Living with asthma can be draining; both physically and emotionally. While living off drugs sucks, it sucks even more when you have to remind yourself that you can’t ‘get too mad’ because that may trigger an attack! See, that there is the true definition of “sucks”. I had a chat with seventeen year old Bruce Morara and I can’t help but marvel at his courage. Twice in our conversation I fought with my own tears. But then I had to remind myself that what he really needs is not pity, but all the support so he can achieve all his dreams.
‘I can’t sing. I can’t walk for long before I become breathless. I can’t have a six pack because I am not allowed within a five kilometer radius of a gym.( he he he) Damn I am not even allowed to be stressed. I have always wanted to join the army but I realize now I can’t.’ ‘So what will you become then,’ I ask. ‘Well, since I can’t join the army, then I hope to become a scientific researcher, find the cure of asthma.’
Bruce has been asthmatic for as long as he can remember. Asthma has always been the constant in his life. When I ask him the number of times he has been hospitalized he says; ‘many, I can’t put a number to it, but just know it is many times.’
Every attack has obviously been a bad experience to you. What has been your worst experience though?
‘I had been involved in an accident. I broke my left leg and was admitted in Tenwek. At some point I had to undergo skin grafting. Midway through the surgery, I had an attack. It was bad. My surgeon panicked. They thought they were going to lose me. I was under spinal anesthesia and I saw it, heard it all. It was pathetic.’
In the absence of a chronic illness, every man and woman for that matter lives under the fallacy that, they will wake up tomorrow. Not Bruce! when I asked him what his greatest fear is, his answer surprised me.
‘My greatest fear has been to sleep today and not wake up tomorrow’. ‘Do you think this can happen?’ I ask. ‘I am used to the fear. It is real.’
Asthma is basically “an allergic disease of the airway”. Over the years, he has come to know his triggers to be; dog fur, cat fur, lab chemicals, perfumes, cold, flu and dust. For him, dust is the worst. But how does he survive lab experiments now that lab chemicals are a trigger? ‘ I have to nick my nose, sometimes I get out of the lab. There was a time I was given a gas mask but the teacher took it away, said it belonged to the school’.
Like most sickly teens, he has not been fortunate enough to escape bullies. ‘ I have had to stand at the sidelines and look as my friends played. They used to keep me off their trucks telling me we enda ukatembee na daktari, unaeza tufia saa yoyote. I had a teacher who used to torture me psychologically. He used to say that I only know how to make mistakes and when beaten starting croaking like a frog.’
Being a student and asthmatic has been tough for him. ‘There are times when I spend half my day in the sick bay and the other half in a hospital casuality getting nebulized. This has dragged down my performance. I am always trying to catch up, always copying notes.’
‘Being in boarding school, away from people who really care about you, you might get an attack any time, any place. Are you confident that other students will help?’ I ask. Well, it depends on who is around. But some students can be arrogant.’ His answer says exactly the kind of children we are bringing up. I still don’t know how someone can walk away from an asthmatic having an attack. I mean how do they live with themselves after that?
His school tries to be supportive. But he wishes his school had a nebulizer. It would be a lot easier than making these journeys to the hospitals every time he gets a severe attack.
Being sick is a lonely affair. It is something that no one else is going to understand. The doctor may come close, but even then, he/she won’t understand. His girlfriend has always been there for him. She knows all my dreams. ‘She might become my wife and I want her to understand me.’ ‘Has she ever seen you during an attack?’ I ask. ‘ Yes, two times. She didn’t panic. She just put me on a motorbike and rushed me to the hospital. Then she called my brother’. (such a gem!)
It is hard not to admire his courage. During each and every attack( and they have been many). It is like facing death head on. But he has lived through all those attacks to dream. He wants to get into research! Mary Anne Radmacher once said, courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’ Bruce has been courageous. I have seen him two or three times when he had an asthmatic attack and, apart from feeling like crying, I was scared. But even then, he wanted to go back to school. It took me sometime to convince him that he had to be admitted. (Do you remember, Bruce?).
Having a chronic illness sort of sets you apart. There are certain things you can’t do and one of them is to stay without hospital insurance. Bruce is a beneficiary of NHIF; which makes matters better financially speaking.
As an asthmatic, he has to remember to keep his inhaler close!