When my mum became paralysed from the waist down as a result of poorly done radiotherapy to target the cancer that had metastasised to her spine from her breast, her husband moved out and her sister moved in.
My mum did not have a good marriage with her husband as he was very abusive towards her. I wrote about the physical abuse she endured in a post for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women that you can read here. In addition to being physically abusive, he was also verbally and emotionally abusive towards my mum. If all that was not bad enough, when my mum was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer her husband did not often visit her, either at home or at the hospital during one of her many many many admissions between 2014 and 2015. He also hardly shared their marital bed with her during the seven months she was undergoing chemotherapy, and after she became paralysed in late 2014 he never slept in their bed ever again. My mum would say, sometimes jokingly, other times with pain in her voice, “yaani I got sick and this man moved out of the house completely.”
But on the flip side, when my mum became paralysed my aunt (her big sister) moved in with us for almost two months to take care of my mum. She slept on a mattress on the floor of my mum’s bedroom and in that time my aunt helped my mum to bathe and dress, she changed her adult diapers, she made sure my mum took her medications … basically anything and everything my mum could not do for herself, her big sister was there for her. But that is a story for another today. For today we are exploring the nurse aides.
Merriam-Webster defines a nurse aide as a health-care worker usually trained and often certified to assist nurses (as in a hospital or nursing home) in providing basic patient care and services (such as bathing, feeding, or measuring vital signs of patients).
The first nurse aide we ever had in November and December 2014 was only available during the day. But that was just fine by us as we had been taking care of my mum by ourselves for some time and so we were relieved to have any sort of assistance. It was also what we could afford at the time as insurance only began catering for my mum’s home-based care in 2015. That nurse aide was our introduction to home-based care meaning we had no previous experience we could lean on to gauge the quality of her work. So we believed she was a good enough nurse aide, until my mum developed bedsores.
Bedsores develop when you lie or sit in one position too long and the weight of your body against the surface of the bed or chair cuts off blood supply. My mum would be on a wheelchair in one position all day, only to lie in bed in one position all night because the dumbass nurse aide did not tell us that when my mum sleeps at night she needs to be turned every two to three hours. So for two months, once I put my mum to bed at night she would sleep in that same position until morning when I would check up on her before getting ready for work.
According to WebMD there are four main stages of bedsores:
- Stage 1 – This is the mildest stage. These pressure sores only affect the upper layer of your skin.
Symptoms: Pain, burning, or itching are common symptoms. The spot may also feel different from the surrounding skin: firmer or softer, warmer or cooler.
- Stage 2 – This happens when the sore digs deeper below the surface of your skin.
Symptoms: Your skin is broken, leaves an open wound, or looks like a pus-filled blister.
- Stage 3 – These sores have gone through the second layer of skin into the fat tissue.
Symptoms: The sore looks like a crater and may have a bad odor. It may show signs of infection: red edges, pus, odor, heat, and/or drainage. The tissue in or around the sore is black if it has died.
- Stage 4 – These sores are the most serious. Some may even affect your muscles and ligaments.
Symptoms: The sore is deep and big. Skin has turned black and shows signs of infection — red edges, pus, odor, heat, and/or drainage. You may be able to see tendons, muscles, and bone.
In addition to the 4 main stages for bed sores, there are 2 others:
“Unstageable” is when you can’t see the bottom of the sore, so you don’t know how deep it is. Your doctor can only stage it once it’s cleaned out.
“Suspected Deep Tissue Injury” (SDTI). This is when the surface of the skin looks like a Stage 1 or 2 sore, but underneath the surface it’s a Stage 3 or 4.
I believe my mum developed either unstageable bedsores or a Suspected Deep Tissue Injury and by the time we realised what was happening it was too little too late. She had to be admitted to hospital and one of the first things the doctor did was to clean up the bedsores. That was when we discovered that beneath the surface of the bedsore on her left hip, the damage was so extensive that you could see all the way through to the bone. Seeing that white bone as well as the tendons and muscles broke my heart and it is an image I will never forget for as long as I live.
By the time my mum was seeing a doctor the bedsores had brought on a whole host of complications, one of them being pneumonia, and so she was admitted in hospital for 20 days. If I remember correctly my mum was admitted on a Saturday and the following day on Sunday some of her sisters and nieces paid her a visit. The hospital brought her lunch while we were there and as she was trying to feed herself soup her hand was shaking so badly that by the time the spoon reached her mouth there was hardly any soup in it. I will never forget the look of shock and fear on my cousin’s face as she saw my mum’s hand tremble so violently. It was a shock to all of us to understand just how badly the bedsores had fucked her up.
My mum needed surgery to fix the damage caused by the bedsores on both hips. The damage on her left hip was significantly worse than her right hip so the doctors performed a skin graft on the left hip using skin from her thighs. They cut off a substantial amount of flesh for the procedure and so for the rest of her life my mum’s thighs were distinctly uneven.
After 20 nerve-wracking days my mum was finally discharged from the hospital but she still had to have her wounds cleaned and bandages changed every other day. It took many months but my mum finally healed from the bedsores, though after that she became deeply paranoid and terrified about developing another bedsore.
After that dumbass nurse aide we got a new nurse aide called Ruth who eventually became my mum’s primary nurse aide during the day. She was recommended to us by the hospital as she is a specialist in wound care and would be able to take care of my mum’s bedsores as they healed. However if for one reason or another Ruth was unavailable, someone else would be sent to cover her shift. One day one of those substitute nurse aides fucked up so badly I would have killed her with my bare hands if I could.
From time to time my mum liked to have her feet soaked in warm water and then massaged as she said it gave her some relief. So one day she asks this fucking nurse aide to soak her feet in warm water before massaging them. What does the fucking nurse aide do? She soaks my mum’s feet in water straight from the second the kettle finished boiling, thinking that because my mum is paralysed from the waist down the boiling water will not do her any harm.
That was the first and last time I have ever been in the back of an ambulance.
I had just started my evening jog that day when my big brother called me to tell me what had happened, though he told me not to worry as they were taking my mum to a clinic near home. However 15 – 20 minutes into my jog he called me to say it was bad and I should get to the clinic as soon as I can.
It was bad guys! She developed these crazy huge blisters because the fucking nurse aide really did put my mum’s feet in a basin with water straight from the second the kettle finished boiling … that bitch was lucky I was not in the house to witness her do that to my mum’s feet.
And imagine after that the fucking nurse aide had the audacity to try and run! Lucky for us she had left her handbag in my mum’s room and my mum had the house-help lock it, so she had to come back sooner or later to get her bag.
But for that evening I needed to focus on my mum so I put my rage at the fucking nurse aide aside and firstborned up. Her burns were so bad that the clinic was unable to deal with them so they got an ambulance to take us to hospital. Before that day I was usually skeptical of ambulances and whether or not they actually have patients inside when their sirens are on, as I believed a lot of the time that was just a ruse to avoid traffic jams. But on that day I got to ride in the back of an ambulance for the first time in my life, and since then I am no longer a skeptic. When we got to the hospital they had to admit my mum overnight to keep an eye on her because the burns were really really really bad.
I had told my mum that I was going to throw the fucking nurse aide’s handbag away but she thought I was joking. I was not. That night when my siblings and I got home from the hospital I confiscated the fucking nurse aide’s ID then threw the whole bag away. I told her if she wanted her ID back she would have to come for it. She did. And then I let her have it! I ripped her a new asshole and still did not give her back her ID. I told her that I had thrown her handbag in the trash so she was free to retrieve it if the garbage company had not yet come to collect the trash. It was still there if I am not wrong. My mum was the best person I knew and did not want me to do anything to the fucking nurse aide so she was sooo mad when she found out what I had done. I, on the other hand, was deeply unapologetic. The fucking nurse aide could have killed the love of my life with that bullshit and I was mad mad!!!!
So I called for a meeting with the fucking nurse aide and her employer. I prepped like crazy for that meeting and showed up with two A4 pages of questions and directives. I let her employer know things were going to be done my way going forward and long story short, he never sent us unqualified nurse aides ever again. That is not to say that we only had stellar nurse aides after that incident. The night nurse aides in particular were really nothing special. Sometimes they would not show up so it was up to me to take care of my mum at night. And too often when they did show up they slept so hard that if my mum woke up and needed to be turned she would have to call their phones for them to wake up.
After that incident Ruth became my mum’s primary nurse aide during the day and if a substitute was needed, I only allowed it to be one of the night nurse aides because I knew them. Ruth had been with us since January 2015 and with time I grew to really like her. Given that she would take care of my mum during the day, she automatically accompanied us to all family lunches/functions. She was at so many of our intimate family events that I eventually started to view her as family. I liked her. I trusted her.
I was wrong.
My mum died on December 13, 2017 at 1:10 a.m. On January 4, 2018 I was going through my mum’s Mpesa statement only to notice there was a withdrawal from her M-Kesho account two hours after she died. That immediately set off alarm bells because it was a huge amount of money that I neither had any idea she had, nor who could have withdrawn it. There were no texts from Mpesa regarding the transaction in her messages meaning whoever it was who withdrew the money made a point not to leave any evidence behind. So I went to the nearest police station to file a report because there was obviously foul play involved. I was given an OB number and the police officer in charge of my case was to get back to me in a week or so with the Mpesa statements of the recipient of my mum’s money.
That week or so became months. The police officer would ask me to come through on a certain day, but I would get there only for him to inform me that he was in court and request if we can meet a few days later/the following week. It was incredibly frustrating and after a few months of that nonsense I asked to see the Inspector (his boss) as I felt like the police officer was taking me for a ride. The Inspector applied necessary pressure on the police officer and we finally got those damn Mpesa statements. From there we learned that one of the people who sent money to person X was somehow related to Ruth as they shared the same surname.
Here is what the police officer and I believe happened. My brother had called Ruth to help out at home because my mum was not okay, but by the time Ruth got home they were already in the ambulance so she met us at the hospital instead. The minutes/hours immediately after someone dies can be such a blur as there are many people around, forms to fill, calls to make that will bring even more people around … so it is easy for things to slip through the cracks. When I told the police officer that someone stole money from my mum barely two hours after she died, his response was that it was definitely someone who was with us at the hospital. At first I was not sure who it could have been, because there were two or three other people there who I suspected. But when I thought about it I realised it could only have been Ruth because:
- It needed to be someone who was close enough to my mum to know she had money in her M-Kesho account. As it is, neither I nor my siblings knew about the money. Hell I had never even heard of M-Kesho before the theft.
- This person not only had to know about the money, they also had to know my mum’s PIN.
Sadly nothing came out of the investigation which is why I decided to keep the names of the other nurse aides out of this post but reveal Ruth’s name. Her full name is Ruth Mbalilwa Miheso and she was my mum’s nurse aide from January 2015 up until she died in December 2017. In the three years Ruth was with us she became part of the family to the extent that when we were traveling upcountry to bury my mum she rode in the same car as my aunties. As in, she even sat in the row directly behind us during the burial. She was present for my mum’s funeral service in Nairobi and at the end of the night when it was time to take my mum’s body to the airport, Ruth threw herself to the ground and began wailing with an exaggerated display of grief.
When I remember all of that/think of how much I liked and trusted her/the many many many times my family and I included her as part us, my blood just boils over. What kind of person takes care of someone battling cancer for three years only to turn around and steal from them mere hours after their death? Surely my mum’s body was not even cold by then. How wicked do you have to be to take yourself where a family is grieving with theft as your agenda? That is a level of evil beyond my comprehension and 2 ½ years after the fact I still want justice.
So I am appealing to anyone who can help me make this right, because Ruth should not get away with what she did. Unfortunately the police officer I was dealing with was of no help and so the case died just like that, but that should not be how this ends. In early 2018 I spoke to a lawyer who told me if a crime is committed the police are under obligation to take the matter to court. Once the matter is in court it is out of the police’s hands and from there the courts will take over. The lawyer told me that if Ruth is confronted by the police she can pay back the money immediately to avoid going to court. If she is unable to pay and we go to court she can be jailed over and above being made to pay us back.
I cannot explain just how important it is for me to see this through, not just for my mum but for anyone else who might have been one of Ruth’s victims. She is probably still a practising nurse aide so who knows how many vulnerable people and families she still has access to. Which is why for me it is not enough for her to pay back the money she stole from my dead mum. I would also like to see her ability to be a nurse aide revoked because someone who can steal from a patient they took care of for three years, a mere two hours after they died, has no business being a nurse aide.
So to anyone reading this who can help me get justice for my mum and prevent Ruth from doing the same thing to other vulnerable people or families, please DM me on Twitter/Instagram (my handles are at the top right corner of the blog) or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.