As a healthcare ambassador and one who wanted to use her own personal experiences to change the attitude of other victims of terminal illnesses (such as cancer), this was one emotional piece Janet wrote before she passed on to the world beyond;
“One year ago, my unexpected, shocking and intense medical journey begun………
“One day I was hard at work, managing two jobs at NTV and Pampers diapers, and the next day I was hospitalized suddenly for fear of dropping dead, because of a blood clot found in my very swollen leg.
One day I was a Mum and Wife doing the usual running around to ensure my husband and children are healthy and happy and the next day I was looking up at a white, boring hospital ceiling, in fear of not getting back home to my babies who I hadn’t even said bye to because the doctor wanted me to start treatment immediately.
Little did I know that this Deep Vein Thrombosis wasn’t going to be the worst medical diagnosis I would get last year. If anything, I was irritated at having to be in hospital because I had never been admitted for anything other than natural childbirth.
I believed I was fine! Eager to get back to my normal life! ……Haaaa! ….Shock on me as 2 months later, I was back in hospital kwanza now in the High Dependency Unit (HDU) with multiple blood clots in my heart and lungs, known as a pulmonary embolism that most victims discover too late, during a post mortem after they’ve already died.
So I tried to focus on how lucky I was to still be breathing, instead of thinking about how dangerous it was for me to literally even step away from my bed for fear of one of the clots suffocating me.
This is when I met some wonderful spiritual partners who helped me endure the sights and sounds around me, and anyone who has been conscious while in HDU / ICU can testify to how depressing it gets, because most patients are unconscious, an array of tubes and wires sticking out of their bodies, an image that makes you realize how fragile the human body can be. Breath emerging in a gurgling sound as if they’re constantly choking, noisy beeping machines doing the heavy lifting for them so that their loved ones will get to spend another visiting hour with them.
One doctor I spoke to was shocked to hear about my traumatic experience in HDU, because doctors tend to visit once or twice and never really get to hear how conscious patients spend the rest of the 23 hours while they’re away. How they are emotionally affected.
I watched patients in bed 3 across the room and bed 8 next to my cubicle dying, literally, as doctors and nurses worked with amazing speed and efficiency to hold onto that life. I listened to the last gasps of breath struggling to emerge from lungs that were either too old and tired, or too damaged to handle this job description assigned by the organization called the human body.
I watched in wonder as blood and other fluids emerged and stained the sheets, while different life-sustaining machines beeped and hummed, the sound offering eerie background music to this unfolding scene. One nurse tried to block my view, unfortunately all cubicles in HDU/ICU are glass so I saw- and heard- everything.
Besides I was too shocked and mesmerized to faint, as if I was watching ER and Grey’s Anatomy TV shows live!
Then suddenly, the scene was over! A life was gone!
An tense silence resumed as time of death was pronounced. Clean up begun, with the nurses gently cleaning the body, preparing it for the loved ones to come and view later. I was still awake when the morgue attendants came to transport the body. They closed all our curtains to prevent us from seeing, but once again, unlike most other patients, I was fully alert, awake, and conscious of every single detail.
This is when I started blogging on this page about my medical journey, perhaps as a way to deal with the scary face of death, and my advice to other patients who have experienced HDU/ICU while fully conscious is, find a way to deal with it – talk to a counselor, a loved one, write, jog, learn martial arts – just don’t bottle it up, because those images remain with you for a long time.
I was discharged after undergoing a thrombolytic treatment whose success rate is unpredictable.
I remember my husband being told “We’ll know if it’s worked if she’s alive after 2 hours.” Fortunately it did, but not before I got a scare where my heart beat so hard that I wondered if this was what a heart attack felt like? And I went home believing that now, finally, life could go back to normal. It didn’t!
Instead more, bigger clots formed, leaving me dependent on twice daily Clexane injection blood thinners that I only stopped jabbing 3 weeks ago when I successfully changed to daily pills (Praise God for this development!) Kusema ukweli (Honestly) my pot had run out of injection sites na huko nyuma pia ilikuwa inauma (the butt was paining too) LOL! Ouch!!
Life is so, so unpredictable.
I had made plans to catch up with work and other aspects of my life, to make more money, travel and teach my kids about all the Kenyan tourist sights and sounds that I first came across while presenting the travel show ‘Out & About’, but now here I was at home, lying with two very swollen painful legs propped up on a pillow, unable to take even a single step without crying out in pain, hanging onto my hubby for support, tears flowing from the pressure of tight anti-thrombotic compression stockings that I had to wear to increase blood flow.
My life came to a stand-still again.
Then followed invasive tests to find out the source of this clotting, which ultimately led to a decision to travel to India for further tests. Tests that unleashed the worst medical report of all – the presence of stage 4 lung cancer, plus another clot in the heart, plus DVT.
I remember multiple doctors and interns coming to view the EKG machine as my echo cardiogram was done – I was a ‘Specimen X’ because it’s rare for a patient to have a blood clot in the right ventricle of the heart, usually it’s in the left for heart attack patients.
They had to decide which ailment to treat first – the cancer would kill me slowly whereas the clot had a little tail that could detach any moment and cause a pulmonary embolism. I look back at these moments and laugh at just how easily life can end (laughter is a coping mechanism I developed to deal with the stressful medical reports otherwise I would have cried throughout!).
How quickly everything you think is important suddenly becomes non-essential when faced with your own mortality.
Perhaps this is what led someone to ask people: “If you knew you were to die in 24 hours, how would you spend your last day?”
If you seriously consider this question, you’ll realize there are certain people you want to be with, and petty issues that really don’t matter. I thank God that my eyes have been opened to people who genuinely care about me and my family, and those who were there as props when it suited them.
So here I am today, praying to God daily that I live a new life worthy of the second chance that He has given me. There are days when someone or something triggers memories of the painful journey, especially now that I’m talking to /meeting / chatting patients and caregivers who need hope and help.
Fortunately God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness;
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
‘So to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.’
At my second review in India in April they found that the heart clot is still there, but now firmly fixed in the RV muscle so there was no danger of an embolism. It was funny to discover that I was still a ‘Specimen X’ to the doctors and interns who remembered my case so we had a nice catch up session in broken English and sign language!
My point to writing all this is; I want you to know how quickly life can change overnight. How all the plans you’re making to keep up with the Joneses and make others jealous or fearful of you are really quite useless when faced with a life-threatening condition. You might say “But we don’t have any dangerous illness in our family we’ve been healthy for generations!” or “We have money to sort out any problem!”……Heeee!! Shock on you because I know enough people with lots of money who couldn’t buy an extra day of life, and were abandoned by their loved ones in their pain.
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’
My life before last year seemed to be a distant memory of another lady called ‘Janet’. A lady who thought that going to church on Sunday and saying the occasional prayer was enough of a relationship with God. A lady who was interested in the world’s standards and was bothered when she didn’t dress /look /speak well enough to fit into secular ideals especially because of the pressure that media personalities face.
That Janet got a major shocker that completely shifted her thinking and behavior, and for that I am extremely grateful to God. Some preachers say that God has a purpose for us all, and no matter how much we run from that purpose He will do something to ensure that we get back on the straight and narrow, no matter how long we run.
Well, I believe I’m on my right path now, and I look forward to fulfilling the vision that God has for me, according to His pleasing and perfect will.
‘Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is good, pleasing, and the perfect will of God. For by the grace given me, I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you.’
I want to help Kenyans get access to affordable healthcare for terminal illness, and so once again I ask you for your prayers. You were amazing, powerful, prayer warriors for me, now let’s turn our focus to all terminally ill patients, that God will place His healing hand on them and give them and their loved ones strength for their journeys.
Too many people are dying. Too many children! I have cried for children who I have never met, simply because I can’t imagine them going through such pain in their innocent, frail bodies. I have met patients one week and been told they died the next week because it was too late to do anything for them.
Please help me help them. God has His own plan, He takes some home to Him, and for that let us pray for understanding, for acceptance, and for our loved ones’ final rest in Heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, and where we will meet again someday!”
Unfortunately after this touching message, Janet succumbed to lung cancer on 1st April 2017 and went to rest with the angels.
May her soul rest in Eternal Peace!