As Suubi lay on the hospital bed, feeling the cool air from the fan beside her but sweating as if it wasn’t there, she was contemplating what the day will bring. It was a sunny late winter day with all the promise of spring to come. Through the window she could hear the noise of the passing traffic, and could see the top windows of the tall buildings of central London against the blue skyline. The BT tower stood out majestically. She suddenly remembered this hospital being built, a few years ago when she used to pass by on the way to work. The new University College London Hospital, Medical Centre of Excellency, it was designed to save lives. Save lives? Other lives not hers.
With sleepy eyes Suubi turned to look at the door opening, a file of doctors walked in, badges hanging around their neck and each holding a file of papers. They made a semi circle around her bed, looking like school children waiting for the head teacher to make an announcement. ”How are you feeling today?”, their leader, the Consultant looking after her asked. She had been in hospital for a week so she had seen him a few times before. Words failed, she nodded her head to say “not well”.
She hadn’t been well for a few months. It all started when she put one leg out of the car to open the gate into the work car park and felt this sharp pain in the right hip. For weeks, she thought she had pulled a muscle but no pain killer or massage worked. After weeks of outpatient investigations failed to identify the cause it was inevitable hospital inpatient care.
The only visits Suubi had ever made to hospital were the birth of her two children then aged four and fourteen years. She arrived there during labour and was discharged soon after the birth of her babies. This illness made hospital a reality, nurses with high blood pressure equipment and taking her temperature every half hour; breakfast being delivered promptly at 8 a.m. on a trolley and then these doctors who made all the decisions about her life. The whole aspect of her life in the possible death statistics then mattered.
The Consultant’s face said it all, he had a solemn look and his eyes were focused on her intently.It didn’t look like it was good news from the tests done two days ago. He said calmly “we have found cancer in your lymph nodes”. The words felt like a bee sting in her face. Her head started spinning as the walls of the newly built hospital looked like they were about to crush. She lay there silent and helpless feeling her world collapsing. This was the last thing on her mind.”I have cancer?” she asked, tears rolling down her cheeks. The doctors patiently looked on as she took in the news.
Through the wet face she visualized her children, their innocent faces smiling for comfort. What they would do without her? How much time did she have left with them? Her daughter, older one as the girl would take care of her brother, and take over her mother role when she was no more.
It suddenly dawned on Suubi that she was an immigrant, with no family in the UK. She had to think ahead, to plan for the children if the worst were to happen. She came as a student from Uganda about 10 years ago. She had met and married a handsome young man from the Ivory Coast. Her husband then died in a tragic accident about 3 years ago. Although both of them had a network of supportive friends from Uganda and the Ivory Coast, none of them were family.
Sending her children back to Uganda to be raised by her extended family did not seem an option. Her elderly mother simply didn’t have the resources or energy to look after children born and brought up in the West. Her marriage was UK based and she didn’t know enough about the Ivory Coast to consider the husband’s family. Then there was a question of identity. Her friends in the UK may be willing to assist but where does her loyalty lie? With her friends, in the Ugandan community? Or, do the children’s identity and family routes take priority, as there are from the Ivory Coast? Tough decisions.
Immersed in these thoughts, with no immediate or clear answers, as if from afar, she heard the doctor faintly saying, “It is a treatable type of cancer. No one can predict how you will cope with the chemotherapy. If you survive treatment, your chances for beating it are high”.
The doctor’s words provided the much needed hope, she had to hold on to this positivity tight, just like her name said SUUBI (Hope).
Juliet.Lubega (Unpublished 2013)