29 September 2004

Kenya: My Life As a Diabetic Teenager


Nairobi — "Every morning before I have my breakfast, I have to measure insulin in a syringe and inject myself in the thigh, stomach or buttocks. I avoid the spot I injected the previous evening otherwise I might develop septic wounds all over my body.

This is one of the first lessons you learn when you are diagnosed with diabetes - you must manage it yourself.

Injecting myself twice a day has become part of my life, a ritual I cannot do without. I have been doing it for seven years. The day I was diagnosed with diabetes pops up in my mind each time I hold the syringe in readiness for my daily dose of insulin. Initially, I used to wonder why I was suffering from a disease I did not understand but now I even find myself humming a song as I push the contents of the syringe into my body. I have accepted that I am diabetic and my only concern now is managing it properly.

Being under medication is much better than the frequent, splitting headaches I used to suffer from before I was diagnosed with the disease. And whenever I got scratched while playing, my wounds took forever to heal. As a result, my mother, Anne Wanjiku, took me to St Joseph's Dispensary in Kangemi, a clinic at the primary school I was attending.

The nurse took blood samples and asked me to go for the results the next day. I was then 10 and in Standard Four. When the nurse told us that I was diabetic and referred us to Kenyatta National Hospital for further assessment, my mother was thoroughly shocked. t was barely four years since my father, Peter Muturi, had died. She thought that I, her only child, was also going to die.

At Kenyatta, I was admitted for two weeks and then given a packet of Lente, an injectable drug that I was to use twice daily when I was discharged. I was assured that with the medication, I would be free of diabetes by the time I turned 18.

But three years later, I was amazed to learn that diabetes is actually a lifelong condition. I thought I was going to die but my mother talked me through it and assured me that I would be all right. Her assurances have helped me face each day with confidence. Then I met Dr Kirtida Acharya (of the Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Centre, KDMI) in 2001 and she explained to me the nature of my condition. She said that the problem is with my pancreas, which does not produce insulin as it should. Giving myself a dose of insulin with the knowledge that I am helping my body perform its functions better makes me look forward to doing it. I don't see it as a burden but a necessity.

I came to fully appreciate the enormity of my condition and the meaning of life and death last year when I was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital for two months in a coma, oscillating between life and death. Three times I 'died' and three times I was taken to the Intensive Care Unit and revived.

During those two months, I wasn't thinking of death but life and longed for the day I would walk out of the hospital and lead a normal life like my friends despite my being diabetic.

My coma had nothing to do with skipping my medication or anything like that. I learnt that my blood sugar level was very high and this had been caused by over-eating. I have since learnt to regulate my food intake each day because I don't want to wind up in the ICU again. So now when I wake up in the morning, I have a light breakfast before taking my first dose of insulin.

After breakfast, I help my mother with the cleaning and washing and other chores she may assign me. I don't have much else to do even though I completed a course in carpentry last year; but have not found a place to practice my skills. I read a lot in my free time - I enjoy the Chicken Soup series and also read a lot of literature about my condition. In the afternoons, I watch football live on TV or play with my friends.

The darkest part of my day is when I see children coming home from school. That is when I think of my classmates at Kerugoya Boys, who are now in Form Three. When I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, I scored 360 marks out of 500 and although I knew my mother, a vegetable vendor, could not raise my school fees, I worked hard in school. I'm always dreaming of a miracle happening that would enable me to go back to school. I want to be an educronologist (specialist in diabetes) and that is what I think of as I inject my second dose of insulin before retiring to bed after 10 pm.

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