Nursing Likoni raids victims devastated me
On August 13, 1997, a rag-tag band of men toting guns and other crude weapons raided Likoni, in the mainland south of Mombasa, and unleashed terror to police and innocent civilians.
During the politically-instigated clashes, more than 100 people died, women were raped, houses torched and businesses looted in the deadly terror never before witnessed.
It is during this time that Miriam Wambua, who had worked as a nurse at the Coast Provincial General Hospital (CPGH) for nine years, encountered her most challenging experience when she found herself on the frontline, attending to those injured in the skirmishes.
For 32 years, Miriam has worked tirelessly to save lives on her line of duty as a nurse in Mombasa.
She was born in 1963 in Kangundo, Machakos county, and later—after acquiring her secondary school certificate from Mule High School, Machakos—she developed love for medicine.
Her ambition, however, landed her in nursing and joined Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) in Nakuru for a certificate course between 1984 and 1987.
After graduating, she was posted at the Kinango District Hospital in Kwale county where she worked for a while before being transferred to Mombasa.
Mariam was posted at CPGH in 1988 as a nurse in the theatre section. In 2002, she acquired a diploma at KMTC Mombasa.
So, on this normal working day in 1997, Miriam was on duty when ambulance sirens rented the air, as badly injured patients were brought in from Likoni with deep cuts and gunshots. Some were pronounced dead on arrival.
Patients, she recalls, flooded the facility in dire need of emergency services. To her, this was the most trying time of her career, as she had to content with a unique working environment.
“The nursing career is not a walk in the park; I have seen it all,” she says, adding that doctors and nurses fought hard to save lives.
She recalls her most traumatising experience when a pregnant lady with a fractured uterus succumbed as she was attending to her.
“Abdominal obstructions are the most cases we get to patients that have been referred and many succumb due to delays during referral because you can’t reverse,” says Miriam.
At some point, she felt like quitting her job. But she recalled she had a career and lives to save.
She has worked in the theatre section at CPGH for more than 23 years. She has witnessed many operations that have been successful.
“There are many frustrating things like when you know what you need and is not supplied, and you feel insufficient not because of the knowledge, but lack esstentials,” she says.
“There is no blood because there in none in the blood banks, this situation makes one feel like leaving the job and go home.
I have seen surgeons frustrated not because they don’t have experience to deliver, but because they have no supplies of equipment they need to save the life,” she adds.
All said and done, however, she recalls the most successful surgical operation she experienced was during the 1997 Kaya Bombo clashes, when a desperate case was brought at the hospital with the brains daggling from the skull. After a successful surgery by the doctors, the patient’s life was saved.
“We were brought very desperate cases, some of them we went to theatre not knowing whether the people would come out alive. They came out alive and this made us get even more motivated,” she says.
She says CPGH has a deficit of about 150 nurses. Out of the 600 nurses in Mombasa, the facility has about 450 nurses both in the High Dependency and Intensive Care units and general wards.
“It pains me to see nurses struggle to deliver and there is very little support. The nurses work three weeks and rest for one week.
“This makes them so tired and may compromise the productivity. If these issues can be addressed, we can meet the patients demand,” said Miriam.
Nothing to celebrate
She feels that as world marked the International Nurses Day on May 12, nurses in Kenya had little to celebrate about.
“Shortage of nurses is a headache; insufficient supplies of basic equipment and delayed salaries and allowances demotivate health workers.
“If the government can handle this amicably, people can serve to the fullest,” she says, adding that Covid-19 has presented a challenge similar to the Kaya Bombo crisis for nurses.
“We have lots of challenges, but we have to save lives despite being exposed to infection.
Our families are also at the threat of being infected because at the end of the day, we are forced to integrate with them at home, therefore putting their lives at risk,” she says.
Among other challenges are the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), over-working and poor remuneration.
“Many of the nurses in the front line do not feel appreciated. We are working for long hours with no extra allowance; our salaries, despite being meager, are always paid late.
“But we have to continue working because nursing is a calling; we cannot abandon patients at this moment,” she adds.
Miriam, who is also the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) Mombasa chapter chair says unless welfare of healthn workers is addressed, health care system in the country will not improve.
“We are asking the government to ensure we don’t risk our families. If it’s possible, it can create a quarantine place for us to avoid taking the disease to our families.
All nurses in the Covid-19 unit at the CPGH are the front liners,” Miriam concludes.