This is a peculiar story. And not just because it involves a vagina but a vagina of someone I know. Well, I don’t really know her vagina like that; never seen it, but in the course of interviewing and writing this piece we referenced it so much I feel like we grew up with it next door. Anyway, I don’t want to mislead you by saying that this is all about her vagina because it isn’t. It’s also about life and death and a macabre scar which in itself might turn out to be the looming metaphor of her life.
It starts with a phrase I’ve never heard; “urgency incontinence.”
“It’s a sudden and strong need to pee.” She says and then a slight loss of urine after sneezing, coughing or laughing. “I would have that little leakage, that small embarrassing trickle, so I would go around in a panty liner, changing it frequently. Exhausting.” Also, she wasn’t enjoying migwatos. [Sex, to the rest]. “I felt baggy after two very difficult pregnancies and deliveries that altered my morphology,” she says. “I felt less of a woman.” She figured if she wasn’t enjoying migwatos anymore then surely her partner wasn’t either. That the poor chap was just hanging tight. [Ha]. Thing is, the chap wasn’t saying boo. He never complained about the bagginess. “But still, man, my confidence was low,” she says, “you know what I mean?
This is all two years ago, by the way.
She consulted with her gynae – a loud jango guy with ashy knuckles – who said, “Aah this is no problem, a little surgery and bam, you are tight again.” He told her the procedure to fix the bagginess was something called Colporrhaphy – which is also the sound a blocked sink makes when you use a rubber sink pump on it. “Look, I probably didn’t need to go through this surgery to correct my vagina. I mean, there are more serious surgeries to go for, but come on, I’m vain. I wanted to have a tight vagina, who wouldn’t go for a chance to have a tight vagina?”
“I wouldn’t.” I say, then add quickly, “not for myself, at least.”
“To be clear,” she adds. “I was doing this for myself. Not for a man. I wanted this for me. To boost my confidence.”
“OK. I get it.”
By the way, she’s called Beatrice Imathiu, in case you are wondering. If there is a school of people who don’t give a f*ck, she is the headmistress. She’s 46, two kids – lovely girls. She moved from Nairobi and now lives on a farm in Nanyuki, on a sprawling 21-acre land that touches a river on one side and overlooks Mt Kenya on the other. She bumbles around in her Red Discovery 3, her dream car. She’s retired in that farm to much less liquidity than her corporate life days, but to bucketloads of peace and serenity – after her marriage went tits up. She lives a simple, minimalist life. When she’s not consulting and coaching clients on transition (changing their lives like she has hers…maybe less drastically) she wanders around her farm, building log cabins for holiday lets and talking to her trees, patting them on the leaves. She says plants respond to nice soothing words. I don’t know. Eucalyptus strike me as hard-headed tree – like it thinks it knows better than humans. That they can do better, in a different farm.
The day of surgery, she was wheeled into the theater and her surgeon said, “What size should we make it?”
“I’m sorry what?” She said.
“The size,” he said from behind his mask, “what size should we make it?”
“Well, what sizes do you have?”
He pointed at a series of pipes that bring in water and oxygen and stuff into the theater. They were in different girths. “As I was laughing at this because I thought he was joking, he picks one.” A nurse asks her to count from 10, and she goes, 10…9…and she’s out like a light.
The surgery went well – only however, the next time she tried to have sex, the man struggled. “They had made me too tight!” She laughs. “Now I had a different problem.” So she went back to the doctor and he said, “Just have plenty of it and it will easen up. It’s a muscle, the more you use it the more it will ease up.”
Anyway, this presented her with a problem. She was single. Sort of. “My ex-husband had been gone for five years already and the guy I was seeing was much younger and so I was not looking for a relationship with him. Which meant sex wasn’t regular.” She says. “I also didn’t want to try and sleep with someone else. It’s just exhausting starting something new.”
After a while, though the surgery seemed to have solved the initial problem, it recurred. She was frustrated. Someone who knows someone told her of a physiotherapist who sorts such reproductive issues. She went to see her, in her office with a white table. “She recommended a gadget called GyneFlex.”
She bought it in pink. A number two. They come in various numbers. It was supposed to help her strengthen her pelvic and widen her entrance. Months passed and she still had the problem. She didn’t know what to do with it. So she let it stay. She focused on her trees, talking to them, loving them.
“I had always wanted to do the whole eat, love and pray trip in India. It was on my Bucket List.” She says. “I wanted to go eat good food, get a massage and do yoga and come back a changed person. I also wanted to write my book that I had been keeping in the back banners for long and also while there, seek a second and third opinion about my condition, and also take the opportunity to do full body health checks. Everything. Because they are good at it in India and it’s a fifth of the cost in Kenya.”
She got these guys who do medical tourism to draw an itinerary. “It’s amazing what those guys can do, they simply take over your whole stay there, all the logistics, doctors who also give you free opinions of your case before you even sign up. They pick you up from the airport, hotel, they take you everywhere, hospital, shopping, coffee etc,”
So she logged online onto Skyscanner and got a Business Class ticket with Ethiopian Airways … “This was cheaper than economy on Emirates.” She says. “I wanted to be comfortable coming back, incase I decided on a procedure, not have someone in the next seat spilling their yogurt on me.”
She landed in New Delhi at midnight. “I was expecting heat and bad smell because that’s what you hear about India.” She says. “ I was shocked at how beautiful it was. A driver in uniform waited for me at Indira Gandhi Airport that was so huge it was like a city in itself. There was no traffic at that time of the night. There were no potholes. No flies. No cows. The streets were lined with rows upon rows of Jacaranda trees. It looked like colonial India with cars, not horses. It was terribly romantic even though I was alone because all my friends who had promised would accompany me had bailed out and I was so desperate I had reached out to my ex-husband who said he would and switched off his phone the last moment.”
She checked into the Grand Delhi hotel in the Runda parts of India. It was a posh and shiny behemoth, grand as they promised but impersonal, with a personality of KICC in a glittering evening dress a size too small. The next day her medical logistics person came to see her to take her for a bit of shopping first. His name was Shashank. He was a light skinned Indian fellow, lighter than most. His driver kept calling him “Richman.” “Apparently he’s very wealthy but you wouldn’t tell. The calmest man I have ever met and so down to earth,” She says. “I think it’s because this man has seen human suffering at its worst form. He’s 45 and deals with sick patients who come from all over, people who are dying, lung transplant patients, five year old children with leukemia, patients with terminal illness, he deals with life and death and often helps coordinate with parents sending their dead children back to Africa. So he’s seen everything and I think because of that he doesn’t put too much value on money. Do you know he’s so humble when I was in hospital he would sit on my bed eating curry with me?”
The general health medical examination was to take three days and cost 100K. They’d check for everything, literally everything. “The spine, the organs, the brain, the blood,” she says, “they’d even do that dye thing that they put through your vein which goes through your body to your heart.” But the day before she goes shopping and food tours; she buys these colourful dream catchers that are believed to hold beautiful dreams and dispel bad ones. She buys an indian wind chime for her country home from an Indian guy with missing teeth. In a tea kiosk she watches a man throw a sufuria of tea to the roof and a cup at the bottom catch everything. She stared through shop windows. Tried on sarees and hats. “I was healthy. I was strong. I was in India to check my health and fix my vagina and write my book.” She says.
That night she video-called her daughters to explain that mommy was going to do tests the following day. They were at their grandmothers. One of them asked, “Will they take a lot of blood? Will you die?” Her grandmother laughed. “We had that special moment where we held gaze and I could see the fear in her eyes and I told her, ‘I’m not going to die. Mommy will not die.”
The next morning, very early at around 5:10am, she got into the bathroom. It was this massive posh bathroom with a bathtub made from solid black granite. It’s there that she slipped and as she fell she immediately knew that this was one of those fatal ones. Her head rushed to meet the corner of the granite, which would surely crack it open. She saw it before it happened. And she saw her daughter’s worried face asking if she would die. As her body rushed to meet the hard edge of this bathtub she started twisting away from this ugly death that was going to snatch her in a posh Indian hotel. She always heard that you can’t cheat death and she knew that perhaps that final act of twisting wasn’t going to be enough and so she lifted her right hand to protect her head and two things happened; the first one was God and the second one was her hand slammed into the solid edge with a sickening thud, breaking that fall, her face missing the edge with inches and she fell on her exposed chest on the black stone, her 85Kgs landing on the marble.
They say death is the deepest form of sleep. Two hours later when she comes to she remembers thinking that that was the deepest and most beautiful sleep she has had in her life. She opens her eyes. Her face is on the wet floor and it’s warm. Her nose is against the bath-tab. She’s naked. Dazed. There is no pain. She’s trying to recollect where she is and it comes to her slowly; a plane, jacaranda trees, sweet indian tea, a posh big five star hotel, heavy carpeting, bathroom, a fall…oh shit. I fell, she thinks to herself. I fell in a bathtub. Am I dead? Did I just experience the famous bath-tub death? She tries to move, but can’t. She can’t find or feel her right hand, but then she sees another hand near the door and it’s black. Impossible, I’m the only black person in this hotel, what’s that black hand doing? Whose hand is that? Who came into my room?!
Then it dawns on her that it’s her hand. That black hand. That hand near the door is my hand. But how do I get it? How do I get it when I can’t move? Hand…hand, come here, hand. “I’m speaking to my hand now. I’m going crazy. I’m telling it to come to me, to my body.” She twists her body and uses her left hand to fetch her right hand. It’s wobbly, rubbery, loose. It dangles at the elbows. Then the pain hits her, in big tides. Pain that promises to suffocate her. A drowning pain. She had lied to her daughter. She’s going to die here, on this floor. She starts talking to God because she sees God through the door lying on her bed in her massive room. She sees God’s feet. She tells him, God you can change this. You can do this. This is nothing for you. You are God. Don’t let me die here on this floor. She’s struggling not to black out because that means death. Now she doesn’t want that sweet sleep anymore. Now she wants to keep her promise to her daughter. The room is so big, she can hear faraway voices, muffled, beyond the door. She can’t scream. Nobody would hear her because the thick carpet will swallow all her screams. She breathes hard. She’s panicking. She’s dying. Her hand is disjointed and broken and black. She can’t move, her chest feels like it’s been cracked open, it’s as if someone has placed a heavy stone on her. What if her spine is broken?
Earlier she was listening to TD Jakes from her phone. She loves T.D Jakes. She had gone to see him when he came to Kenya. She reaches out and feels the edge of the bathtub and sure enough the phone is there.
She calls Shashank. He doesn’t pick. He’d mentioned that he sleeps in late. She calls him again. He picks on the second ring. She tells him, “Shashank, I fell. I’m in the bathroom. I’m hurt badly. Call the hotel for help, I’m in trouble.”
Shashank says very calmly, “Okay.”
“My God, that man. Nothing moves him. I think it’s because of his calmness that made me stop panicking so much. He just sounded like this was going to be okay.”
She then called her bro Koome, who is always travelling, who never picks. She doesn’t know which part of the world he was in but somehow he picked on the second ring. She told him that she was in trouble. Then she called her friend Sly, who was in a board meeting. “I was so scared of dying in this hotel. How could I come all the way here to die in a bathtub?” She says.
Suddenly women in Sarees were in the bathroom, hotel staff, their long dresses sweeping the wet floor. They were panicked. “Call the ambulance!” She begged them “I can’t move my body, I can’t move my toe. Call the ambulance!” They refused. They said there was traffic and an ambulance would take ages to get there.
Then she was on a stretcher being wheeled out of the room. “I remember my right hand dangling from the edge of this stretcher. Oh, the pain Biko. You have never experienced pain. There must have been eight people around me. I remember looking up as these extremely beautiful hotel chandeliers passed over me as they wheeled me out, feeling the thickness of the carpet under the rotating wheels. I must have been screaming. I don’t recall. I recall thinking that I shouldn’t scream because I was black and those people, white and browns, would think it’s typical of blacks to be crude. I didn’t want to spoil the beauty of this hotel and disturb the peace of these people. In the restaurant people sat quietly, conversing over their meals as I was dying on that stretcher. I saw a waiter, one hand behind his back, pour water into a guests glass. I saw people checking in with their expensive bags. The sound of lifts opening and closing. Life was going on, Biko! I was dying and people were checking in and eating their fruits in the restaurant as I held my hand dangling from the edge.”
Then she was in an ambulance which wasn’t an ambulance but a pick-up converted into one. It had a bucket in the corner. “How far?” She asked a man seated near her head and he shook his head, to either mean so far or he didn’t speak English.
Her arm needed stitching inside and 40 staples outside. They lodged a titanium plate running from her elbow to her shoulder. She never got to eat, love or pray. Or write her book. Shashank visited often. She cried many nights in that bed, how close she had come to leaving her children. “When they were wheeling me out of my room, past the posh restaurant with all those posh people eating silently, not even looking at me,” she says, “I remembered the previous day when I wanted to eat some particular meal but it was full of calories and how I felt saddened by the memory, that I was turning away the meal only to die on a stretcher.”
She also had travel insurance from a gentleman called Wilson Mutuma who handled it via Whatsapp. “You have to mention Mutuma, he was super efficient that man.” Between her travel and medical insurance covers (who were constantly checking on her) they covered all her costs; medical emergency, changed flights (Ethipoian charged her nearly 100% to change her flight), meals, any bookings for a holiday she may have prepaid and cancelled, and any financial loss as a direct result of the accident whilst travelling in the cover window. [Yes, get travel insurance] The hotel, the plush big hotel, The Grand Delhi Hotel never called once, not to ask if she died in the ambulance. That pains her.
She came back with a scar running down her arm. It will heal one day and when she’s wearing a sleeveless shirt, someone will say, “My goodness, what happened there?” and she will tell them that time she almost died in a bathroom in India.
“I think I lived for a reason. Maybe God was slowing me down. I’m a different person now. I’ve quieted down. I’m present. And Grateful.”
And she never redid her vagina. That seems so insignificant now.
This post was inspired by Bio-Oil that told me, “Biko, what story can you tell about scars.” I said, you just said it, “A scar is a story in itself. It’s a lesson.” Bio-Oil celebrates Imathiu’s courage in the midst of what could have been a tragic experience and that she came out still hopeful. The product works by hydrating and improving the appearance of her scar and so they will send her their product as she recovers.
Also, MYDAWA are doing this thing- use the promo code Biko10 for 10% discount on Bio Oil.