An Unexpected Blessing

Innocent’s Story Part 2 – Written by Cabral Opiyo

So far we have seen Innocent going out of his way to help people he doesn’t really know even as he suffers the consequences of losing his job and not being able to afford the medication, consultation, doctor check-ups, and oncologist visits for his illness. Before everything transpired, Innocent had been a caregiver to the person he loved above anyone else in his life, his wife. Innocent took me down memory lane on his life as a caregiver to his wife and children even before he became a community caregiver.

It was the year 2000, the new millennium had dawned bright and full of hope for Innocent and his little family consisting of his wife and second baby who had been born in October, they couldn’t be happier. Yet, the baby was sickly and they spent countless hours in and out of hospitals conducting tests and check-ups trying to find out what ailed their little one. Until one doctor suggested they do an HIV test, a test that was costly back then but they managed to scramble together resources and had the test done.

Innocent went to pick the results a few days later and the nurse gave him the bad news, their child had HIV. Suddenly, Innocent’s perfect world was plunged into turmoil and he could barely fathom the results he had just been handed. He vehemently fought the result and insisted to the nurse that the results were faulty and he totally refused to accept them. On his way home on the ferry with the huge envelope tucked into his pocket, contemplating his woes and where to start from, someone pick-pocketed the envelope from his pocket thinking it was something valuable, everything that could go wrong was going wrong for Innocent. A little while later, they got tested together with his wife and he was negative while she was positive.

That is when the first miracle in a stream of miracles according to Innocent happened to him and they were sent a guardian angel. Innocent had thought through the whole situation and when his wife was also found to be positive, he finally had a person to lay the blame on and he strongly contemplated leaving the marriage and even at times, thoughts of suicide crossed his mind. The stigma attached to HIV was at an all-time high back then and he couldn’t see a way forward. The one idea he had back then that dominated most of his thoughts was that he, together with his wife and child should jump into the ocean while on the ferry during a crossing, things were that bad. At home, they were constantly quarreling and there was no love in the house anymore, he blamed his wife for their son’s status and sadness was the constant theme at home. Until Dr. Esther entered their lives.

Doctor Esther insisted that Innocent and his wife attend counseling sessions where she counseled them and advised that what they needed at that difficult time was each other and they needed to stay united for their children’s sake. Dr. Esther was with them every step of the way, during the tests and check-ups and she made Innocent give her his word that he would stick it out with his family and not do anything rash; she was always handy with advice, financial assistance and presence. Dr Esther even chipped in to take care of a few bills and made sure they had a balanced diet, even ensuring that the baby had the correct food which at the time was very expensive. They lost their child in 2004 and it was one of the most devastating moments in Innocent’s life.

The dark moments wouldn’t last and later that year, Innocent’s wife got pregnant again and gave birth to an HIV-negative baby, and of course, they named the child Esther after the generous doctor. Meanwhile, Innocent had to fully turn his attention to taking care of his wife and try to keep her from the edge, she was depressed and nothing would cheer her up. His wife insisted that she had nothing to live for on earth without their son and Innocent had to consciously help her out of a very dark place. He made a decision to only look forward not assigning any blame and started to love his wife deliberately afresh and unconditionally and it worked.  Innocent made sure she took her medicine, kept her diet balanced and healthy, and made sure that she attended her doctor appointments. He had to be present for his wife mentally and emotionally and he assures me that it was one of the heaviest burdens he has ever had to bear but he did it gladly, he had made a promise after all.

Innocent took over the more intimate actions of being a caregiver and would wash his wife’s clothing, help her bathe, and clean up alongside other more general household duties including cooking, washing, ironing and taking care of the kids. He basically took over the running of the house alongside taking care of his ailing wife and his job as a security guard.

Innocent’s third and fourth-born children were never breastfed and they had to get the very expensive store-bought milk, another facet where Dr. Esther chipped in making sure they never lacked. Innocent even switched his schedule so he would go to his work as a night guard instead of daytime because he did house duties during the day. It wasn’t a problem when he worked at a hotel because at some point at night, he would sneak away for a bit of a power nap before continuing his duties and it was unnoticeable because the other guards would cover for him. When he was transferred to a solitary guard position at a residence far from civilization, he had to stay alert all night. Once he was caught napping by the elderly Italian homeowner and he pretended to be praying, his heart thudding against his chest because he knew how close he was to losing his job which he badly needed, he didn’t.

“I don’t know how she survived seven years without any ARV’s which were not readily available back then as they are now, we just followed the doctor’s advice and ate a balanced and nutritious diet for immunity,” Innocent wonders quietly.

Eventually Innocent moved to Nairobi and finally, his wife got proper medical care and was put on a proper ARV drug routine. Again, he switched his work schedule to daytime so he could take care of the rapidly growing last born at night. They got a house help whom Innocent meticulously taught how to take care of their kids and his wife including how to feed, change and wash his bottles. Innocent’s last born son would wake up crying at night but instead of asking for his mother, he would ask for his dad, a relationship that has flourished and remains as tight to this day.

“These things were easy to do because I learned them via my upbringing where I learned how to fetch water, cook, and fetch firewood so I just transitioned into doing them in my house. I also like doing things for myself and my wife knows I can do house chores very well, in fact even better than she can,” Innocent adds with a smile.

There are plenty of lessons Innocent learned from his time as a caregiver to his wife and by extension his family. He learned to do things like no one else can do them for you, because no one else can do them better. He also learned that whenever the person you’re taking care of needs you to go the extra mile if you can then do it because no one really likes to be at the mercy of others. Finally, he learned first-hand that bonds are tightened and the immunity of the patient is boosted when someone takes care of them versus when in isolation.

It has been twenty-one years since the most difficult year of Innocent’s life and yet the man who contemplated hurling himself into the ocean together with his family is still standing. He says that it’s being forged through fire that has made him such a source of comfort to others and a blessing to many. His determination to help, empathy to strangers and self-sacrificing nature has been an unexpected blessing to not only his family but a whole community.

2 comments on “An Unexpected Blessing

  1. Judz says:

    Wow! I thought Part 1 was something. This is amazing & compelling knowing that that this is not only someone’s real story that can go to a biography, and not just a story that he (they) have persevered through and beat!
    Thankful for Innocent. May his story be applicable in our lives to just stay strong.. just a while longer. Just a bit.

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