Dr. Mugisha must be some kind of a quack, Lydia thought as she left his office. The system is set up to take money from the foreigners. Lydia was in a foreign land attending college at Makerere University Uganda’s largest and third oldest university. Lydia was from Kitale, Kenya an agricultural city high in the Kenyan mountains. She had big dreams and hoped that the “Ivory Tower” would help her fulfill them. Although Lydia had a strong desire to succeed something was fighting against her. It was her ability to breathe especially after the slightest exertion. Although she sometimes struggled in the daytime the nights were her nightmare.
This was not the way it was supposed to be. Lydia was from a land of high elevation. She was skinny and looked to be in perfect health. In fact she was too skinny and did her best to eat plenty on her quest to gain weight. Her friends kidded her about her inability to climb mountains without going into a coughing frenzy. Coming from such a high elevation she was expected to swallow those mountains like milk as she put it. It was embarrassing to her to be out of breath when her friends easily endured the journey. Lydia was a Christian and her Christian group would pray with her about her health. She wondered what was going on and why was she being put through this suffering? It was terrible suffering too. Lydia continuously had to climb hills wherever she went. “I hated climbing those hills. They sucked my strength and drained all energies off my joints. I would pant hard and gasp for breath, my chest would burn up and it left me very congested….I was ashamed but would hide all these things and try to catch up like a real champion.” After climbing the hills there was the strain of climbing the steps to her apartment. She lived on the second floor and climbing those steps left her completely in agony. When she arrived she would be coughing out of control. Naturally her roommate was alarmed as she was awoken from a sound sleep. ” Lydia,why don’t you see a doctor? You coughed really bad last night.”, Lucy would say the following morning cajoling her.
“This would bring my worst fear alive.” Often Lydia would have nosebleeds and cough up blood. There was something seriously wrong and Lydia was sure she knew what it was. It has to be Tuberculosis and she cringed at the thought of the treatment involved. Lydia loathed taking pills and the remedy seemed to be to take these pills for 8 straight months without fail. If for some reason the pills were not taken she would have to start all over. It was a terrible thought for her and kept her from seeing a doctor. She tried over the counter medicine for the flu thinking that would help. After class one day she decided she couldn’t go on any longer. Entering the University medical center she met Dr. Mugisha.
Dr. Mugisha was a dark, calm, middle aged doctor. Lydia quickly explained to him her chest pains and coughing and added that she had the flu. His method was pretty routine and out of date in Lydia’s mind. He had a stethoscope and he listened to her heartbeat. He also looked at her tongue. He asked two or three questions and that was it. With that short examination Dr. Mugisha had his diagnosis. In her own words the following is lydia’s story of what happened next.
“He sat down, took off his glasses , looked me in the eye and told me”, she explained, and then came the words she would never forget. “With no doubt and from my experience, your heart is leaking. Your heartbeat shows that you have a heart problem.”
Lydia listened in disbelief. “I thought I didn’t hear him well. He continued telling me that I wasn’t adding any weight because my heart was using all the energy I had to work extra hard to support my life. He went on and on noting that the heart was the strongest muscle in the body and would be the last organ of the body to wear out. I just listened. He strongly recommended that I go for further tests first thing the following morning. He followed it up with a referral letter to Ward C, Mulago Heart Institute. He finally scribbled a long prescription of food supplements that I should buy.”
“As soon as he finished, I thanked him and left the room” “I walked lazily back to my hostel with my mind replaying all the doctor had said. I laughed! It was impossible! How could a tiny, skinny girl like me have a heart disease? There was no way! And how could he even direct me to his pharmacy to purchase very expensive drugs? I knew he was the type that made money out of unsuspecting patients, foreigners for that matter.” “He is one of them.” I mused.
Lydia continued to go to prayer meetings hoping that she would get better through her faith. “There was no way I would believe the doctor! How could he use only a stethoscope and tell me my heart was leaking? And what would make my heart leak or sick for that matter? I wasn’t fat! Heart diseases were for fat, rich and obese people not skinny people like me!” Lydia kept that attitude and she also was very secretive about the doctors diagnosis. She did confide in a few friends and one of them was named Eric. Eric was a leader in the Kenyan fellowship group and he was very concerned about Lydia.
“Lydia I know behind that beautiful smile you are hiding a lot.” He had told me very playfully one day. I don’t know what pushed me, but that evening I rang Eric to inform him of what the doctor had said. That evening he made sure he visited me in my room even though it was quite a distant location from where he stayed. “Lydia, with the way you have been coughing and crying of weak joints when I walk with you, you’ve got to listen to the doctor.” Eric said softly but firmly.”But….” “No buts Lydia!” He cut me short and authoritatively told me that the first thing the following day we would be going to the Mulago Heart Institute. I feared Eric, but also admired and respected him inwardly, for his leadership qualities. He was stern but calm. I did not have any money with me but I did not say it either. I obeyed him.
Eric and I quite easily found our way to Ward C of the enormous Mulago Hospital at about 7.45am that Tuesday Morning. There were a number of patients at the Heart Institute for such a morning! Some looked frail and really in bad shape. I cowed inside but bravely reached our way to the reception area. After a few introductions here and there and with our referral letter from the University Hospital, we were told the Cardiologist whom Dr. Mugisha had suggested we see was in. We were directed to the Accounts where Eric paid the Ugx20,000. I was humbled. I had not told him that I didn’t have money. We then waited on the queue to see the cardiologist whose name mysteriously slipped out of my mind! It did not take long before we were in his office. Eric was like a father to me. The cardiologist read through the referral letter and begun to take in my details. “What is your name?” He asked. “Jerotich Lydia.” I replied
“You come from Kenya, right?” He pried. “Yes doctor.” I replied obediently. He took his telephone and called in the Accountant. When the Accountant came in he asked him why he had undercharged me for the Consultation fees and yet I was a foreigner. He continued that when ‘they’ visited our hospitals in Kenya for treatment, they were charged more. The cardiologist wrote down the Echo test that was to cost Ugx75,000 and the ECG test that was to cost Ugx50,000. We were dumb founded for a while, thanked him and left with the Accountant. The Accountant told us that we had to add Ugx25,000 on to the Ugx20,000 we had paid earlier for consultation! This was absurd! We were just students! We were not big business men! We promised to be back soon for the tests though and that we would top up the remaining Consultation fees. We left in a huff like a girl suffering from acute jealousy. We walked quietly back to college. Eric had a class to catch up with. I thanked him for his kindness and thoughtful sacrifice. He encouraged and motivated me and we parted ways. I was left all alone. My mind reeled from side to side. It was like I was dreaming. I did not know what or who to believe. Nothing made meaning. I walked slowly and very slowly to my residence smiling outwardly to those who greeted me on the way yet mourning deep within me. What had died? Why did people have to ‘milk’ others without caring about their backgrounds? Why would Dr. Mugisha send me to a fraud? I was right. It was all about getting money from the foreigner. “To hell with heart diseases! This is not my disease! It is for the rich and fat, not me.”
2008 passed by quite slowly. One of the toughest years for me. My health affected every area of my life. I was coughing blood! I was too weak. I was too absent minded! But I kept smiling and trying. Church was my best friend. There was hope there. There were smiles there. There were activities that kept me living there. I tried to belong there. But I could not share my plight with anyone. When I went home for holidays, I lightly joked about what Dr. Mugisha had said about my heart. My mum rebuked such evil thoughts of her daughter. Life went on as usual at home very slowly and roughly for me. I faithfully fetched water from the stream downhill, went to the farm, fed the cows, and did all the chores expected of a lady my age at home. All my nights were nightmares. I longed for mornings as a mother longed to see her new born child.My late grandfather would not hesitate to ask me what was wrong with me as I coughed a lot. I feigned wellness and tried to smile convincingly. He would then warn me not to overwork myself. One morning in 2009, I had been really unwell. A few weeks earlier I had been admitted at the University Hospital for severe Malaria and chest congestion after I had ‘lost’ memory in a test (exam), was too frail and my Business Statistics Lecturer, Mr. Nazarius had driven me in his car from old Kampala Secondary school for medical attention at the university Hospital. Surprisingly, unlike other days, Dr. Mugisha was at the hospital that morning! He received me and the lecturer explained what had happened. Dr. Mugisha examined me, told the lecturer to buy for me Fanta Orange because the sugar would give me some energy. He then admitted me as my blood sample was being tested. I remained in the hospital for a week. Coincidentally, James, one of colleagues at the kenyan fellowship was admitted that very time too! He was in an isolated ward, admitted for TB! I would visit him anyway! I wanted to learn more about TB. Eventually James was fully treated and discharged. I was discharged later that weekend after pestering the nurses that I wanted to leave the hospital. My discharge report read, “Discharged with severe Malaria.”
I was baffled! I looked stronger, I felt better! The report was not true! I was discharged on condition that I bought some antibiotics for the chest. They were expensive but I had missed my tests (exams), I had to. Now, this morning I’m remembering, I was really feeling bad. I hadn’t put my head down the previous night. These past few days I had been coughing so bad and could not lie down flat! Even 3 to 4 pillows propping my head and back were not working! This particular night I sat down the whole night as I could not breathe well when lying down. My new room mate Deborah was so worried. She had called all of the neighbors on our floor to come and watch over me. I coughed up blood, so that morning, I had called Ruth my friend and homey. She escorted me to the University hospital. I was very determined! My mind was made up, I was going to face it and treat it, the Tubercuclosis! I told them I wanted to see Dr. Mugisha. The man directed me to room 8. I met an elderly lady doctor at the hospital whose name I have sadly forgotten. I told her straight away that I had TB. She was humble and listened. She wanted to know what made me so sure? I explained my story. She sent me to the laboratory for my sputum to be tested. Some minutes later, she called me back to her office. She explained that my chest was clear as crystal. There were no chest infections and I didn’t have TB! ! We were mesmerized! She then immediately sent me for a chest X-ray. It was my first time. I had heard that such rays were dangerous but I wanted this ‘thing’ known. I obeyed every instruction of the technician. All my upper clothes off, my back facing him about 10 meters afar, he did what he did best, reassuring me that the rays would not harm me. He finished and Ruth and I waited. An hour or so later, my ‘mother’ doctor called. I went in to her office. She showed me the X-ray film and gently interpreted it to me. She said I had Cardiomegaly. The word was as big as I have just spelled it! I looked. “Lydia, ” she patted my shoulder, “this is a condition that means that your heart is enlarged. As you can see here,” she pointed at the film, “your heart margins are bulged outwards.” I was lost in thought for a second, I was reminiscing…..So Dr. Mugisha had been right all along….He was indeed an expert! Only a stethoscope and he had figured it out! He was momentarily my hero! “Lydia,” my lady doctor brought me back to her, “you need to go to the Heart Institute at Mulago Hospital the first thing tomorrow morning for further tests to ascertain the cause of your heart’s enlargement and get treated immediately.” She wrote down the referral letter…Same things I had heard and seen a year. before….. If only I had listened to Dr. Mugisha then! She handed the referral to me. I thanked her with a
big smile and left her office. I met Ruth at the waiting bay and gave her a quick explanation. She nodded understandingly. We were very hungry. We walked back to the hostel. I was now determined, convinced, ready for whatever was ahead of me. An X-ray had given some light…My church remained my closest friend. I remained a year behind my colleagues in class.
Lydia felt like the doubting Thomas in the Bible. She had seen with her own eyes the problem and now she believed! Her open heart surgery was done successfully on September 5, 2012 in a ‘small’ Missionary Hospital-Tenwek Hospital in Rift Valley, Kenya. She had a valve replaced. Although it took awhile for Lydia to regain her strength healing came. The big thing for her was to find out what the problem was. Once she grasped the problem and believed the diagnosis she was able to prepare herself for what was ahead. Although it was a tough road she was on board with what needed to be done.
Today Lydia couldn’t be happier. She has energy she never dreamed she could have! She didn’t get her degree from the university, yet has found favor from God as she is employed as an administrator at one of the universities in Rwanda! She is able to serve her God and be a light to others because of the encouragement she is able to provide. A big burden has been lifted from her (literally a load off of her chest) and she is so grateful! She encourages people to not ignore their physical condition, but to seek help and get to the bottom of their problem. The Bible verse “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32, certainly applies to her life and attitude today!
Lydia’s plight reminds me of where we all are or were. Something was or is spiritually wrong in our lives. Something was or is terribly wrong with us and only by embracing the reality and accepting the diagnosis can we find healing. Lydia had a change of heart. She rejected the first diagnosis from Dr. Mugisha and lived with the consequences of that rejection. Only when she had more trouble and was given a second opinion did she discover the truth he conveyed. Perhaps you have rejected God’s salvation plan in the past. Perhaps you are ashamed of the life you are now living. No matter where you have been God is there for your healing. Maybe the scars that life has caused you are painful. You will not forget the pain but God will give you peace and a helpful heart to those going down the same path. At first after the surgery Lydia detested her scars. Now she has had a change of heart. “I love my scars, they tell a story”, she proclaims “They tell my story better and clearer than none could.” “That I am a fighter, a warrior, a survivor, an over-comer and a story teller.” Let me add one more word that Lydia left out. She is an inspiration and lights up a room with her smile! Now she puts her whole heart into all that she does for God’s glory!
A few days ago Lydia shared this thought on her face book. It seemed to sum up her journey not only for the week but through her illness too! “This has been a great week for me. Though I had down moments as a result of the demise of a loved one, it has been so clear to me that joy is not the absence of pain, but the presence of God through it all.
The following quote was taken from Lydia’s facebook page to inspire her and others!
“Recently I’ve been learning that life comes down to this: God is in everything. Regardless of what difficulties I am experiencing at the moment, or what things aren’t as I would like them to be, I look at the circumstances and say, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me?””