Thursdays are a special day at the Nairobi Hospice in the Kenyan capital. It is the day set aside for day care for the patients to meet at the institution to share experiences and talk with the staff. It is a much needed change of environment for patients. The focus is on physical, economic, spiritual, social, psychological and emotional needs of patients, care givers and their families. Currently the number of patients stands at 83 give or take. The hospice provides support and counseling for the mental, psychological and social issues their patients may be going through. These are extremely important for the patients who are all either battling or recovering from terminal illnesses.
A typical day starts with a meeting among the nursing officers where they take a roll call of their patients to determine which ones are still coming to the hospice; which ones need home visits; which ones have relocated and need references to hospices and palliative care units near where they have moved to; and in the most unfortunate cases, those that need to be struck off the register as they have succumbed to illness.
Humour is in plenty in all hospice day care activities to lift up the spirits of staff, patients and volunteers. The illnesses and issues accompanied with the pain and suffering of patients requires such an approach lest sadness and self pity takes away the sunshine.
The morning meeting also includes a brief on the various organizations seeking to come onboard as partners to support the numerous aspects involved in running a hospice. On this particular day, a local foundation has sent a proposal laying down the intention to come on board with support to cater for transport costs for the patients. The idea is to get each patient a card, commonly referred to as Megarider that allows them to access transport on some of the most popular bus services. The nursing officers will work with other hospice staff to facilitate the relevant departments with patient information so they can soon use the transport cards.
In the kitchen, two volunteers and the chef are busy preparing ingredients for the day’s lunch. They have already provided breakfast for the patients that came in early in the morning and have been replenishing supply for those who have been walking after the first serving was placed on the table.
By mid morning, a good number of patients – almost 30 – have arrived and it is enough quorum to begin the day’s activities. A word of prayer starts off the day’s session. A team from the Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association and staff from a local company introduce themselves to the patients before they follow suit with emphasis placed on new members feeling welcome to the group.
Each patient follows up their name with the illness they are suffering from and how long they have been ailing. It is an awe-inspiring session as the frailty of life reveals itself. Like most things in life, there is disparity in symptoms and diagnosis. While have bee new diagnosed and are undergoing treatment, others have been battling illness for quite a while and are in various stages of treatment. On this day, all the patients are suffering from some form of cancer and there are those who are the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel survivors. They have battled cancer and emerged victorious; their cancers are in remission. The hospice staff acknowledge that the survivors give the rest a reason to keep on fighting. “These patients who are in remission represent the been there, done that segment and they offer much needed hope to those patients who feel that their illness may just break them down completely,” said Lynette Kitui, a medical social worker at the Nairobi Hospice .
One of the staff from the local company volunteers to read from the Bible and share inspirational words and pieces of advice from the Scripture. The message on the day is to view everything situation in life as God’s divine intention. Everything happens for a reason and it is for each of the patients, hospice staff, volunteers and visitors; to look deep within them and try and determine what lessons their circumstances are teaching them. Not to look at their illness as a misfortune but rather gain strength from the struggle and take it on with the zeal required for one to ultimately say that they fought a good fight.
One of the patients Perez Odemba, a beautiful 25 year old girl, has colorectal cancer. It was discovered two years ago and she has undergone radiotherapy treatment. She is currently awaiting the fourth session of her 12-session chemotherapy treatment. She epitomizes the need for hospices and palliative care units. She is an orphan with no siblings and resides in a very low income suburb of Nairobi where despite rent being relatively cheap, she cannot afford to pay her house and business rent. Before she was diagnosed with cancer, she owned a hair salon but as her treatment demanded more and more funds for treatment, she was forced to sell off all her equipment and machines. “I have become a burden of sorts to my friends who despite their best wishes and support can only do so much. It gets to a point that their interests have to come first,” says Perez.
The hospice provides medication for their patients and it is through this initiative that Perez has managed to remain on her two feet. She now has to look for funds to treat her treatment, rent and utilities. The same story is replicated for numerous other patients who visit the hospice. Provision of drugs drastically reduces the number of issues patients have to worry about.
The Nairobi Hospice is a registered charitable non-profit making organization that was established in 1988 and officially opened in February 1990. It was the first institution of its kind in East Africa. It cares for and supports patients and families facing life limiting illnesses especially cancer and HIV/AIDS. Services are provided on out-patient basis, in hospitals and at the patients’ homes.
By Mwende Maureen