Conrad’s Last Days and the Aftermath

In the months that followed our return from Kitale, Conrad’s condition showed no improvement; the climate of Kisii was, for the greater part of the year damp and wet – not the sort conditions that were suitable for a child who was so susceptible to attacks of pneumonia. We were at the mercy of the Government medical staff – a team of three doctors in fact. Two of these were Europeans – one having arrived only recently as a replacement for the Indians doctor, Dr Sood who had left the district on transfer.

The third was an African, a Mkamba by tribe by the name of Dr Mwinzi. Although Kisii had such a sizeable complement of medical staff, and a fairly well equipped hospital,we were, at times, disappointed that nothing could be done to alleviate Conrad’s condition. At the office, Paul Massey, writing on the DC’s behalf, had strongly recommended that consideration be given to flying Elsie and Conrad out to Britain for specialized treatment. Unfortunately, heart surgery could be done to correct Conrad’s defective heart condition, even if we were able to afford the treatment abroad. This was a sad blow for us, especially since we had high hopes that it would be possible for him to be treated in the United kingdom.

At home, despite the disappointment, we coped as best as we possibly could, but the final blow was struck in December 1957 when Conrad became seriously ill soon after Christmas. The treatment he was receiving at home was of no avail and it was decided that he should be admitted to hospital, we agreed that this was the best possible course in the circumstances, although we were that the facilities at Kisii hospital, especially for 0n-atients, were not the same as one might expect in towns like Kisumu or Nakuru. Elsie was allowed to stay with him all day and night, and I relieved her as often as I could as soon as I returned from work. It was so sad to see him suffer the way he did and we both felt so helpless.

At the office, my heart was not in my work – the strain of Conrad’s deteriorating condition was weighing heavily on me. The DC, Mr Wolff, had been transferred to Nakuru as Acting Provisional commissioner for the rift Valley Province, and his replacement was desperation, I had first met at Mombasa – Mr G.A. A Skipper. In my to do something more to help poor Conrad, friends, who could not past few months rallied round with offers of help. My two brothers Everyone seemed so kind and understanding.

A few weeks before Conrad became seriously ill, two of my young cousins from Mombasa (Darrell and Denzyl Sequeira), had arrived to spend part of their vacation with us. While we were able to take them around some of the district initially, this was not possible after Conrad’s admission to hospital, and I was grateful for their understanding of the difficult situation we were in.

All through these months, I was conscious of the heavy strain on Elsie who was not in the best of health herself at the time. On her shoulders fell the brunt of the task of being mother and even full-time nurse to Conrad’s. I can honestly say that during those difficult days, she and I hardly slept a wink.

New Year’s Day passed off uneventfully for us. There was too much on our minds, and we prayed that things would improve for us all in the year just started – 1958. On the 2nd January, seeing that
Elsie to go home for the night while I stayed behind with Conrad. She would mot hear of it, but we finally arrived at a compromise whereby I would relieve her early the following morning. Conrad was far from well when I left to return home that evening, and seeing him suffer so much, I arrived home completely shattered. Clyde was asleep when I got home, so too my two cousins. I could hardly wait for the morning to dawn and was up fairly early. I had barely driven a few hundred yards towards the hospital when I noticed that one of the wheels was flat. What a desperate hour to have a puncture I thought! Not being able to change the wheel with any speed, I walked the short distance and reached the hospital rather later than expected. Elsie, who had anticipated my arrival much earlier was very upset initially, but soon settled down after I had explained the problem I had encountered with the car. Later she told me how gravely ill Conrad had been the previous night. There was no doctor available and the African female dresser who was around at the time seemed quite helpless. Before I had actually arrived at the hospital, I understand Dr Mwinzi, who had seemed very surprised that no doctor had seen Conrad. Later a European nursing sister arrived and administered, what Elsie feels was a sedative 9syrup) to try and put Conrad to sleep.

Soon after, Elsie left for home on foot, visibly shattered and in tears. Meanwhile, I sat alongside Conrad’s cot and watched him struggle helplessly for life. Despite the aid of an oxygen tent. His breathing was becoming heavy and life was slowly ebbing away. I clasped his tiny hand in mine, and with tears rolling down my cheeks, pleaded with St. Jude (Patron Saint of desperate cases), to Conrad’s last few moments, even though I knew she would certainly have been a great comfort to me had she been around – but hadn’t she endured much pain and anxiety already> Many a young mother of her age would never have known such an experience I kept telling myself. Moments later, Conrad breathed his last, and although in that fleeting moment my whole world seemed shattered, I was, in a way, relieved to see him at peace at last, my disappointment and anger was directed more at the hospital authorities. I am not for one moment suggesting that Conrad’s life could have been prolonged, rather that his last moments could have been made more peaceful and painless. After all, even in death there is dignity!

Elsie must have had some premonition since she could hardly settle at home and rushed back to the hospital. She broke down when I gave her the news – more so because she wasn’t by his side during his last moments. We both wept bitterly. A struggle which together we were engaged in just over two years ago had finally ended. News of Conrad’s death soon spread and many of our friends rushed home with offers of help. They even took over full control for all the funeral arrangements. As there was no proper church in the immediate vicinity where the body could be kept, it lay exposed at our home. Many of our friends kept an all-night vigil, allowing us to snatch a few moments of sleep. My in-laws arrived later that night.

The funeral the next evening was very well attended and Conrad was buried at the nearby Catholic mission at Nyabururu in a plot normally reserved for missionaries.

Conrad’s absence had left a complete void in our lives. Clyde too was now beginning to miss him. We now had to make sure that he was given our undivided attention – something he had missed (not intentionally0 because of the Consant care and attention that Conrad’s condition demanded.

Simeon, our houseboy, had meanwhile asked for leave to go to his home in the reserve, and we were very fortunate in securing the services of an elderly Kisii cook whose name was Magama experienced in the art of Goan cuisine, having worked for several Goans in the past. He was polite and always smart in appearance. We wished so much we had found him during our earlier and difficult days. Because of the strong feelings about the lack of attention while Conrad was an inn-patient, I had drafted a formal complaint which the DC later referred to the medical authorities. I met the Medical Officer i/c and put my case in a face to face talk with him. While he made every effort to defend his staff, I made it clear that nothing would deter me from making, what I considered to be a perfectly justifiable and legitimate complaint. As a parent, I felt I had a duty to speak out on Conrad’s behalf. He went on to assure me that my family and I had nothing to fear in the future. This remark was prompted by district on the grounds that I had lost all faith in the hospital after our bitter experience. Although deeply hurt, and still far from convinced that justice had been done, the MO and I later agreed to bury the hachet.

For the time being at least, we decided to stay on at Kisii, but I had made up my mind that if a suitable opportunity arose in the future, I would immediately apply for a transfer. Our troubles were far from over after Conrad died. Within a few months of his death, Clyde developed some severe pains in the region Conrad, I often, in my impatience (and much to my regret now), snacked him. As the pains persisted, we decided to consult a private doctor. Dr Chaudhri was very popular among the locals and many of the Africans would travel for miles to be treated by him. During this period, Elsie herself was pregnant and far from fit; besides, the strain of the past two years had certainly taken its toll. An X-ray of the femur, and other laboratory testd revealed that Clyde was suffering from ostemyelitis, and  it was recommended that he be referred to the provisional Surgeon at Kisumu. Armed with the x-rays and other medical notes from Dr Chaudhri, we saw Mr Hurley, an initial course of penicillin injections proved ineffective, and he was later admitted to hospital at Kisumu where a biopsy was done.

Fragments of the affected bone were sent to Nairobi for further tests. Dr chaudhri’s x-ray had revealed a pea-size growth on the right femur. Clyde was kept in hospital for a week, and during this period I did a round trip of some 150 miles daily between Kisii and Kisumu. All along, I was conscious of Elsie’s own delicate state of health and didn’t want to add to her anxiety. Our friends at Kisumu – especially the Da limas (Francis and Ancy) and also Joe and Farah D’ Souza were most helpful during Clyde’s period in hospital.

Although the tests at Nairobi had revealed that the growth was not cancerous, Mr Hurley still that a further operation would be necessary to remove it altogether. The operation itself was a success, and we remain grateful to Mr Hurley for what he did. He seemed very pleased himself with the outcome, adding that we too were very lucky because Clyde’s condition was not as serious as was originally feared. Because of the fragile nature of the operated femur, Clyde had a plaster cast from his chest right down to his foot, so as to restrict his movements. While he was recovering in hospital, Elsie and I stayed for a while with the Da limas, we much appreciated their hospitality and kind gesture as it would otherwise have meant a long journey between Kisumu and Kisii each day (as I had previously done) – clearly something I didn’t want, especially for Elsie. Two days before Clyde was due to be discharged from hospital, I took Elsie back to Kisii.

When I returned to collect him, it was raining very heavily and the road between Kisumu and Kisii, especially the stretch beyond Ahero, was very wet and slippery. The heavy buses which used this route daily on their way to Tarime (in Tanganyika), made a real mess of the roads. A young Goan assistant of mine at the DC’s office, Robert D’Souza ,who had not been long in Kisii himself, offered to accompany me on this trip, and I was glad to have him with me. We laid Clyde on the rear seat of our Morris Minor, and Robert, who sat we hit a rough patch on the roads – which often happened! On some stretches, the car kept skidding badly and I was finding it extremely difficult to control the steering. The murram roads were so caked that the wheels kept spinning every time I attempted to drive on we were swaying from one side of the road to the other, and it was fortunate that there was little oncoming traffic. What traffic there was at the time, was from the rear, and this consisted mostly of the heavy lorries and buses bound for Tanganyika.

At one point during the journey, I skidded so badly that the car came. To rest on the right bank of the road at a dangerously sloping angle. I had to seek the assistance of one of the bus drivers to get me out of this situation! Travelling in first gear, I was also low on petrol and hoped very much that we would make it to Oyugis safely. I knew there was a petrol pump at this point. The rain was now failing in heavy sheets, and the whole ground was saturated.

We had been on the road for nearly three and a half hours – a journey which, under normal circumstances, is easily done in less than two hours. My anxiety was for Elsie who I knew would be worrying about us. Some stretches of the road were so bad that we kept bumping up and down in spring-like fashion. I was chiefly concerned for Clyde and the effect all this jolting would have on his operated leg. Robert was always quick to turn towards him and adjust the cushions which we had placed across the seat to support his legs.

I got the impression that Clyde was enjoying all this swaying and jolting in the car, and didn’t seem to be in any pain. His previous drives had been all so routine and lacking in the adventure of a real rough safari such as we were now experiencing! After continuing to drive in what can only be described as torrential rains, we limped into this point, and glad to be able to fill up with petrol. I knew Oyugis well, as this was an area where some of the best ground-nuts came from. Besides, I also knew an Ismaili trader here (Mr Lalani), and had decided to seek his assistance in case of any further trouble. With the heavy rain still continuing, and the condition of the roads getting progressively worse, I drove on very slowly, arriving at Kisii late that night.

I knew Elsie would be at the D’Souza household, so we called on them first. After some very light refreshments, we all drove home. Robert had been staying with us ever since his arrival at Kisii and we were most grateful for the help he was able to give us with Clyde, as making sure that our young patient was comfortably settled in bed. Because of the plaster cast around part of his body, we had to be extremely careful when moving Clyde about, especially when getting him out of bed, taking him to the loo, etc.

While I did most of the moving around when I was at home, we had also trained both Magama and John Kebasso to cope with this. On the surgeon’s recommendation, it was unlikely that the plaster cast would be taken off for at least another twelve weeks.

Some two and a half months after the operation, I took Clyde back to Kisumu, and having examined him, Mr Hurley expressed his pleasure over the success of the operation; we still needed to be careful with him and watch his movements, he warned – at least until such time as he had fully recovered and regained the use of his leg. We had nothing to worry about if we noticed a slight limp in his walk initially, as this would correct itself gradually we were told.

Trying to control the energy of a young and playful child is not a very easy task as most parents must have discovered! While we took great care to ensure that Clyde did not over-exert himself, we could have worried ourselves to death! A few weeks after our last visit to the hospital, we were told that the plaster cast could come off and that Clyde should try walking very slowly to begin with. This he certainly did, and having had the support of the cast for so long, he found it rather difficult to walk normally during the first few days. Slowly,we began to notice an improvement in his condition, and it was not long before he was back to his former active self.

Thanks to the availability of modern drugs which were prescribed by Dr Chaudhri, Elsie’s morning sickness was kept in check. She also looked better this time, and all the indications were that she would have a normal delivery. Since we did not want our child to be born at the Native Civil hospital (because of the unpleasantness caused over Conrad), some of the nuns from the Catholic mission at Nyabururu suggested that we might try the Mission Hospital at Sotik, a small town not far from the tea growing area of Kericho; as the Reverend mother was herself due to go there for a check-up very shortly, she suggested that we should go along with her.

This sounded a wonderful idea, and a good friend of mine, a well-to-do and popular Ismaili trader, Mr Esmail Kassam, agreed to take us down in his Mercedes Benz. This man was a very lively and energetic individual, ever ready to help, and always so full of life. I felt very grateful for the lift he provided, so did mother Melanie. At Sotik mission, Elsie was seen by the Italian doctor in charge, and we were later told by the sister i/c that we would be noticed nearer the time, whenever my wife would be able to have her baby at the Mission hospital.

We were well aware that some Catholic and non-Catholic Europeans had been afforded such a facility in the past, and foresaw no difficulty as far as Elsie was concerned. Months passed by and there was no news from the mission; the time for her confinement was fast approaching, and although mother Melanie reassured us that we would hear from the hospital, I felt that we just couldn’t take the risk of waiting for a reply indefinitely.

We had heard of the American-run SDA (Seventh Day Adventists) mission at Kendu Bay which accepted members of all denominations, and so decided to make the trip there and see the authorities in charge. I should like to record that not only were we well received by the doctor and his staff, but Elsie was taken round the hospital and a firm booking made for her confinement. This was a big relief to us all, even though it would mean a drive of some 40 miles when the day actually dawned.