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I came this close to dying… now I must live.

About a month ago, I came this close to dying. I had been away in Italy on some family business, when I found that I was getting weaker by the day, my mouth was getting extra dry despite the copious amounts of water I was drinking and I had significantly lost weight. Losing weight in itself has been a mission of mine (at the beginning of the year I weighed 116kg!) and I had been steadily coming down the scale but suddenly I lost 10kg just like that!

I came back to Kenya and I was scheduled to leave for the UN General Assembly in New York two days later. The day after my arrival, I went to the office, as I ordinarily would. They were shocked to see how frail I looked. I was now very weak and I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I had work to do, I had a briefing that morning with the team and then a meeting with the legendary Edith Kimani, with whom I share a passion on finding ways to make life better for the youth (the #77Percent). In the afternoon, I had a donor meeting and then I would start preparing to travel that night.

By noon, I couldn’t take it any more. I went home and 2 hours or so later, my friends, Jay Bhalla and Conrad Mochu came by and drove me to hospital. I just needed our friend, a doctor, to review me and give me something to tide me over through the New York trip. At Mater hospital, I signed myself in, went through triage and there, the first sign that things were not good, dawned on me. My blood pressure was 150/120. Normal blood pressure is 120/80.

When we went to see the doctor in casualty (our friend was still held up in her clinic), this doctor was visibly disturbed as he asked me questions. He dropped everything and started to personally conduct several tests. It was not good. My blood pressure was very high. When they checked my blood sugar, it was too high to give a figure – it simply said “HHH” – High, High, High. They checked on the levels of various minerals that you need in the body – Potassium (which helps your muscles move), sodium, etc. I was negative on all of them.

In short, I was severely malnourished, I was severely dehydrated (had lost more than 10% of my body water), my blood pressure was high and I had sustained ridiculously high blood sugar levels for several days or weeks and therefore I had become diabetic. They checked my hormonal levels and cortisol (the tired hormone) and adrenaline (the fight or flight one) were too high.

I was diagnosed with Diabetic Ketoacidosis, a major emergency. I was also told that my body organs had gone into shock. It was straight to the High Dependency Unit of the hospital for me. I was also exhausted.

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High Dependency Unit of a hospital. You are hooked up to so many machines.

The New York Trip was forgotten, everything else didn’t matter. I was this close to dying.

“I broke my body,” I cried to my friends, “I broke my body.”

The Mater Hospital doctors and nurses dealt with my issues swiftly. Saline water into my veins and my blood pressure stabilised. Insulin drip was introduced to fight the high sugar levels. Potassium drip to begin to replace needed minerals into my body. I was hooked up to so many machines – tracking my breathing, my heart, blood pressure every ten minutes, my blood sugar was tracked every hour and they had to get arterial blood every two hours (painful as hell) to check the levels of the minerals.

Most importantly, I was made to sleep. Rest. No talking, no reading, just be quiet in a little room, not much bigger than a bed. In that time, I didn’t think once about work or about Kenya’s often-comical-mostly-tragic political situation. All I thought was, “Look, I broke my body and now I am this close to dying.”

I thought about my wife and kids, my friends, my team. I had eaten badly, I was overworked and “under-lived”, I had stopped writing, I stopped doing poetry.

I broke my body and I was this close to dying. I could not even pray. I could not think clearly or rationally about anything.

Thankfully, the medical reports showed progressive improvement – blood pressure stabilised on day 1, rehydration was solid by day 2, hormonal levels were stabilising as I rested, and by day 3, blood sugar was starting to be under control – this was going to take time, I was told, but I was going to get better.

My heart, kidneys and other organs had come through this, barely scathed. Now, as I write this, I am happy to report that I am alive and well. My strength is back and I am strong.

“You are going to live,” Dr. J.N. Macharia reassured me again and again, over and over as she explained what had happened to my body.

But some things have changed – evolved.

  • I am now more aware of the story of the balls as told by Bryan Dyson, then the President and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises – there are glass balls and rubber balls. The glass balls are the things that if you dropped, you will not pick up again. They are Family, health, friends and spirit. The plastic balls can be picked up again, when they are dropped. If you lose your job, you can get another one. If you lose your money, you can make more.
  • I am energised to live (really live) more – to attend plays and poetry sessions and play with my kids and hang out with my friends more. I am going to write more. I am going let my sister teach me to meditate and I will go back to Yoga
  • I am energised to serve and give more. My life has always been about service. My career has been about public service. I’m going to do that more and be more effective. But I am also going to give more time and energy – especially to the youth. I am very aware that I am fortunate to have the wherewithal to handle that medical emergency
  • I have now to eat and live like a diabetic – thats not as bad as it sounds and I am going to be talking about that on this blog in the near future. But the rule is this. I eat healthy from now on – a salad three times a day, half my plate is vegetables, the other half is shared between plant proteins and maybe a starch. I don’t skip meals. I don’t overeat. I pay attention.

“You are going to live,” Dr. J.N. Macharia told me again and again.

I am going to live.

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Also published on Medium.

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