A Fatal Cocktail

Shahada’s story part two – Written By Cabral Opiyo

Caregivers have to handle a lot more strain than the normal person can, mostly their immediate relationships with siblings, parents, spouses, children and friends bear the brunt of the work they have to do. This is the second story in a four part series of how Shahada’s relationships with her spouse, son, mother and in-laws unravelled one after the other as she tried to juggle being a caregiver and relation to all those people.  

Caregiver strain is multifaceted: its experience includes, but is not limited to, financial strain; family conflict, loss of freedom as well as effects on health (Taylor-Richardson et al., 2006) and Shahada experienced it all first hand when her mother was first diagnosed with kidney disease followed by bone marrow cancer closely followed by pneumonia.

Shahada was a young woman, married with a one and a half year old toddler and expecting another child in a few months in late 2016 when a cocktail of disasters struck. She was also the primary caregiver of her mother; her father worked thousands of kilometres away in Lodwar and her two younger brothers were both in boarding school, even when they were around there were certain aspects of care they could not give to their ailing mum anyway.

And thus, ever the optimist, Shahada took the plunge and went to stay with her mother back home to take care of her, a temporary situation she thought at the time, how wrong she would turn out to be. She left her marital home and job and fully concentrated her efforts on making sure her mother regained her health. The incessant, chronic back pains had been first diagnosed as kidney disease for which Shahada took her for dialysis every day in the morning at 5 a.m. to beat the prohibitive lines of Kenyans from far and wide clamouring for the same service.

Shahada exclaims that most days she barely had time to groom herself let alone take a shower in the morning, she would hop out of bed, fix a few strands of wayward hair, prepare breakfast for her mum and they would bolt. Most days, she did not take breakfast either, usually for a full day. When she took her mother for an MRI due to her worsening condition and the images showed a tumour, the oncologist confirmed that her mother had bone marrow cancer and it was spreading. Apart from the caregiving concerns, Shahada had to worry about the financial aspect of this new diagnosis and the stress further deepened.

It was about this time that Shahada’s husband started grumbling about her absence in their marital home. He could not understand why his heavily pregnant wife who was also the caregiver of his mother-in-law could not attend to his needs more often, it was a slight to his manhood and dignity. In short, Shahada’s husband wanted his wife where she belonged, back at home where a wife should be, taking care of her husband. Except, Shahada was having none of that nonsense and continued taking care of her mother while making a once weekly trip home to check in on her family and cook a week’s worth of food for her dissatisfied husband.

Shahada says with barely concealed contempt in her voice, “he used to come to my mum’s place during the weekend and sit sulking while my brothers and I took care of my mum, including carrying her up the stairs. He would not help in any way and would leave at times without having seen my mum.”

Their relationship deteriorated badly and they would fight constantly and this state of things soon came to the attention of her ailing mother when Shahada’s husband called his father-in-law demanding that his wife return home immediately. In short, Shahada’s husband was throwing a tantrum at his parents-in-law because Shahada wouldn’t give his juvenile claims time of day.

Shahada proceeds to give me a backstory of an interaction between her husband and her mother years before when her husband was badly ill and her mother took care of him without complaint. The bills at the hospital which was near his mother-in-law’s residence were prohibitively high and to reduce the cost, Shahada’s husband had been welcomed to stay at their place where a doctor would come to administer the necessary injections just to cut costs.

Shahada’s mother recalled the episode with wonder and pain in her voice, wondering why the son-in-law she cared for like her own son wasn’t willing to reciprocate. After becoming aware of the situation, she slipped further into depression increasing the stress Shahada had to deal with. She started feeling more peaceful when her husband did not come to visit, it was less drama and conflict would be avoided.

Until the rest of Shahada’s relationship with her in-laws who were close neighbours to her mother also unravelled. Her husband’s dad would come to visit regularly and speak to her ailing mother until his wife forbade him from visiting and the whole family’s relationship became strained. Family meetings about Shahada’s absence from her marital home were held and her husband sent text messages to her threatening her not to come home after a certain deadline expired.

It wasn’t just Shahada’s relationship with her in-laws and husband that suffered though, her mother was becoming increasingly abrasive against her. Once when she was driving her mother from hospital and decided on an alternative route due to traffic against her mum’s wishes, her mother burst out saying that her daughter no longer respected her opinions because she was ailing and couldn’t take care of herself. In another episode, when her mother was critically ill and was in a coma, she woke up, didn’t recognise the family and accused Shahada of wanting to kill her. She could do nothing about these outbursts as she knew they were frustrations being vented rather than any fault of her own.

At that point, Shahada was exhausted from being the primary caregiver for her mother; cleaning her, issuing clean diapers, emptying her catheter, administering medicine, taking her around for her dialysis and radiotherapy sessions and generally taking care of her mother. Added onto that, the financial strain, her mother’s deteriorating condition, her pregnancy and her misbehaving husband and in-laws it was overwhelming for the young woman.

She barely ate anymore and her haemoglobin blood count was 7, much lower than her ailing mother’s 11 and the doctors were concerned about her condition. Her mother’s condition meanwhile worsened until a full three day weekend when she did not eat anything and when admitted to hospital, the doctors gave up on her condition and were waiting for her to pass away. Shahada refused to take no for an answer and demanded for her mother to be fed via a tube and refused to leave the hospital until that was accomplished. Meanwhile, her husband had been texting her all weekend asking for her whereabouts and being unpleasant. He was to pick her up from the hospital and when she did not leave at the allotted time because she was making sure that her mother was fed, he removed her belongings from their car and drove off leaving her to confront the situation alone.

When she gave birth, her husband was nowhere to be found and she checked herself out of the hospital and took a taxi to her home where her family was gathered. She knew deep down that it was a bridge too far at that point but she had other things occupying her mind just then.

Even after her daughter was born, Shahada would disappear into the comfort the little girl gave her and she barely allowed anyone to carry or touch her daughter, she would sleep holding her daughter all night. She only later realised that through the whole ordeal and after, she had begun neglecting her son who also still needed her attention and affection.

So many of the relationships in Shahada’s life suffered as a result of being a caregiver through no fault of her own except for a lack of a strong support structure. Her relationship with her mother went to pieces because her mother would deflect her anger onto her as the nearest target, her son was caught in the crossfire of Shahada not knowing how to deal with all the pressures she was facing and her in-laws withdrew their support at a critical time further enabling their son’s behaviour. She separated from her husband and finally divorced him a few months later. Because of her pure intentions, caregiving had cost Shahada multiple relationships, a truly fatal cocktail.

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