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Daily Nation : January 26th 2014
SUNDAY NATION Sunday January 26, 2014 diary The following day, when I went to see her, I met Sister looking distraught. Lifestyle 13 classes are expensive and there is also the expense of buying implements, easel, stand, brushes, canvas, paints, plus his upkeep.” So saying, she brought out an improvised album in which she had saved Aggrey’s work. Pooling resources, the teacher and I, we managed to find finance for Aggrey’s art classes. A couple of years later, I started seeing Aggrey’s work at the shopping mall where they hold ethnic market once a week, on the very few occasions when Marie persuaded me to accompany her. I saw his bold identifiable signature at the bottom of the paintings. They were mainly Kenya wildlife and the country’s beautiful landscapes, rivers and Mount Kenya. These matchless items were grabbed by tourists, along with our special handbags and carvings. Something miraculous A few months back, something miracu- lous happened. In the locality where I live, I am known as Daktari, especially amongst the ayahs, askaris, cooks, drivers and house boys. They don’t understand specialisation and call upon me for every ailment under the sun. For them a doctor is a doctor, who can be called upon to treat a jigger in the foot or a urethral discharge. I have never shirked this civic duty because it often means just dishing out free samples of medicine or referring them to the nearest Nairobi city clinic or one of the government or missionary hospitals. This day I had rushed home in the ster.” I could recognise Dr Balala’s voice on the phone. “I am sorry for calling him that but that’s the only way I can describe this grossly abnormal baby.” I could feel the anguish in the voice of She ran away from her son, again “I Dr Balala greeted me. “I think this child has mal-rotation of think I have delivered a mon- his gut which often goes with these congenital abnormalities,” I gave my opinion after examining the baby. “While waiting for you, I got a plain my obstetrician friend who, having successfully conducted the miracle of birth, realised that the product he delivered was grossly defective. “Amongst his many congenital defects, the distended abdomen needs your urgent attention,” Dr Balala explained why he had woken me up at that ungodly hour. “I think he also has intestinal obstruction.” As I drove to the hospital, the quiet roads at that time of the night were conducive to recalling my friendship with Dr Balala. We were classmates in our undergraduate days where he was nicknamed Aristotle after the Greek philosopher, because he was considered a great thinker and looked at issues philosophically. He was a prolific reader and on his bookshelf were the Holy Bible, the Koran, Bhagwad Geeta, Sikh Granth and Buddhist scriptures, alongside tomes on philosophy by Betrand Russell, Homer and Socrates. “I need to understand the purpose of life,” he had remarked once. “I have read all these more than once without being enlightened.” His cynicism surfaced when we were doing midwifery and occasionally delivered babies with birth defects. “All men are born equal ... my foot!” he would exclaim. “Where is equality? Can you say that a child born in Buckingham Palace is equal to a baby born to a house-girl in Pumwani Hospital?” After graduation, he specialised in ob- stetrics-gynaecology, while I did surgery. We were still close friends and referred cases to each other. I had now reached the nursery where X-ray of the abdomen done,” Dr Balala replied and handed me the films. They confirmed my clinical diagnosis. “We need to hydrate him and schedule surgery in the morning,” I said as I drew Dr Balala’s attention to the baby’s dry skin. Next morning at operation, I de-ro- tated the gut and fixed it in the correct position. The baby was doing very well when, three days later, Dr Balala confronted me with another emergency. “You dealt successfully with the baby’s intestinal obstruction,” he said, “now the mother seems to have developed the same problem.” “How so?” “This is the mother’s fifth child and none of them has a known father,” he explained. “So I did a tubal ligation on her soon after delivery. She has been vomiting since yesterday and today I found her tummy blown like a drum”. I went with him to the maternity ward, examined the mother and agreed with his diagnosis. “Probably the small intestine is stuck to the tubes you tied,” I said. Cross on her belly In the operating theatre, I saw a hori- zontal scar left behind by Dr Balala in the abdomen, just below the navel. I could have used the same incision but instead made a longitudinal cut, which could be extended both ways. I did so because if I found another cause for the obstruction, I would need more room. Luckily the cause was what I had suspected and when I finished, seeing my longitudinal incision crossing the horizontal one of Dr Balala, I remarked: “I hope she is a Christian because, between the two of us, we have left a cross on her belly.” SHE WAS JUST COVERING HER ABDOMEN WHEN SOMETHING CAUGHT MY EYE. IT HAD THE FAMOUS CROSS ON IT ...” SURGEON’S DIARY IN ITS 34TH YEAR yusuf k. dawood evening because I knew Marie would be waiting, looking glamorous, ready for a dinner we had been invited to. Our doorbell rang and our maid said that the cook from the house up the road wanted to see me. A “cousin” had come from up-country looking for a job and had developed a bad tummy. The Karura Clinic had closed for the day and her diarrhoea was very bad. Could I oblige? It was a familiar story! “Where is the mama?” I asked the cook While the mother was recovering, I called my orthopaedic and plastic surgery colleagues and, between the three of us, we made a plan to do a series of operations on the baby to make him resemble a human being. “It will take a good six months,” we told the mother. The following day, when I went to see her, I met Sister looking distraught. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “We can’t find Rachael,” she replied, re- ferring to the mother. “She was here when the tea and bread were served.” We walked to Rachael’s bed and opened her locker. “I think she has made a bunk,” Sister remarked. Her personal items were missing. “Perhaps she could not cope with her grossly abnormal baby and decided to abandon it,” I said. Undeterred, we conducted multiple sur- gical procedures on the baby over the next six months, who the nurses named Aggrey. The almoner found a home for him when we finished. Because of the massive surgery, Aggrey needed a long-term follow-up, which we provided. That was 20 years ago. Every six months I saw Aggrey, I realised that though the aphorism of all being born equal is an anodyne, the human spirit manages to rise above inequality. I could see Aggrey developing long, slender shapely artistic fingers. “This boy will be a surgeon,” I said to the lady who regularly accompanied him from the children’s home. “He’s one better,” she said unwittingly. “He has turned out to be a beautiful painter, and the arts teacher at the school has brought him a brush and a paint box to nurture his talent.” “You think, next time you could bring the teacher to see me?” I asked. When she came to see me six months later, the arts teacher brought a proposal. “Aggrey has reached a stage where he could do with formal art lessons,” she said, “the problem is funds. Quality art and a “shadow” emerged from the bushes in the garden. Our maid took her to her quarters where I examined the sick woman’s abdomen. There was tenderness all over and I reckoned that all she needed was anti-diarrhoea mixture and tablets for the pain. She was just covering her abdomen when something caught my eye. It had the famous cross on it! There was the horizontal scar of Dr Balala, below her navel and my vertical scar from the navel downwards crossing it, reminding me of the crucifix I had left behind all those years ago. I was, to say the least, flabbergasted. Arranging a reunion The next morning, I called Dr Balala, the art teacher and the warden of the children’s home to deliberate on the new find. Various views were expressed for and against arranging a reunion. Dr Balala, the philosopher, spoke last with Aristotelian wisdom. “There are many more issues here other than uniting an artist with his long lost mother. How would Aggrey look at the mother who had abandoned him all those years ago? How would the wretched mother feel now? How would they relate to each other after so many years of estrangement?” As usual, his questions were rhetorical and he eventually answered them himself. “It is a burnt-out case and we should leave matters as they are.” I wasn’t convinced but the decision was out of my hands. On my return home in the evening, I found the cook. “She found a job and left this morning,” he said. “Do you know where to find her? You told me she is your cousin,” I said. “Sijui,” he said, and from his mute ex- pression, it was obvious that he was not going to oblige. I had a grudging suspicion that Rachael had recognised me and decided to keep her secret under wraps. Perhaps my philosopher friend is right. In my own heart, though, I think that the opposite view might carry equal weight as well. I sincerely hope that one day, the mother and son can be reunited.
October 13th 2013
January 27th 2014