Imagine having to relearn everything that was second nature to you for decades. Forgetting who you were and the special moments that made up your life. Well, Dorothy Mukui doesn’t have to imagine it. She is living it. But her face betrays no inner turmoil or trace of bitterness. She smiles like a woman with the secret knowledge of what hell feels like but walked out undefeated. A victorious smile.
Almost always at her side is her soon-to-be husband, at least officially; Francis Mukui. They are supposed to be exchanging vows next month, but due to the ripple effects of Coronavirus, the couple will have to hold off a little longer. They are no strangers to waiting though. They have waited for what seems to be a lifetime to get where they are now. And even now, Francis sometimes will wait patiently as Dorothy tries to remember a word mid-sentence.
Sometimes she will succeed and other times he will need to fill it in for her. Francis has many a time patiently stood over her on the stove reminding her how to cook ugali or their favourite meal of beef stew and traditional veggies. And slowly, with good humour and endless love, she has relearnt all the skills she could effortlessly do 10 years ago. And if Coronavirus wants to delay their white wedding, it can bring it on, they can wait a lifetime if they have to.
Their journey began in 2004. When Dorothy and Francis met, their friendship blossomed almost instantly. Francis had just been transferred to the office where Dorothy worked. Theirs was a whirlwind romance, and soon, formalities were made. However, they didn’t set about starting their family immediately. They chose instead to enjoy their time together as they worked hard at building their respective careers. But during the Easter of 2009, they discovered that they would very soon be parents. And that set them down a wild ride that none of them could have possibly imagined.
The baby was expected to be born in January 2010, and the lovebirds were as happy as could be. However, for Dorothy, the pregnancy wasn’t a smooth ride, but she was excited to take it all in if it meant holding a healthy baby in her arms. When she was about six months along, her legs and face began to swell and the area around her eyes was very puffy.
“Because of the nature of my work, I had to stay in Nairobi while Dorothy stayed in Kiambu, but I would see her on my days off as well as on the weekends,” Francis says.
One Sunday in November, Francis was away for work but called his wife to check on her.
“I remember her telling me that she was experiencing a slight headache. The headache still had not subsided when I called her the following day. So we decided that she should visit the doctor the following day.”
But on Tuesday morning, Francis received a call from Dorothy’s friend telling him that she had been rushed to the hospital in Kiambu.
“By then, her headaches had become severe and her speech was slurred. Her face and legs were also swollen. The doctor recommended an ultrasound to check how the baby was doing. They confirmed the baby was OK,” he recalls.
However, two hours later, at 1 pm, things took a turn for the worse. Dorothy began convulsing and muttering unintelligible words. That is when the doctors decided to deliver the baby. Dorothy was only 28 weeks pregnant.
She was wheeled into the theatre around 3 pm. To Francis, the world around him had ceased to exist. All he cared about was seeing his wife and baby. At 4 pm, when he could not bear the anxiety anymore, he went to seek answers. He was informed him that the operation had ended 30 minutes earlier.
“I went in to see Dorothy first. She was just there; sedated but responsive. Jasmine, our baby was doing fine too, she only weighed 900 grams at that time,” he told My Health.
She was oh so tiny but perfect, and now, Jasmine, due to the comatose state of the mother, would have to make do with infant formulae until her mama was well enough to breastfeed her.
A few days later, the doctors recommended that Dorothy be transferred to a bigger hospital because she needed a neurosurgeon’s care.
“This meant that Jasmine would be left at Kijabe Hospital, where she was born, while I worked on getting her mum better treatment in Nairobi where she was put in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” Francis recalls.
Days later, she would wake up. But she wasn’t quite the same.
“We noticed that she had lost her ability to speak, in addition to losing all her memory. She was also completely paralysed on her right side and had incontinence issues,” says Francis.
The Doctors then ran a CT scan on Dorothy which revealed that she had suffered a severe stroke that had led to heavy bleeding on the right side of her brain. It was the cause of her memory loss. This bleeding kills brain cells and subsequently causes memory loss.
“She had no idea of who anyone was, including her dad. She had no idea she had a baby. She had no idea what a baby was,” explained Francis. The distressed new dad took it all in and readied himself for the long road ahead.
Dorothy was eventually wheeled out of the hospital for home on December 23, 2009.
Road to mend
Back at Kijabe Hospital, the baby was doing well, and three months after birth, Jasmine was released from hospital, cradled in her besotted dad’s arms. And Francis had to patiently explain to Dorothy who the beautiful little girl was.
“She seemed perplexed by the sight of the little bundle. But I was determined to make it all work. At the time, she had to eat a special diet. She also needed round the clock specialised care.”
Albeit the challenges, they managed fine, until she began getting convulsions and seizures months later. These, they were informed, were due to the stroke she had suffered earlier.
The convulsions eventually tapered down to every two weeks and since 2015, rarely do they occur. Also, life has gotten so much better.
“We have come a long way. From having to task someone to wait outside the door as she showered, she can now write and read. She can also talk well and do basic things like washing herself and cooking. We don’t even need round the clock help any more as she can take care of our daughter and cook. Sometimes she can even do laundry. She is doing well,” he says beaming.
Dorothy is regaining her independence but remains under medication which is expected to taper off with time.
“At some point, she had to take 29 tablets a day. Now she is on 5 a day.” He acknowledges that they aren’t out of the woods yet, because she suffered one convulsion just a few weeks ago, but he is grateful for how far they have come.
Know one of the most surprising thing to come out of all these? He asks.
“Dot used to be right-handed. Now she’s left-handed.” He laughs. “Oh, and Dorothy and Jasmine are inseparable now. It is amazing watching them together.”