When I remember Dr Alushula, I remember two moments.

The first was in 2019 in Meru County during the Surgical Society of Kenya camp. On a Friday evening, we missed the turn into West Wind Hotel in Makutano and had to make a quick exit into a petrol station and plan a detour. I was driving him and two colleagues in my Fukushima wheelbarrow. I had completely been immersed in his juicy stories. After finding our way to the hotel, we sat down listening to his tidbits of wisdom. Wisdom honed in the crucible of years of practice. 

The following morning we would again run into each other in the operating rooms of Meru County Referral Hospital as he gave the journalists a brief of what surgeries were going on. When he got to my operating table, he left me with the journos and asked that I explain to them what procedure I was doing.  It was hydrocelectomy and I was just done with prepping the surgical site, just ready for the knife to meet the skin.

Zoom Meeting

The second instance was early this year in a zoom meeting. A colleague was presenting on the place of surgery in the COVID-19 era. After the presenter gave all the recommendations including hospitals having multiple surgical teams so that in case one team was exposed to the virus they would all abstain from work and self isolate, Dr Alushula asked the poignant question of the whole evening.

Which teams? What of places where there is only one surgeon for the entire hospital?

Last week Dr Alushula succumbed to COVID-19 related complications. It has been a difficult week for the Kenyan surgical fraternity as we come to terms with his demise.

He was such a respectful and mellow senior colleague. Every time he spoke, he would always quip, ‘SSK is Surgical Camps and Surgical Camps are SSK’. He believed in the central role of organised surgical camps as a way of giving back to the society. He never missed any of them. 

His death, coming in the heat of the so called second wave, has robbed the country of a selfless man. May his soul rest in peace. 

Ill Equipped Soldiers

This global pandemic, judging by the magnitude of disruption in social order and economy that it has caused nations, belongs up there with the world wars. And the health care workers are the soldiers we have sent to the frontline. Ill equipped and overwhelmed. The only commodity they carry in abundance is their spirit of selflessness. 

Every time our political leaders speak, they proclaim the national and county governments’ preparedness to tackle the pandemic. Yet just the other day medics in Nairobi had to go on strike demanding medical cover! 

A simple guarantee that if infected, the nation that you took care of will take care of you! Let us not mention the decibels of ‘lack of PPEs’ cries that we have heard since the virus landed in our country.

Given a chance, healthcare workers would  gladly work from home. But then ours is a profession that cannot render itself to that work place adjustment. Safe for a few. For most, especially for surgery, you have to be there physically. You have to clock in hours in proximate contact with a patient, removing a tumour, or a diseased appendix, or fixing a broken thigh bone. Saving a life. 

It is time for us to ask not what our healthcare workers can do to save us from this pandemic but what we can do to save them. During war, we celebrate and honour the soldiers who have taken the battle frontlines. We have 21 gun salutes for members of our disciplined forces who pay the ultimate price. 

What can we do for our COVID-19 frontline soldiers? What is their 21 gun salute when the Alushulas and other colleagues pay the ultimate price?

Is it time to offer them medical and last expenses cover?

We would like to see actions accompany the praises. Give us PPEs, give us medical cover. Give the healthcare workers a last expenses cover.

Yes, it has come to that! Healthcare workers are contracting COVID and some succumbing to it. It has become part of their job description. 

***An excerpt of this blog appears in the Healthy Nation of 26th November, 2020