Written by Cabral Opiyo

“I was a normal boy living with his grandparents while in high school. Most things were normal except for my grandfather’s chronic alcoholism and the fact that he occasionally beat my grandmother. Most of my family had sort of accepted the situation and turned their backs on him, but I was not so sure he wasn’t ill.

So one day during his infrequent bouts of soberness I asked him how come he drunk so much. His answer gave insight into how this illness had started. He said that he was raised by his godparents and sent to a missionary school where he would hide and get drunk with his friends because neither his godparents nor the school would tolerate such behaviour. He just never stopped.”

Mwangi is soft-spoken and the affection he feels for his grandpa is evident as he documents those early years. There’s no judgment in his voice either, he just tells his story as it is, facts about a sick man who needed help but was too stubborn to get it and grew hostile while at it.

“He used to come home shouting and singing, waking the whole family up. I used to wonder how someone can lose control so much and it’s that curiosity that led me to believe that he was unwell and needed help. From six o’clock in the evening, he would invite his friends over and they would drink until 2 a.m. in the morning, that was the type of lifestyle he led.”

So in 2013 when he started having the shakes, loss of appetite, having flashbacks and frequently spoke of seeing himself dying, Mwangi stepped up to help. He talks about how he helped his grandfather walk outside to bask in the sun and sit with him for hours regaling him with stories to keep his mind off of his depression and physical state.

“I helped him do a lot of things and even when he lost bladder control, I used to guide him upstairs, fetch clean clothes for him and let him dress himself. Much as I would have liked to do more, the Kikuyu tribe has customs that must be followed and I don’t think he would’ve appreciated me seeing him undressed.

He lost some of his memory and I urged my aunties and mother to visit him often and bring their friends to help piece back his memory. The only people he remembered are the people he saw frequently, one time he even forgot who my mum was and asked who the stranger sleeping in his house and using his supplies was.

I remember he used to stand at the window and call me loudly, ‘Mwangi! Mwangi!’ and I would run to him to find him pointing outside the gate and claiming that his Red Peugeot 504 was parked there. I would indulge him and guide him outside the gate to see for himself. Of course, there was no car, he had sold it decades earlier but he kept having hallucinations about it.

My grandmother tried all manner of thing to try and deal with his drinking. He was a church elder and a Sacco founder and we urged his drinking buddies to try and keep him away from the bottle, they failed spectacularly.

In 2014, when I was away in school his health deteriorated and he was rushed to the hospital. For a while there it was touch and go but he recovered slightly but as a substitute for drinking, he grew quarrelsome with his fellow patients.

He was brought home but his memory was now gone and he only recognised my grandmother and me and he slept a lot during the day. He barely slept at night because he was obsessed with security and he would walk around all night locking and relocking doors all over the house.

My grandmother had been a nurse and she did her best to take care of him but he was a difficult patient. She would speak to him for long periods and remind him of their children and the times they had shared so far in their lives together to try and jog his memory.”

During his recovery period, Mwangi was the closest ally his grandfather had and he would only eat when told to do so by Mwangi.

“Whenever grandma fixed him a meal, he totally refused to eat claiming that she was trying to poison him so she could inherit his properties. I had to step in and convince him to eat and serve his food for him personally like I would a child. He never ate any meal that didn’t have meat either, that would set him off.

He used to joke, ‘kuna yenye umenifichia?’ (Is there any alcohol you’ve hidden for me?)

We joked a lot when we spoke and when I’d tell my grandmother about it in the evening, she couldn’t believe it because he was silent and grumpy when everyone else was around. We were that close.”

You can hear the smile in his voice as he speaks about his time with his grandfather and Mwangi adds that he avoided indulging in any drug-taking activity while in school because of the condition he saw his grandfather in.

“When I was in the school of course I worried about the state of affairs at home but my mother’s presence there helped ease the worry.  That time taking care of my grandfather helped me make my career choice. It helped me to recognise the signs of a patient in need of help.

I even categorised patients into three categories: the first who claim that they’re fine but are not at all fine, the second who know they’re not fine but do not mind staying as they are and the third who want help but are helpless to effect the changes needed.

As a nurse, I recognise these signs in patients and I gathered these observations from different stages of my grandfather’s illness.”

Mwangi is now in his first year of nursing school and he’s already done counselling in addition to his major and recently got a scholarship to further his studies. His ultimate dream is to join the Royal Navy and travel the world while doing what he does best, help people in need even if they don’t know it just yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *