackson, is not a toy.”
When you are told something like you have a clot, everything quiets down. Literally. The hospital ruckus behind the curtain quieted. I lay there, staring at the white ceiling thinking, shit, this is how people die. No warning. The first call I made was to the only mother I have left – Melvine, my big sis. (By the way Melvine can also be a chick’s name. And no, Melvine doesn’t look like a guy. She pretty).
Maybe it was the drug, but by this time I was so calm.
We go to bed at night already planning about the next day because we assume that the next day is assured. We forget to live because there is always something we have to do. Someone we have to see. A goal we have to achieve. Money we have to make. People we have to compare ourselves to. The daily rat race of life catches up with us and it makes us forget life. We forget to smell the flowers, figuratively of course.
All this while, a clot forms in your vein. Or a cancerous cell builds in your stomach.
That clot made me take a step back and say, “wait, slow down.”
As I lay there, Pharis, the comms guy for Bidco called. I had completely forgotten the interview with Vimal Shah, an interview that we have been talking about for ages. It was scheduled for 11am in Thika. It was 10am and I was hooked up to a drip in Parklands. It amazed me how quickly life changes and how when it changes certain things lose their urgency. I swear Obama would have called for an interview and I would have said, “Barry, not today, please.” I told Pharis that I was in hospital and that I would call when done to reschedule. He didn’t sound like he believed me.
I looked at my phone calendar. I had things to do. Tons of things. Things I was going to have to cancel. Money I was going to lose. There was a talk at The Village Market that Saturday. There was Safaricom’s 10-Day Capture Kenya trip for their 2016 calendar. There was a General Motors trip to Johannesburg and then the Johannesburg shopping festival at the end of the month which I was really looking forward to because they were inviting several bloggers across Africa to go down to shop at their expense! Then an Asia trip. And a Diani trip. (By the way, Leopard Beach Resort, Diani, has fantastic Christmas offer now, 30% off on all rooms, call 0701 772023) Then of course there were the numerous copy deadlines that I had put in my phone calendar.
While lying in that bed, drugs coursing through my vein, staring at my calendar it all felt like someone else had made those plans.
A week later I decided to see this specialist I know. A cardiologist. An old professor with a stack of white hair. Professor Ogolla. The guru. It’s always comforting to be seen by an old experienced doctor, isn’t it? They are always so calm, almost to the point of putting you to sleep. And they never consult those little books doctors are always consulting. You go to an old doctor and you feel like you have not only gone to a healer, you have gone to a father.
He did tests, an MRI, he studied my ultrasound results. He stuck a cold stethoscope on my chest. He listened to my lungs and my heart. He asked a ton of questions. He studied my calf. All tests came out great. My heart was perfect. So were my lungs. He said that he wasn’t convinced that the black dot in my vein was actually a clot. And in case it was too small to cause any significant damage. But he said he wants to err on the side of caution and asked me to continue taking the drugs for another month just to be sure.
I’m on blood thinners. That isn’t actually as serious as it sounds. I only use to elicit sympathy. Case in point:
Cop to me on Ngong Road: “Mbona unafanya right turn hapa? Leta driving licence haraka!”
Me: Niko on blood thinners officer.
Officer: Ati nini??
Me: Blood thinners…niko na ka clot kwa mguu.
Officer: Leta drivers licence bwana, wacha mambo ya clot.
Me: Lakini wewe huna huruma, officer?
Officer: Kwani clot ndio imefanya illegal turn? Basi nipe driving licence ya hiyo clot.
Haha. Nobody cares for my blood clot-o.
Let’s try again.
I skip a queue at the bank. A guy with a shady moustache behind me cries wolf. A bank attendant shows up with his bad tie and reports me: this asshole here thinks he has more important things to do than everyone else here so he is jumping the queue.
Me to the bank attendant: Look, I have a clot. I can’t stand in the queue for too long.
Bank guy: I’m sorry, you have a what?
Me: A blood clot.
Banker: Oh, and where is this clot?
Me: On my calf.
Moustache guy: Oh please. And I’m pregnant!
Me: With that potbelly, yes you are – with twins.
Suffice it to say, I’m forced to go to the back of the queue.
You guy, kwani you don’t return people’s calls nowadays?
Pole, guy, But I have a clot.
Biko, you can’t show up home at this time of the night, two days in a row. It’s bullshit.
Come on, cut me some slack here, do you know how it feels like to have a clot in your leg?
Editor: Biko, It’s Tuesday and I haven’t seen copy from you, you are missing deadlines!
Me: It’s this clot…
Her: Has it moved to your finger?
OK, one last one, I promise.
At a cocktail shindig, me introducing myself.
Hi, my name is Biko, and this here is Imelda, my clot.
OK, I’m done.
Don’t google the side effects of some drugs like Xarelto. It will make you feel like you are dying. Going to Google sometimes feels like going to a dodgy palm reader. Or that psychotic quack who raped unconscious women. Google is like dating a girl who writes you five long continues SMSs when she is mad at you and naming them, “part one, part two..”
I’m functioning normally. You either wait to die or you live and die. We are all going to die of something we didn’t see coming or something we saw coming (like drunk driving or eating junk daily). We are the walking dead. You would imagine that having a scare like this would shift something in me. It hasn’t. But when you get a scare you pray.
Prayer being a conversation with God here is how I picture God when I speak to him.
Because he created us in his likeness, some days I picture God to be wearing this striped blue polo shirt with collar half turned up, blue jeans and black sandals. He has long nails which he has been meaning to trim for ages but he hasn’t gotten round to it because he is dealing with your numerous prayers. He’s slim and neat and has like a small sprouting beard. So when I talk to him, I always talk to him like you would to any other guy, but a guy you respect. Which means I told him, “you guy, please don’t scare me with stuff like that again bana. Don’t be that guy who puts a clot in people’s legs just for kicks.”
In my head, he laughs and shakes his head and tells Angel Gabriel, “OK, Gabby, you have made your point, achana with Biko for now, the message is received, now be easy. By the way, how’s that thuggish pastor who can’t speak English doing?”
The moral of this story is simple: If you have pain, don’t be a ninja about it. See a damn doctor!
And don’t make a right turn on Ngong Road.
Get yourself a medical cover, work with God here.
In the meantime I will avoid things that can make me bleed because with blood thinners, you cut yourself you bleed and bleed and bleed.
Which means I can’t run my hand through a weave. Doctor’s order.