KAIKAI KICKER: COVID-19, my late brother Maurice and our lessons

KAIKAI KICKER: COVID-19, my late brother Maurice and our lessons

I wish to share a personal, painful but insightful experience of the last few weeks.

Exactly three weeks ago tonight, we buried my elder brother Maurice Kaikai, an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and until his death, the county Attorney of Kajiado County.

My brother Maurice died of COVID-19 and joins the statistics of the country’s COVID-19 deaths that, at the moment, stand at 585.

My personal agony and that of the family over the loss continues but the lessons shareable with everyone else out there can and should be shared here now.

First, there is a grave amount of stigma around COVID-19. Whether it’s urban or rural areas, there is a substantial number of Kenyans who talk of COVID-19 in hushed tones. In my experience, two people, one an urban resident and another a rural resident, asked me a nearly synchronised question, “Ero, is it just a disease or that one?” “That one” in Nairobi and Osinoni village, Transmara sub-county, is the code name for coronavirus or COVID-19.

There are Kenyans who don’t mention the disease by name, yet 6 months into the ravaging pandemic, fellow Kenyans, we must get straight with each other on COVID-19. I saw it with my own eyes, COVID-19 is a very aggressive respiratory disease. I watched in agony as my brother struggled for air. I was pained to see the stream of high flow oxygen hitting his face but translating to little help for his struggling lungs.

Fellow Kenyans, COVID-19 aggressively goes for your oxygen. For the frenzied stigma squads out there, I state this for your sake, COVID-19 affects your breathing system. It targets your oxygen and not your private parts. I state this again for the avoidance of doubt and with a lot of restraint; it is your breath, your oxygen – not your balls.

Second shareable observation, COVID-19 is real and cannot be more real than this. In Kenya, it’s common to hear people doubting whether the disease is a reality. Some question the numbers released by the ministry and others even calling the death statistics, low. But what constitutes low? When each life counts, 585 dead is a lot too many of our fellow citizens, whether they are my brother or victims whose names and family I have never known.

Third, I was more puzzled than enlightened by a rather brief but highly dramatized part of the Ministry of Health graveside protocol. A nervous Public Health Officer led a team of PPE clad personnel to carry the casket from the hearse to the grave. They lower the body and disappear just as fast as they appeared. On this I made no conclusion, just baffled by what appeared to me like a bizarre show at least until it is explained. In my view, the zeal and the resources should either be explained or redirected to more deserving places like hospitals.

My fourth learning from the experiences of the last few weeks is, our country is gifted with some of the best medical personnel anywhere in the world. In the course of battling to save Maurice’s life, I met doctors who are unquestionably on top of their game. Yes, COVID-19 is a new challenge to medical staff world over but the doctors, nurses and support staff that I met in the course of those agonising days, renewed my faith in the might of the Kenyan human resources component.

Fellow Kenyans, our medical teams can match any of their counterparts elsewhere in the world and they are combating COVID-19 with diligence, commitment and I must add the agility that goes with the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. To all those doctors and nurses, support staff and ambulance paramedics, I thank you for the great job you do saving lives of Kenyans.

As I make these observations about our medical teams, it pains me to see some of them complain about poor working conditions that include, among other things, lack of PPEs.  I can’t help imagining that the doctors threatening to go on strike or nurses that resort to a go slow could include the fantastic professionals that tried to help save the life of my brother Maurice. In fact, I would find it insulting of their honour that they would have to go through a strike or go slow just so that they can be able to save another Kenyan life.

Fellow Kenyans, and especially government; let us please give our medical personnel the support, the peace of mind and the professional space they need to perform their noble life-saving duties.

My final observation the last few weeks, I cherish our shared humanity as Kenyans. Times of tragedy and pain brings out the best in us. And to friends, colleagues and countless other kind souls, I thank you all for your sympathies. This day three weeks ago you gave my brother Maurice a decent send off in a deeply caring, sincerely felt and typically genuine Kenyan spirit.

Thank you, again. That is my kicker.