The Day I Had A Brain Haemorrhage
(Recollected on Sunday 11th. March 2012)
The sun is shining, and I am on the pillion of a motorbike travelling along a dusty road on the Western Escarpment of the Rift Valley, Kenya . It is around 11:00 on Saturday the 14 th . May 2011. I am shooting bits of film from the bike and laughing and joking with the driver Noah, a brother from the Mount Elgon area of The Greater Bungoma District, who is piloting us along the pot-holed and bumpy highway.
We arrive at Noah's place at Lutonyi Village, where our first container clinic is to be located. The Wekhoyela Alakara Gospel Choir are seated beneath the Ekimeng tree, which incidentally, I suggest should be the title of their first album. ‘Beneath The Ekimeng Tree'. The sharpness of my observation stuns me sometimes!
I greet all and feel that they are genuinely pleased to see me. I'm expected to give a speech to the troops and feel very humble that these wonderful people want to hear what I have to say. We rig up the usual stuff in order to make the keyboards work. As there is no power in the region, we have to go several miles by motorbike to borrow a couple of car batteries to power the keyboards, and one solitary speaker that was probably made in the First World War, which looked as though it had been used for heavy artillery gunnery practice. After lots of splicing and cursing, during which I tell Jimmy that it's good to see him using technical terms, we are good to go. They sing some amazing tunes, and ask me to sing a couple. I have backing tracks on my phone, and within minutes, we are all dancing to the strains of my dulcet tones warbling ‘Come fly with me' and ‘The Coffee Song'.
It is roughly 6,000 feet above sea level here, and I am often breathless, but it does not bother me. It is a beautiful, sunny morning. At the final strains of ‘They got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil ', I start to feel a bit weird. Now, I have spent many years when I was younger feeling a bit weird due to the intake of many mind altering substances, which I stopped doing a while back, but this suddenly feels like a I have been pole axed.
I fall to the ground with the most excruciating head pain that I have ever felt. This is known as the ‘thunderclap effect', and it is extremely apt. I am having spasms and a thirst like nothing I have ever experienced. I thought that I was dying. I'm told that they are taking me to hospital.
“No, no, no!” I yell through a mist that was covering my vision. I had recently visited the local hospital, and there was one broken sterilizer for five hundred patients. There was little hygiene present, and I knew that if I went there, I would not come out alive.
I was trying to convince myself that I had sunstroke, although, deep down, I knew. My mum had sustained what was called in the fifties a cerebral haemorrhage, at age fifty-four. I did not know for sure that what had happened to me may have been hereditary, although I was guessing it was just that.
“I'm not going to that hospital.” I gasped.
So reluctantly, they took me, on the back of a motor bike down tortuous narrow hilly pathways, back to Kimilili, where I was staying. I crawl into bed that afternoon, with an incredible thirst and an intense pain in my head that made me feel sick. I cannot not open my eyes, and know that I have to get back to the UK . Although, how I planned to do it, is beyond me at that moment.
The rest of the day was hazy, and how I got through that night was a miracle. Next day, Sunday, some people that we may be working with pick me up. They are going to drive me to Nairobi , put me up in a hotel and make me a director of fundraising. It sounds grand, but it means that you fundraise for them in the UK , and Europe , and make the tea!
We go to drive across The Rift Valley, and are told that because of the bandit problem it is best we go in convey through a certain part. We are told that whatever happens, keep driving. If you get a puncture, do not stop, or you will be killed by bandits. I pray that the old Michelins will hold out, although there was part of me that didn't really care, and would almost have welcomed a quick and painless death.
We get to Nakuru and have a meal in one of the committee's houses. The food tastes funny, my thirst is crippling me, the light from the neon strip, and the noise from the telly are crucifying me. I am to suffer extreme photosensitivity and audio sensitivity for several weeks.
We drive on to Nairobi , and they put me up in a small hotel, which is clean and quiet. When I get into bed that night, after a nine-hour drive, I am exhausted and in so much pain that I am retching. I try to take a shower but cannot manage it. The water is brown and scolding. There are little leech like things all over the bathroom. I get into bed, pull the mozzy net over me, but my head is screaming and the pain unbearable. I am still so thirsty, but nothing will quench it.
(A strange thing happens here. I was lying there reciting affirmations, trying to be positive, when I felt someone get into the bed next to me, and I suddenly felt a lot calmer. I cannot explain this, but I have a feeling that it was my mum. She died in1996, aged ninety-six. She was a medium and a healer. She had no side to her, and always helped people without any ulterior motives, or thought of recompense.)
Reminds me of the old joke “My mum's a Medium. Well, that's what it says in the back of her dresses!”
The next day we have meetings and I go to see some people on one of Bill gates' Malaria programmes. I don't know how I come across, or even if I made any sense, but we hopefully will end up working together soon. I can remember the heat in this little restaurant next to Wilson airport. There were flies, warm coke, and loud music. God only knows what the head of Amref (African Medical Research Foundation) thought of me.
Later that day, we drive to JK International airport in Nairobi . Anyone who has tried to get to this airport from the outskirts of Nairobi will know that it takes an inconceivable amount of time to travel a few short miles. It takes us seven hours to travel four miles. I am beginning to lose my temper at the traffic, the heat, the noise, and the ‘I just need to speak to my cousin' syndrome. I don't know what deals are going down with the driver and his mates that he picks up along the way, but I am bloody mad and in incredible pain.
We make the airport, but I cannot tell the airline that I am seriously ill, as I knew that they would not let me travel. I sit in a ghastly, noisy departure lounge with very little to drink, a loud telly, and screaming kids. I eventually get on the plane, and had the strange feeling that if I went to sleep, I would never wake up.
After an eight-hour nightmare journey, every air pocket makes me want to scream, I am home again. I get a coach from Heathrow to Brighton . The bloody driver is telling everyone his life history and pointing out every tree. I sit with my eyes tightly shut and pray. Two hours later, I'm at Pool Valley , Brighton . It is raining, the coolness of Sussex is on my brow, and I stand in the pouring rain, waiting for my lift to Newhaven.
I sit at home in a daze for a couple of days. Annie is in Vegas, and I don't want to bother her. I get myself together enough to get a friend to drive me to The Sussex County Hospital. It is Saturday now, early evening, police are restraining drunks, and my nightmare starts again. A fight ensues and a drunk runs into my cubicle followed by a couple of cops who overpower him and drag him off screaming. An old boy is placed in my cubicle and he is complaining about life in general. I yell for the nurse.
“Are you two related?” She asks.
“No!” We both chorus.
“Then why are you both in the same cubicle?”
I said, “I didn't invite him in. Someone wheeled him in and left.”
There are more fights, with coppers running about all over the place. I'm wheeled to a ward, where my lovely Annie turns up. I have had a lumber puncture, but it takes several goes, and I am whisked off to the theatre so that someone can do one properly. The nurse on the ward has told she has never done one before! I now know what a pincushion feels like.
The ward Sister comes into the cubicle and tells me, as well as Annie, that I have had a Sub Arachnoid Haemorrhage. Annie is mortified, but I am calm. I know everything is going to be okay. I am pumped full of stuff and become very talkative.
I am whizzed up to Hurstwood Park Neuro Hospital , one of the best in the world. On the way there, I am sick several times, but I have had a bucket full of morphine, and I float into the hospital on a trolley.
They do exceptional work at The Royal Sussex County, and at Hurstwood. I think between them, they probably saved my life.
I had a feeling all the way through this adventure that I was going to be okay. In the last four years visiting Kenya , I have been shot at, grilled by the secret police, bitten by a poisonous snake and had a brain injury. I love Africa , I really do. The prospect of death does not bother me at all, but I think the nature of it would. I'm a coward, and cannot stand pain. I don't do my praying in church, but I do believe that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we are all God. Not part of God, but God. There are many sides to this. I hear so many people say ‘If there is a God, why does he let these awful things happen'. To me, this is a copout. I feel that we are solely responsible for all that happens on this planet, other than the weather. Even then...
But, all that is for another time. It is difficult to put into words how protected I felt right from the moment that this brain injury occurred. I do know that if it had not been for my positive state of mind, and the AA recovery programme I would not have made it back to England. I have not had a drink for two and a half years, and I would not have recovered to the extent I have done in just nine months. Not without the love of my friends, the AA fellowship and my faith in the fact that nothing happens without a reason and that in order to recover, I have to be grateful and accept this is the way things are. It's all happening perfectly!
Learn more about Rick and his medical charity efforts in Kenya,
The Day I Had A Brain Haemorrhage