For most of the eight years they have been married, Stanislaus Wambua has never received a hug
For most of the eight years they have been married, Stanislaus Wambua has never received a hug from his wife, not even a simple “hello” or a smile, which had once made his heart race with happiness.
You see, Esther has been bedridden since 2008, after falling ill. But this is not a story about the tragic outcome of a young, promising marriage cut short. Rather, it is about a man who has stayed true to his wife, nursing her night and day, making sure that she is as comfortable as is possible, and being both mother and father to their eight-year-old daughter, Patience Nthenya, who was just a month old when her mother fell ill.
Wambua and Esther met at a mutual friend’s house in 2003 and hit it off right away.
“She was beautiful and interesting to talk to,” Wambua says of his first impression of Esther.
It took them just a few months to know that they were destined to be together. In 2005, they started living together, with the intention of solemnising their marriage when they were financially stable.
On May 7 that year, Esther gave birth to Patience. Like all first-time parents, they were besotted with their daughter, and Wambua could not wait to come home from work to cuddle her.
The call that put the couple’s life in disarray came on June 15 2005. Wambua was at work when a neighbour called to inform him that Esther had been rushed to hospital.
Anxious, he rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital, where she had been taken. When he got there, he was informed that his wife had been treated for fever. She was given a prescription for fever medication and discharged.
“But the fever did not go down, even when I gave her the medicine that had been prescribed,” Wambua says.
Esther’s breathing became laboured and she was unable to speak. Wambua called a taxi and took her back to Kenyatta, where a thorough examination the next morning revealed that she had developed an infection that was undermining her nervous system. Esther went into a coma a few days later and even though she regained consciousness, she still could not speak or move her lower limbs.
“She was admitted to hospital for four-and-a-half months and though doctors did all they could, her condition got worse,” Wambua says.
She could no longer move her legs, hands, or even open her mouth to speak.
Wambua says that those four-and-a-half months were the most difficult he has ever endured.
“Imagine having a sick wife and newborn to look after…”
He thanks a relative, Eunice Ndunge, who looked after his daughter and his wife when he was at work during the first few months.
All this time, while his wife lay bedridden, Wambua was hopeful that with time, she would get better. He had hoped that by June 28, 2005, the day when they had planned to have their wedding, she would be well enough to sing and dance down the aisle.
“We had finalised everything — from the venue the wedding would be held, the menu, wedding gown — everything.”
The only thing missing was the bride. The logical step to take would have been to postpone the event, but Wambua knew how much Esther had looked forward to it. He could not afford to disappoint her.
And so, on June 28, 2005, Wambua wed his Esther before Father John Kariba. Esther, who sat in a wheelchair dressed in the wedding gown she had selected months before, could not say her vows, nor hold his hand or embrace him. But this, says Wambua, did not make the moment any less important.
“I was sad that this is not how we had planned our special day, but I put on the biggest smile I could muster to assure Esther that I loved her,” he says, and adds, “Although she could not speak, I could tell from the look on her face that she was happy. I read her my vows, but she could not promise me anything. However, I was sure that she loved me and were I in that wheelchair, she would be there, holding my hand.”
Three months after their hospital wedding, Wambua got a phone call from the doctor who had been treating Esther. He wanted to see him. As he made his way to the hospital, Wambua could not banish the dreadful feeling that had come over him.
Esther, the doctor told him, had “paraplegia as a result of post-meningitis”. The disease, he explained, was a brain disorder that was complicated to treat. He advised Wambua to take his wife home because her condition was never likely to change.
“What he wasn’t saying aloud was that she was never going to be cured,” he says.
The doctor encouraged him to look at the bright side — Esther’s presence at home would be good for their daughter and it would also save him money and the hassle of daily hospital visits.
A physiotherapist would visit once every two weeks, which would cost Wambua, who works for an insurance company, Sh1,000. However, Esther showed no signs of improvement.
But his wife’s unresponsiveness to treatment was not Wambua’s only headache. House helps did not stay for more than a few days — taking care of Esther was taxing, since she could not do anything for herself.
“Of all the help I have employed, none has stayed beyond a month,” Wambua says.
In December 2007, Esther seemed to get better, so much so, that she could even talk and walk with the aid of crutches.
“You should have seen me – I was so happy,” Wambua says.
In 2008 however, her health began to deteriorate, and eventually, she lost her speech and mobility again. She has been bedridden ever since.
For the past three years, Wambua has been fortunate to have his nephew, Daniel Maluta, who has been of great help to him.
“This is the guy who carries my wife in and out of the house for some fresh air and sun, feeds her, and generally watches over her while I am at work.”
However, Wambua baths her and changes and washes her clothes. To accomplish this, he wakes up at 4.30am every day since he also prepares breakfast, cleans the house, and takes their daughter, who is now almost nine years old, to school.
In the evening, he leaves the office earlier than his colleagues to pick up Patience from school, then dashes home to check on his wife before preparing supper.
“When I am lucky to have a house help, my day is less hectic because she takes Patience to school and picks her up. I also don’t have to make breakfast or supper, though I make a point of feeding Esther.”
Those eight years that Esther has been bedridden have left Wambua financially drained.
“I have lost count of the number of hospitals I have taken her. I have never given up hope that she will be cured,” he says.
He uses about Sh5,000 every week since he takes her for therapy to Kenyatta three times a week.
There is also the fact that since she is unable to control her lower muscles, she has to use diapers, which cost Wambua Sh1,400 every three days.
“I cannot afford to save even a cent,” he says.
His social life is also no longer the same.
“I lost several friends when Esther got ill… some of my relatives and in-laws also want nothing to do with us. But this no longer bothers me. I have accepted the fact that not everyone will stay by your side when you are in the middle of adversity,” he says.
He cites an example where he once visited a close friend, only for him to start telling him how broke he was.
“He wasn’t the first friend who made a point of letting me know how broke he was, but I didn’t expect the same treatment from him. I had gone to visit him, not borrow money.”
Wambua says that he felt bitter and forlorn, but was determined to have his say.
“I offered him Sh10,000 but he refused to take it, telling me that I needed the money more than he did. I no longer consider him a friend.”
There are also those who have advised Wambua to return Esther to her parents and get another wife, while some have told him to seek the services of a witchdoctor to get to the bottom of her illness.
But Wambua laughs all of them off.
“Esther is my wife. I love her and I plan to stay true to the marriage vows I made before her and God. She belongs with me and our daughter and wherever we go, she comes with us.”
Having had eight years of practice, Wambua has found the perfect balance between work, looking after his wife, and giving their daughter the attention she needs.
“Our daughter is lucky because unlike other children, she does have both parents. The only difference is that one of us is unable to play an active role in her life,” he says.
Observing them together, it is obvious that father and daughter are close. Patience arrives from school during the interview. She proceeds to hug her mother, who is lying on the seat, and then makes a beeline for her father to sit on his lap.
“She’s not a neglected child. We do things together and I ensure that at least once a month, I take her somewhere she can play and enjoy herself,” he says.
He also encourages her to spend time with her mother. For instance, every day, she gives her mother an update of what she learnt in school and how she spent her day.
“She often tells her mother that she will study hard and become a doctor so that she can treat her… it always brings tears to my eyes,” Wambua says.
Though Esther cannot speak, she can hear and understand what is said.
Patience has mastered her mother’s non-verbal language, and at one point brings her a glass of water, holds it to her mouth until she has had enough, then wipes her mouth and chin with a handkerchief.
Cure in sight?
In June this year, a doctor informed Wambua that Esther was suffering from transverse myelytis, which he explained was a neurological disorder caused by inflammation on the sides of the spinal cord.
After conducting tests, the doctor advised that she undergo an operation, which could improve her condition. It is estimated to cost Sh2.5 million. Money that Wambua doesn’t have.
“I have never stopped hoping and praying that she will regain her health. I have a feeling that this might just be the elusive treatment I have been praying for,” he says with a smile,
“I miss her laughter, her cooking, her company, and wonder what kind of a mother she would be to our daughter.”
Would you like to help?
Contact the writer, or Wambua, on email@example.com