There has always been a big debate on whether journalists should get psychological help after they do a tough story; or if they should accept it as an occupational hazard and move on.
Honestly, I don’t know the answer.
One of the most traumatizing stories I ever covered was when we went to cover a story in a hospice – a place for the palliation of terminally ill or seriously sick patients symptoms.
We walked in a single file to fit the narrow corridors that led to the room where the patients were. There were women with cancer, men in their last stages of AIDS, children battling terminal diseases…
People struggling with their ailing bodies.
I was accompanied by more than 10 doctors and other health stakeholders. The place had a pungent smell of disinfectant, the kind that we used to wash toilets in my high school.
There was a priest, dressed in a white rob standing next to an emaciated child who was being held by a woman to help him sit upright. The priest took some form of oil and made the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The woman holding the child closed her eyes .
There were groans of pain, a baby’s cry of pain, a mother’s despair…
The whole world on someone’s shoulder…
Humanity and their failing bodies.
One of the kids was squatting on the floor, vomiting. The doctor said it’s the side effects of chemotherapy. The impact of his body shaking from the nausea jerked him from the squatting position, and he fell onto his own vomit….
There was a bald woman -In her last stages of breast cancer…she was clutching her head yelling:
“My body feels painful”
Her teeth were clenched so tight, I could see small veins form on her forehead…
Oh, the waterfall on her fragile eyelashes.
“Mwangi…Mwangi…Mwangi….” She called out to no one in particular.
Her voice echoed over and over into the depth of my soul…
A nurse held her down and injected her with something.
She tried to fight, but the drug took effect immediately, and she was calm…a distant look on her face.
She stared blankly into space.
A patient groaned and turned.
A child tried crying… but the only sound that came was a weak cry that sounded more like a mournful howl.
I scribbled on my notebook.
I interviewed the head of Hospice and Palliative care in Kenya.
“You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die…”
That’s what they live by. That is their mantra…
The priest made a sign of the cross on the air…One of the patients had his hands on his chest…the only thing humanity can do when death stands close…to try and embrace the divine.
When the land beyond beckons close, the only thing humanity can do is to try and grasp all they can about God, because down here, they are no longer sure of their next breath…
There was a boy in his late teenage whose mother held so close being escorted to the bathroom. His whole body shook, he shivered – one painful step after the other. One failing foot after the other…I fixed my gaze on the floor, I couldn’t look. One of the doctors offered to help the woman, so the two of them held him…then he lifted both feet off the ground and swung like a baby. He just hang on their arms because he couldn’t move his next foot any more…pain was written all over his face.
I stopped writing… I was vacant of words. I was empty of the right descriptive words.
I LOST BITS OF MY RELIGION!
The pain… !
One of the patients was lying on his back, breathing so slowly, taking in painful air…his wife stood next to him, touching his arm, his eyes were closed delicately, as if in a prayer…
Not a groan. Not a sound.
I grabbed a painkiller from my handbag and threw it at the back of my throat, without water, to relieve the headache that was forming on the left side of my head. The smell of the disinfectant rose.
The woman with breast cancer was still seated on her bed, staring blankly into space by the time we were leaving… a part of me remained there.
Am scared to think about what happened to those patients.
I died, a thousand little deaths in that hospice.