Nick Wambugu: My Battle with Tuberculosis
My name is Nick Wambugu. I am 26 years. I am a primary school teacher at in a private school in Embu Town. I have been a TB survivor twice so far. My first encounter with the deadly disease was in 2012. I was in my final year at Ikuu Boys’ High school in Chuka. I remember going home for holidays during our second mid-term break and the moment my mother saw me, she almost dropped with shock. I was so emaciated that she could barely recognize me. I was coughing so hard and continuously that she insisted on rushing me to hospital. I was taken to Ishiara general hospital the same day where I was screened and tested for TB.
I was diagnosed with TB. It had affected me so much to a point that I only weighed 35 kgs at 18 years. I was immediately put on a six-month medication which I took under the guidance of my mum and the hospital clinic. I responded well to the medication and was able to sit for my final exams well. I completed my medication in February 2013 and the doctors once again subjected me to a sputum test which came out negative. I was so happy to learn that I was TB free and healthy again.
I later joined Rubate Teachers College in Chuka for a P1 course which I completed in July 2015 without any health issues. I got my first job as a volunteer in Nairobi where I worked for a month but had to quite due to unfavorable climatic condition as I was always suffering from colds and chest infections. I went back to Ishiara where I got another teaching job in a nearby private primary school but had to quit again due to chest issues.
I would get TB-like symptoms but which never showed up on testing. I was put on strong antibiotics which didn’t do any good. I was by then a school-based ECDE Diploma student waiting to sit for my final exam in December 2016. I graduated officially as a P1 teacher in June 2016 but I was in agony the whole time. I had shortness of breath issues and eventually began to experience some fluid-like movements and sounds in my chest.
My parents took me to a private hospital where I was diagnosed with serious anemia and recommended to take a chest Xray which was blurred on my left lung. The doctor further recommended a chest CT scan which the results showed I had pneumothorax. My left lung had totally collapsed. That explained the fluid sounds and movements in my chest. I was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) to have the fluid drained. I was in so much shock and denial at that moment. I had so many unanswered questions.
On 11th October 2016, I was admitted in ward 7C at KNH. The procedure to remove fluid in my chest was very painful but I took it all. They drained a whole five liters of pus on insertion of the chest tube. I was speechless. Having a foreign body, a 12 cm pipe inside my weak chest was the most painful and uncomfortable experience. What scared me most was how the pus kept draining endless. I started losing hope of leaving the ward. It was my first time ever on a hospital bed. Admitted.
Days passed, still draining. upon the test of pus content, high traces of TB were found. That meant I had to remain in my isolated room and take TB medication for six good months again. It dawned on me that I would not be leaving the hospital sooner than I had expected. I only hoped I would be out by December to sit for my Diploma exams. I kept on reading and taking my medicines. My worst moments were when the stitches around my chest tube wore off and I had to get a new tube. A painful experience and fresh stitching. Pain was becoming a daily thing for me.
In the hands of a Surgeon: My friends and family would visit daily and that at least gave me some hope. One morning the doctor told me that my case would only be solved by removing my left lung to save the right lung. I had never imagined myself in the hands of a surgeon. At first, I refused but they gave me time to make up my mind. I decided I would rather die naturally than let anyone open up my chest especially on the left side where my heart lies. A major doctors’ strike almost made me clap in joy because I was already tired of the tube reinsertions into my lungs.
My greatest heartbreak was when the strike extended for over two months. I knew I couldn’t sit for exams that December. I weighed my chances and researched a lot on google about surgery. I knew it was risky but I decided to take my chances. I wasn’t getting better anyway. I had already drained 20 plus liters of pus. I had made friends with almost everyone in ward 7C due to my long stay there. Among them was a clinical officer who advised me to move and have my surgery done in a private hospital. By then, my left chest side was evidently sunken and smaller than my right side. An issue I still have to date.
I took the advice seriously and thank my parents for acting quickly. The clinician also introduced us to a good chest surgeon who organized for surgery at Coptic Hospital in Nairobi. I was transferred to Coptic at the end of January 2017 on a Friday. Being a private hospital, it had better facilities and services. I was treated well as I waited for my surgery. My surgeon was also so nice. He took me through everything I needed to know about the procedure and most importantly, he assured me that all would be well.
Three days later I was in theater. The surgery being on my left side wasn’t a piece of cake but all was successful. The only agonizing part was some breathing difficulties and intense pain especially when I coughed. I was glad I made it out alive and best of all my lung problem solved.
My surgeon kept a close eye on me for a few days and ensured I was okay. The best moment was being discharged on 4th February 2017. I felt like I was leaving prison after many years.
I completed my medication well from home and attended all my follow up clinics and was declared fully healed of TB and lung collapse issues. I was also able to sit for my ECDE Diploma final exams, passed well and graduated. My friends and family were so supportive and happy to see me back in good health. I took the rest of 2017 off from teaching and any form of work to ensure I recovered fully. I however still experience shortness of breath and some smoke, smell, durst and chalk dust allergies. I exercise a lot but I am still unable to do strenuous activities.
Having to survive on one lung and deal with chalk dust on a daily basis has been my greatest challenge and achievement so far. Any minor chest difficulty means shortness of breath, breathing issues, airway congestions, wheezing and frequent absenteeism from work to seek medical assistance. I end up spending a lot on medication and I literary can’t do without medicines in the house. I am however thankful to have fought and won my battle with TB twice and I don’t intend to stop.